In defense of Portunus pelagicus

Joelle Lai had her PhD defense today. After two weeks of revisiting her thesis and constructing a concise presentation, she conducted an excellent delivery and did justice to five years of field, museum and molecular work. And she finally got to show off her haplotype network diagrams!

After a feisty Q&A, the audience left her to a grilling by her examiners which she survived. After a post-presentation debrief, she was last seen headed out of campus to celebrate.

Congratulations Joelle!


Nalini’s videos to be used in UNSW Evolution class

One of the reviewers for Nalini’s recent submission to BMC Evolutionary Biology Journal was so taken by her exquisite video rendering of the subtle intricacies of sepsid fly courtship that he shed his anonymity in order to call her study “brilliant”, offer her a Ph.D or postdoc position at his lab AND request for her permission to show these videos during his evolution classes at UNSW.

Reviews of Nalini’s yet-to-be-published paper include:

“This is a really excellent manuscript….. I know of no other comparative study of sexual conflict that includes this many species….I firmly believe that this paper will be cited numerous times….The study is sound. The conclusions derived appropriate…. I have not seen this in a manuscript before and was very impressed. I recommend that this manuscript be published with priority.” – Reviewer #2

“This is a beautifully detailed piece of work reminiscent of the more careful biology of generations past…. These findings will be of interest to evolutionary biologists, and certainly deserve to be published.” – Reviewer #1

This is the second time Nalini’s videos have been featured to rave reviews (the first being an entire exhibit to her own at the Zoological Museum of Zürich), proving yet again that sexy fly sex sells.

Incidentally the fly species Perochaeta dikowi is a new one described by Ang et al., Mr. Ang Yuchen is an honours undergraduate in our lab. It’s in Systematic Entomology, currently in press.

CPR and AED familiarisation

There have been two casualties of heart failure in NUS in the past year. One staff member failed to revive despite rapid response and first aid application and another did not receive any CPR assistance. NUS regrets their loss and this series of CPR and AED familiarisation is a first step in improving the capability of staff and students.

The AED unit near the Biodiversity Group is located in the loading bay between blocks S2 and S1A. Would I know how to use it effectively? So last Wednesday I attended a CPR and AED familiarisation course. The confidence and efficiency of the class (myself included) increased dramatically during the two hour session. The two 30 minute sessions of practical training with the mannequin and AED device were really helpful!


The practise sessions were conducted in small groups at a 1:5 ratio with instructors from OSHE, Wellness and a few other places. Collectively the instructors effectively answered all the queries posed, which were certainly varied! It made for a very effective session.

While this is not a first aid course, it equips individuals with enough knowledge to provide proper CPR assistance to family or lab members – the correct administration of CPR pushes blood to the brain in lieu of a pumping heart and improves the chances of victim survival. The complimentary (and not replacement) role of AED was explained and as we practised, we learnt to keep our focus when the AED arrives and is setup. Improper use may not only impede assistance but possibly even contribute additional problems, so this short training is indeed very useful.

Bondi lifeguards apply CPR and use the AED
and you can observe the whole sequence right to recovery position.
And feel the relief when they say, “It’s okay mate…”
and Takahiro Ono remembers his name!
From Bondi Rescue Series 1, Ep 4 (2006);
see also Australian Screen’s Teacher’s Notes.

In the video above, it was lucky the lifeguards all happened to be nearby; it’s used for teaching in many schools now, including this NUS course! For further inspiration, read about Esther Tan’s timely intervention at Holland Village: “Student saves heart attack man in Holland Road,” by Ong Rui Lin. The Electric New Paper, 26th February 2006. ‘I was still shaking back in school’. And read more at “When Hearts Stop: CPR & Defibrillators”.

NUS Staff and students can sign up for a session of the CPR and AED familiarisation course at this webpage.

Job Opportunity: Research Assistant for Herptile field work (Deadline – 09 May 2008)

Job Opportunity: Research Assistant at the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS (Deadline – 09 May 2008).

