Biological Sciences

Professor Sinead Collins named as an RSE Fellow

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has announced the 2024 cohort of new Fellows, who have been elected from institutions from across the UK.

Sinead Collins

Professor Sinead Collins is one of 57 new Fellows nominated for their individual excellence in a wide range of fields such as physics, chemistry, informatics, literature, law, social sciences, and business. 

The Fellows will join the 1,800 current Fellows of the RSE, Scotland’s National Academy.

Sinead Collins, Professor of Microbial Evolution at the School of Biological Sciences’ Institute of Ecology and Evolution, is elected for her ground-breaking research into the evolution of ocean dwelling microbes, known as phytoplankton. 

These photosynthetic single-celled algae are the foundation of ocean food webs - feeding everything from krill to whales - and are also responsible for absorbing around a third of the world’s carbon dioxide.

Evolution in Action

Her work is leading to a better understanding of how climate and ocean changes affect phytoplankton – by revealing how they evolve in rapidly changing and complex environments.

Phytoplankton, like many microbes, can reproduce quickly. This allows her lab to study evolution in action, using an approach known as experimental evolution.

Her group recreates key features of ocean change, and other challenges to photosynthetic microbes, in the lab and study how the microbes respond to these changes over hundreds or thousands of generations.

Changes in phytoplankton communities and metabolism can have a drastic impact on ocean biodiversity, food availability and how the ocean regulates the climate.  

Complex Changes

Understanding how phytoplankton evolve rapidly is important for revealing the potential impact of environmental changes, which could for example, affect the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb. 

Complex environmental changes may occur at different rates – from decades to thousands of years, and involve many simultaneous changes, such as changes in temperature, light and carbon levels.

Sinead’s research is leading to a better understanding and projections of phytoplankton’s behaviour in changing oceans, and explores possible knock-on effects on ocean health. 

Related Links

RSE Fellows 2024

Professor Sinead Collins