Fri 03 May 2013: 3.00pm @ S1A SR: Tang Qian on “Origin and spread of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica”

Qualifying  Examination


Origin and spread of the German cockroach, Blattella germanica (Blattodea: Blattellidae)

Graduate Student
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Fri, 3 May 2013: 3.00pm
@ S1A, #02-17
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Evans, Theodore Alfred

All are welcome


“The German cockroach (Blattella germanica) is likely to be the world’s most widespread domestic pest, from large cities to rural areas, on all continents (except Antarctica) and across most latitudes.

How this situation transpired is unknown, even the origin of this species is unknown; the name indicates where it was named, as an invasive species. Historical records and morphological phylogeny suggest that the German cockroach is of African or Asian origin.

Considering the evidence from both sources, I hypothesize that the German cockroach and its Asian relatives share a common ancestor out of Africa, and that the ancestors of the German cockroach was brought to Europe and domesticated there.

Adaptation to buildings allowed for transportation by humans, and thus spread to the rest of the world.

I will test my hypothesis using different genetic markers on cockroach samples collected from over 100 cities or regions.  I will use various genetic analyses to trace the history of the Genus Blattella (ribosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA) and the species B. germanica (microsatellites). 

This study may also provide evidence for the expansion of B. germanica and suggest processes of domestication by pest species in the urban environment.”


Undergrad part-time field/lab assistants wanted (Apr – Dec 2013)

Update: Positions have been filled as of 8 May 2013. Thank you for your interest!

One or more part-time assistant(s) are required to help with experiments, sampling  and sample processing in Singapore reservoirs from April to Dec 2013.

PUB: Local Catchment Water
PUB: Local Catchment Water

Project description: Sampling and processing of samples from Singapore’s reservoirs as well as subculturing and aiding in experimental work on cyanobacteria in the laboratory.

Job Scope

  1. Work when needed on experimental days (every 2 days) and one full day for filtration of reservoir samples.
  2. Most work will be conducted on weekdays, but some experimental collection days may be on weekends and public holidays
  3. Filter water samples, record and weigh freeze dried water samples
  4. Assist in collection of samples for experimental work in the laboratory as well as filtration of samples on weekdays or weekends.


Candidates should be:

  1. Meticulous and careful with samples
  2. Be able to come into the lab on a need to basis.
  3. Knowledgeable about phytoplankton and sterile techniques is useful, but candidates with no prior knowledge can also apply as training will be provided.




Please contact Maxine Mowe, Graduate student, Freshwater and Invasion Biology Laboratory, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Email: or call 6516-4255.

Current research strengths in Environmental Biology (or what the Biodiversity Crew is doing)

The Biodiversity Crew is formally the Environmental Biology group within the Department of Biological Sciences. The other two strengths of the department are Biomedical Sciences and Cell & Molecular.

At the recent department retreat, Theo Evans put up some slides for analysis which provide a quick idea of the research interests in this group.

Data source: department webpage.

Here they are:

EB analysis - Staff retreat 2013 - for Siva.pptx

EB analysis - Staff retreat 2013 - for Siva.pptx

EB analysis - Staff retreat 2013 - for Siva.pptx

EB analysis - Staff retreat 2013 - for Siva.pptx

FTTAs at digital literacy classes!

Aussie John Larkin is one of my Macintosh buddies whom I worked with in the 90’s. He’s back in town to conduct some classes at CDTL.

The FTTA’s, Sylvia Law, Cai Hongxia, Xu Weiting and Amanda Tan, are enjoying a teaching break during Reading Week and used the time to sign up for John’s classes.

He was escorted to class today by my Mac buddies Laurence and Kenneth who sent me this photo after the first session:

L-R: Sylvia, Hongxia, John, Laurence, Weiting and Amanda.

Teaching staff including the FTTAs are always learning, seeking new ideas for implementation into lessons, skills which we think undergrads would find useful, techniques for more interesting lesson delivery or admin techniques which free up time for everyone.

We’re not trigger happy about implementation though. Each idea needs to be evaluated and tried out. So even as semester ends, we are sniffing out new ideas to wrestle with in the months ahead, before the tough Semester I begins.

And not all this learning is over formal sessions. Some of the best learning takes place informally over a meal!


Hunkered down at the Department Retreat

We’re all at the annual department retreat during which we review the progress and direction of the department and discuss plans for the future.