21 April 2008 – The Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore is advertising for a suitable candidate to fill the post of a research assistant who will work on a freshwater project that will end on 31 May 2010.

The requirements are:

  • Polytechnic diploma in bioscience, or Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science (Honours) or MSc degree in zoology or biology
  • Must be reasonably fit and able to conduct extensive outdoor field work near and in fresh water
  • Good knowledge of the herptiles of Singapore (amphibians and reptiles)
  • Must have a reasonably good command of the English language and be able to write scientific reports
  • Possession of Class III (Car) Driving Licence necessary
  • Proficient in MS Office, basic databasing software and graphic editing software
    Proficient in wildlife photography
  • An organized, creative and resourceful team player who is able to work independently

The duties and responsibilities include:

  • Field work and biodiversity surveys
  • Survey of the herptiles in selected field work locations
  • Writing scientific reports
  • Managing databases of various taxa, digital photographic images and historical data
  • Building up a photographic database of wildlife encountered
  • Responsible for compiling and liaison for some publications to be produced
  • Salaries will be determined by the NUS Office of Human Resources but will be equivalent to those of the Civil Service in Singapore, for the same qualifications. Male Singapore citizens who have served National Service will also be given two increments. Experience may also be taken into consideration.

This is a one-year contract, but renewable till 31 May 2010.

Suitable candidates are kindly requested to send the soft copy of their curriculum vitae and the completed application form, by Friday, 09 May 2008, to:

Ms Tan Kai-xin, Project Manager

“NUS team makes history by finding frog with no lungs” (ST, 10 Apr 2008)

Shobana Kesava dropped into NUS yesterday to interview David Bickford and the article was out today. Pretty quick work! The accompanying map gives only a vague indication of the locality of the frog to prevent poaching. As it is the original locality was wiped out by mining and logging activity.

There is an NUS press release too (thanks to freshbrainz for the pointer). Since David is being such a poster boy these days for Southeast Asian biodiversity, I decided to throw in this bonus photo of David with Doddy Aryadi, while Budi Susilo searches in the background. Photo by Tan Heok Hui from Aug 2007.

“NUS team makes history by finding frog with no lungs,” by Shobana Kesava. The Strait Times, 10 Apr 2008. Kalimantan find is only the 4th creature with backbones known to breathe without lungs.

SINGAPORE scientists have discovered a lungless frog that breathes through its skin – a find that makes evolutionary history.

The aquatic frog is affectionately called Barbie – short for its scientific name Barbourula kalimantanensis. It was found in two mountain rivers in the heart of Kalimantan last August.

A group of nine researchers, led by evolutionary biologist David Bickford from the National University of Singapore (NUS), found the flat, dark brown frogs with golden specks under smooth rocks in clean, cool and fast-flowing water.

Their findings are set to be published next month.

Continue reading

The lungless (!) Bornean flat-headed frog, Barbourula kalimantanensis

In advance of its publication in Current Biology (apparently in volume 18), news of the paper announcing the lungless frog (the Bornean flat-headed frog, Barbourula kalimantanensis) by David Bickford and colleagues from Indonesia – Djoko Iskandar and Anggraini Barlian of Institut Teknologi Bandung, Java, Indonesia – has been released.

My eyes widened last month when I saw David editing a draft of this paper just before a staff meeting started – the title said it all. I figured it’d still be some months before I saw it in print though.

Djoko Iskandar and David Bickford dissecting a frog in the Raffles Museum last Oct.

So I was pleasantly surprised this morning when Marcus Ng buzzed me with an instant message link early this morning.

Although the paper will be published in May 2008, this news had hit the wires some hours earlier. So it is all over the internet on news and blog sites already! Just google “lungless frog“.

Well, this paper will have an excellent reception committee when it comes out in May:

Update – here are some real sweet photos of the Bornean flat-headed frog, Barbourula kalimantanensis) courtesy of David Bickford from Aug 2007.