JCSMR PhD candidate puts pesky fruit fly to good use

PhD student Damien Muckle had an amazing time attending some of the biggest Neurobiology of Drosophila Conferences across the world thanks to JCSMR PhD Travel Fund. Photo: The Quinn Lab Damien Muckle JCSMR Damien Muckle JCSMR Damien Muckle JCSMR Damien Muckle JCSMR Damien Muckle Brooke Kinsela JCSMR
1 December 2023

People often assume that PhD research students spend all their time in laboratories, running behind a supervisor, having to do endless reading and be buried under their research paper. However, Damien Muckle, a final year PhD student at the JCSMR Genome Sciences and Cancer Division has a different story to tell. His experience at John Curtin School of Medical Research is a much more ‘fruitful’ one.  

Damien’s research is all about fruit flies and brain cells. Putting the pesky fruit fly ‘Drosophila’ to good use, Damien studies how the loss of a gene, called FUBP1, results in a type of brain cancer called oligodendroglioma.  

“It’s difficult to understand cell-specific functions of genes using mice or other models, but it’s different with flies. I use fruit flies because I can investigate FUBP1’s function specifically in the neural stem cell niche” Damien explained.

Damien, with his fellow lab partner Brooke Kinsela recently got the opportunity to attend three major conferences related to his PhD - one in Cairns, Queensland and others in France and USA. Not only was he able to have exciting conversations about fruit flies and brain cells, he also got the opportunity to see the world, including to wine and dine in the picturesque French city of Lyon and have a stroll in bustling New York downtown.

Damien (R), with his fellow lab partner Brooke Kinsela (L) at the EDRC. Photo: The Quinn Lab

The Asia Pacific Drosophila Research Conference in Cairns, the Neurobiology of Drosophila Meeting in Cold Spring Harbor, New York and the European Drosophila Research Conference (EDRC) in Lyon drew in researchers from around the world to discuss more about this important role of the fruit fly. Damien was one of the five Australians among the 880 attendees to EDRC this year indicating how rare the opportunity was.

“Attending the conferences was surreal. It was amazing to be able to learn about the cutting-edge research conducted using fruit flies from experts in the field, and in amazing settings, too,” Damien recalled.

“It was to be my first international conference since Honours due to the pandemic but coincided with my final year of PhD. So, it was a perfect opportunity to share my near-complete PhD story with experts in the field from around the globe,” said Damien.

Damien also recalled that meeting pioneers in cortex glia biology - Dr Jaeda Coutinho-Budd and Dr Pauline Spéder was unforgettable.

“It was very exciting to be able to learn about the most recent advances about the cells I work on from two absolute superstars. I can’t wait to see how their work plays into my own observations,” Damien added.

Damien’s visit to Europe not only gave him an enriching academic experience but also hope for the future.

“I want to move to Europe post-PhD. I want to sidestep into an industry setting and work for a biotech or pharma company overseas,” he said.

Damien is supervised by Professor Leonie Quinn, the Quinn Lab lead researcher and Head of JCSMR Genome Sciences and Cancer Division. He is grateful for Professor Quinn as well as his lab group for being kind, fun and supportive.

“Everyone is just so lovely, we have such a fantastic group culture and I could not have asked for a better supervisor than Leonie. She is a brilliant scientist, but also so incredibly supportive. I love being in the Quinn Lab!” said Damien with a huge smile on his face.

Damien also appreciated the support of the JCSMR PhD Travel Fund, which made his overseas travel possible.

Damien grew up in Canberra and completed his undergraduate degrees (B Genetics & B Commerce) at ANU. He fell in love with the Quinn lab, which propelled him to pursue a PhD with Professor Quinn.

Damien at the Asia Pacific Drosophila Research Conference in Cairns. Photo: The Quinn Lab

Damien presenting his work at the Neurobiology of Drosophila Meeting in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Photo: The Quinn Lab 

 Poster session presentation at the European Drosophila Research Conference (EDRC) in Lyon, France. Photo: The Quinn Lab