We kick off with a state of the department review by the head.

Sometimes the news is good, sometimes it can be gloomy. As with everything in Singapore, it’s interesting to observe the influence of the economy on the status of the department and projections for the future.

It’s an intense schedule of short presentations and discussions so its impossible for anyone not to be clued into reality, defying the ability to be isolated in an ivory tower.

Science in a modern era is tiring this way but the exposure is unavoidable. Some of that reality should trickle down to students who ultimately do feel the effects.

It’s not all gloomy though. We tend to compare with the best objectively and the department is not half bad. And when comparative metrics are produced, debate invariably emerges as far as time allows. And then you get to observe personalities.

Which is the bonus when sitting through long meetings!


Paul Matsudaira starting with the state of the department review

The NUS Biology Crew at their breakout session at the department retreat.

The NUS Biology Crew at their breakout session at the department retreat.

Chloe Tan’s three months in the Philippines begins on Earth Day!

Chloe Tan did her honours thesis on the “Diversity and distribution of small mammals across forested and urban areas in Singapore” and graduated determined to work in conservation directly.

She is one of several students who wish to contribute to regional efforts to protect and conserve. Since a job is not immediately available, getting involved as a volunteer is an excellent way to learn the ropes and be at the right place when an opportunity presents itself.

Chloe has been looking since she graduated last semester and thanks to Ng Bee Choo, wrote me recently with some wonderful news:

“Hi Siva,

I’ll be a volunteer on the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme (PBCP) under the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI).

For this three month stint (22 Apr to 22 Jul), I’ll be in the field helping out with biodiversity surveys, working in breeding and rescue centers in Negros and Panay, and possibly assisting with threatened species reintroduction projects on Negros, Panay and Cebu Islands.

Negros, Panay and Cebu, together with Masbate, make up the West Visayas – a region of PBCFI considers a conservation priority. The long-term goal of the PBCP is to establish a continuously developing network of Local Conservation Areas (LCAs) in the country.

For the first week in the Philippines, I’ll be helping [Ng] Bee Choo at the 6th International Hornbill Conference in Manila. During which I will meet the PBCP field personnel and firm up my itinerary, then tag along as they return to the field sites.

Thanks Siva!”

Chloe Tan

Happy Earth Day Chloe! Thanks for helping to make the world a better place!

Tue, 23 Apr 2013: 1.00pm @ DBS CR II – Zhang Manping on “Population Structure and Gut Flora Diversity in Coptotermes gestroi in Southeast Asia”


Qualifying  Examination

“Population Structure and Gut Flora Diversity in Coptotermes gestroi in Southeast Asia”

Zhang Manping
Graduate Student
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Tues, 23 April 2013: 1.00pm
@ DBS Conference Room ii (S1 Level 3, Mezzanine)
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Evans, Theodore Alfred

All are welcome


Coptotermes gestroi (Wasmann) (Insecta: Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae), commonly known as the house termite, is one of the most destructive urban pests in Southeast Asia.  This species has gut microorganisms (protists, bacteria and archea) to aid wood digestion and nutrient intake. 

It appears to be an urban adaptor or exploiter, as it rare in natural forests, but common in urban centres; it has been found to infest up to 80% of buildings in Malaysia.

The species is invasive as well, and had spread though human trade to other geographic regions, including east and south Asia, North and South America, Europe and several islands in the Pacific, Caribbean and India Oceans. 

Although C. gestroi is an important pest species, little is known about its origins, endemic distribution, geographic spread, and adaptation to urban life. Indeed it is only in the last decade its taxonomy was resolved.

My project aims at uncover some of this unknown information, by elucidating the population structure and genetic diversity of C. gestroi across Southeast Asia and invasive populations using microsatellite markers.  A better sampling strategy (sampling in cities, countrysides and forest) and comparative Copototermes species would be adopted. 

Pyrosequencing survey of the gut flora diversity will be used as a facilitated method to reveal the dispersal pattern, and help understand adaptation to urban life.

A laboratory experiment that tests the effect of food types on gut flora diversity of C. gestroi will complement the pyrosequencing. 

My project intends to shed some light on

  1. The origin and dispersal pattern of C. gestroi.
  2. The underlying mechanism for wide distribution of the species.
  3. The adaptive strategy of C. gestroi to urbanization.”

