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The University of Southampton
Biological SciencesPostgraduate study

Mr James Howard Atkins BSc (Hons)

MRes Advanced Biological Science

Mr James Howard Atkins's photo

I graduated from the University of Southampton in June 2018 with a first-class honours BSc in Biochemistry, having specialised in neuropharmacology through taught modules encompassing the principles of receptor pharmacology, the basis of selective toxicity and how pharmacotherapy is used to treat psychiatric disorders. My undergraduate dissertation concerned the typification of social feeding strategies in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, and how a null mutation in their neuroligin gene, nlg-1, affected these behaviours. The significance of studying this mutation in the well-understood nervous system of C. elegans, relates to extensive reports in scientific literature stating that orthologues of nlg-1 in humans are gene susceptibility candidates for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); the neuroligin mutation in C. elegans here, acts as a neurochemical model of ASD, providing us with further insight into how human neuroligin mutations contribute to ASD phenotypes.

Research interests

Research Area:

My current research is in collaboration with Patricia Gonzalez Izquierdo, a third year PhD student, on a project aiming to uncover new methodologies to treating human organophosphate poisoning, using C. elegans as a neurochemical model to investigate this (part-funded and part-supervised by DSTL, Porton Down). My side of the project focuses on the effects of aldicarb intoxication on the C. elegans nervous system. Like the organophosphates, aldicarb is an inhibitor of acetylcholine esterases, and much like its effects in humans causes a spastic paralysis at the level of the neuromuscular junction, as a result of increased acetylcholine levels. The aim of my project is to probe determinants of cholinergic function in the C. elegans neuromuscular junction, to understand the role of individual genes in cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication.

Previously, I have also been involved in a research project aiming to target novel gene candidates in Anopheline mosquitoes as a method of reducing their Plasmodia vector competency; this having applications in controlling the spread of malaria in endemic regions. The project is being undertaken by the Biomedical Research Group at Corporación Universitaria Remington (Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia), and is still an active line of enquiry.

Why I chose MRes Advanced Biological Sciences:

The MRes Advanced Biological Sciences differs slightly from the MSc integrated master’s or a standalone master’s programme, in that the laboratory based research project forms a larger component of the assessment. This means students undertaking the program are allotted a longer period of time to carry out their research project, allowing them to explore their research interests in greater depth. This was the aspect of the program that gave me the incentive to apply for the program, especially as such experience provides a stepping stone to further research, either in academia or in industry.

Aims for the future:

At the time of writing, I am currently in two minds as to future directions; I’m considering either staying in academia or undertaking a PhD, hopefully in a subject concerning neuropharmacology, or going into the pharmaceutical industry via a graduate scheme or a similar way. I am carefully considering these two options, though have yet to come to a decision.

Supervisors: Professor Lindy Holden-Dye and Professor Vincent O’Connor


Research group


Affiliate research group

MRes Advanced Biological Science

Mr James Howard Atkins
School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Life Sciences Building 85
University of Southampton
Highfield Campus
SO17 1BJ

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