Dr Helen McRobie

Senior Lecturer

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

School:Life Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Research Supervision:Yes

Helen is a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science and her primary research interests are in the genetics of squirrel species. Helen’s work has attracted much national attention; she has appeared in the media on numerous occasions, most notably on the BBC’s The One Show, Countryfile and Inside Science talking about melanism in squirrels.

Helen has tracked the spread of the black squirrel across the UK via the Black Squirrel Project website.
helen.mcrobie@anglia.ac.uk

Background

Helen has a background in Education, beginning her professional career in primary school teaching, teaching for 7 years in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Helen retrained to become a scientist as a mature student and completed her undergraduate degree in Cell and Molecular Biology and Genetics at ARU in 2008, achieving a first class Honours degree. She went on to complete a PhD at ARU looking at the genetic basis of melanism in the grey squirrel. Helen joined the teaching staff of ARU in 2010 where she has continued to study the genetics of squirrels and has collaborated with researchers at the University of Cambridge, West Virginia, USA and UHI.

Helen moved into research assessing genetic diversity in red squirrels in the context of conservation biology. Her current interests are in assessing genetic diversity to inform conservation efforts, specifically for reintroduction of red squirrels to enhance genetic diversity and also to inform forestry practice.

Spoken Languages

  • English

Research interests

  • Conservation genetics.
  • Evolutionary genetics.
  • Antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
  • Pharmacological characterisation of the MC1R in the melanistic and wild-type grey squirrel.
  • The genetic basis of melanism in the grey, fox, red and palm squirrels.
  • Genetic diversity of the grey squirrel as an invasive species in Great Britain.
  • Genetic diversity in the threatened red squirrel.

Areas of research supervision

  • Conservation genetics
  • Antibiotic resistance in bacteria

Teaching

BSc Biomedical Science

  • Module leader for Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Module leader Physiology of Organ Systems
  • Module leader Principles of Genetics
  • Contributes across the degree

MSc Applied Bioscience

  • Contributes across the degree

PhD supervision

  • Antimicrobial resistance in bacteria

Qualifications

  • PhD Genetics, ARU
  • BSc Cell and Molecular Biology and Genetics, ARU
  • BEd Literature, Swansea

Memberships, editorial boards

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

  • £39,000 from the Frances and Augustus Newman Foundation for work on antibiotic resistance in Klebsiella pneumonia.
  • £3,000 from St Edward Murray College, University of Cambridge and the Natural History Museum of West Virginia for work on evolutionary genetics of the MC1R in the grey squirrel. 

  • £3,100 from UHI to investigate genetic diversity in the red squirrels in Carrbridge, Scotland. 

  • £9, 845 from QR funds at ARU

Selected recent publications

McRobie, H., Moncrief, N., Mundy, N., 2019. Multiple origins of melanism in two species of North American tree squirrel (Sciurus). BMC Evol. Biol. 19: 140

McRobie, H., King L., Symmons M., Fanutti C., and Coussons, P., 2014. Agouti Signalling Protein is an Inverse Agonist to the Wildtype and Agonist to the Melanic Variant of the Melanocortin- 1 Receptor in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). FEBS Letters, 588, pp.2335-2343. Doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2014.05.032.

McRobie, H., King, L., Fanutti, C., Coussons, P., Moncrief, N., and Thomas, A., 2014. Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R) Gene Sequence Variation and Melanism in the Grey (Sciurus Carolinensis), Fox (Sciurus Niger) and Red (Sciurus Vulgaris) Squirrel. Journal of Heredity, 105, pp.423-8. Doi: 10.1093/jhered/esu006.

McRobie, H., 2012. Black Squirrels: Genetics and Distribution. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 106(2), pp.137-141.

McRobie, H., Thomas, A., Kelly, J., 2009. The Genetic Basis of Melanism in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Journal of Heredity, 100(6), pp.709-714.

Recent presentations and conferences

McRobie, H. Multiple alleles of the Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R) across Populations of Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in North America and the British Isles. 2018. 8th International Squirrel Colloquium, Galway, Ireland.

McRobie, H., King, L., Symmons, M., Fanutti, C., and Coussons, P., 2013. An Eight Amino Acid Deletion in the Melanocortin-1 Receptor Leads to a Constitutively Active Receptor in the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). Biochemical Society, York, UK.

McRobie, H., Fanutti, C., Symmons, M., and Coussons, P., 2012. A Model of the Deletion Mutant of Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1RD24) Derived from a Melanic Form of the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus Carolinensis). Biochemical Society<, Prato, Italy.

Media experience

Television
  • BBC The One Show March 2008 Black squirrels (Hitchin)
  • BBC Countryfile March 2009 (ARU)
  • BBC Inside Out. Jan 2009 Interviewed in the ARU labs about genetics of black squirrels.
  • BBC Countryfile 2012 interviewed on site in Letchworth
  • BBC Look East 2012
  • BBC The One Show October 2012 Black squirrels (Letchworth)
  • BBC The One Show 5th March 2013 Black squirrels (Formby)
  • Channel 4 Foxes Live: Wild in the City 7th May 2012
  • Numerous local news outlets
Radio
  • BBC Radio 4 Shared Earth 20th June 2008
  • BBC Radio 4 Inside Science 2019. Invited to talk about introgression of genes from fox to grey squirrels.
  • Numerous local radio interviews.
Newspapers
  • The Times April 26th 2008
  • Daily Express April 26th 2008
  • The Sunday Times 27th April 2008
  • The Daily Mail 26th April 2008
  • The Daily Telegraph 31st Jan 2012
  • Daily Mail 31st Jan 2012
  • The Times 31st Jan 2012
  • The Sun 31st Jan 2012
  • Daily Express 31st Jan 2012
  • Daily Mirror 31st Jan 2012
  • The Independent 31st Jan 2012
  • The Guardian 2nd Feb 2012
  • The Week 11th Feb 2012
  • The Daily Telegraph 10th June 2014