Fri, 19 Apr 2013, 10.30am @ DBS CF: Ng Ting Hui on “Investigating the introduction and impacts of gastropods in Singapore’s fresh waters”

Qualifying  Examination

“Investigating the introduction and impacts of gastropods in Singapore’s fresh waters”

Ng Ting Hui
Graduate Student
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Friday, 19 April 2013: 10.30am
@ DBS Conference Room (S3 L5)
Supervisor: Asst. Prof. Darren Yeo, Dr. Tan Heok Hui

All are welcome


“Introduction of freshwater gastropods are a concern globally owing to negative impacts like habitat-modification, competition with native species, and the spread of zoonotic parasites. In contrast to other native aquatic fauna in Singapore, which are usually found in unmodified habitats, freshwater molluscs here are almost exclusively found in human-impacted habitats, e.g., reservoirs and canals. Hence, it is suspected that many species may have been introduced. The lack of comprehensive information regarding native freshwater molluscs has made it difficult to determine the true status of many species found here. My inspection of museum collections and unpublished data found that only six species of gastropods were found here half a century ago, while the current malacofauna consists of 33 species, including freshwater bivalves. Preliminary data from a review of freshwater mollusc introductions to Southeast Asia shows that the aquarium trade has been most often proposed as a source for introductions, including in Singapore. A survey of the aquarium trade here revealed 58 species. While the results indicate that the trade is a likely introduction pathway, it is also implied that there are other potential pathways.

I also aim to investigate if the genetic diversity of local freshwater molluscs can resolve the status of cryptogenic species, and to examine the factors facilitating the spread of freshwater molluscs by investigating physico-chemical parameters and life history traits that may influence their distribution in canals. Finally, preliminary data indicates that the decline in distributions of native apple snail Pila scutata coincides with the introduction and spread of the confamilial golden apple snail Pomacea canaliculata. Potential ecological overlap between these two species will thus be investigated. The results of the genetic and ecological studies will be used to determine the management measures necessary to control introduced freshwater gastropods in Singapore.”

Tue 23 Apr 2013: 10.00am @ DBS CF – Pitta de Araujo, Diego on “Morphological and Chemical Evolution in Sepsidae”

diegoQualifying  Examination

“Morphological and Chemical Evolution in Sepsidae: An Evolutionary Approach to Phenomics and Shape Analysis”

Pitta de Araujo, Diego
Graduate Student
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Tues, 23 April 2013: 10.00am
@ DBS Conference Room (S3 Level 5)

Supervisor: Prof. Rudolf Meier
Co-SupervisorDr. Joanne Yew

All are welcome


“New advancements in morphological and chemical analysis are promoting a renaissance of the studies of phenotypes in the era of genomics. Here I propose to use a “phenomics” approach to fully explore the morphology and chemistry of Sepsidae flies. These flies have very complex and variable morphological structures most of which are used in sexual behaviour and serve as a model clade to study phenotypic evolution. I am combining several morphological imaging techniques (Visionary Digital, Light Microscopy, Confocal Microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy) and chemical imaging (Ultra-Violet Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry) to understand key changes during sepsid evolution. The three main questions that be addressed in this research are: How much morphological and chemical change happened in the evolution of Sepsidae? Is there a phylogenetic pattern and correlation among different phenotypes? How to quantify morphological change in an evolutionary context?

I carried out a detailed morphological and chemical study of the mysterious osmeterium, a gland that is located on the hind tibia of males. I use UV-LDI Mass Spectrometry to solve the identity of its secretion, the time of secretion, and the secretion’s fate when it is transferred to the female’s body during mating. My preliminary morphological results pertain to the morphology of the head capsule and mouthparts and indicate variation among species, mainly with regard to the structure of the head capsule. For this part of the flies’ body there is little evidence for sexual dimorphism. The thorax morphology of sepsids varies among species with regard to the shape of thoracic plates and patches of micropilosity. I am also the first entomologist studying the male intromittent organ in sepsids and document its variation across the species.

Lastly, I propose to explore new tools in 3D design to create representations of morphological structures. I propose to use new techniques in shape analysis for advanced 3D visualization and shape measurement: evolutionary morphing, shape similarity and shape complexity. With these tools I hope to quantify and visualize how sepsid morphology changed over evolutionary time.”