School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Anastasia Shavrova (Biology)

Anastasia Shavrova (Biology)

Time Flies - Queen's 3MT winner studies sexual competition in fruit flies

by Karl Hardy, April 2016

This year’s winner of Queen’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition, Anastasia Shavrova, is fascinated by the mysteries of biology, evolution, and sex. Contestants have 180 seconds to present using only one static slide, and Anastasia’s presentation “Strategies on winning the game of life” won the top prize of $1,000 and the opportunity to compete at the provincial 3MT competition.

“3MT® inspired me to learn how to stop talking at 3 minutes,” said Anastasia with a laugh. “Usually I can talk for hours about what I do, but to cut it down to 3 minutes and try to make it sound like the best research in the world, that was definitely very challenging.”

Anastasia grew up in Russia before immigrating to Canada at age 10, where her love of school and reading helped her to learn English and adapt to a new culture. During high school she worked at a veterinary clinic, which is when she discovered her “true love” of biology. Upon arriving at University, Anastasia was drawn to studying evolution and ecology, and did her undergraduate thesis on development and metamorphosis of frogs.

“I loved field work! It was like being a little kid again playing in the mud catching frogs, and learning from what you see,” she recalls. “It was then that I decided I want to go into academia, not only do I get to learn for the rest of my life - my childhood hobby - but I get to teach others who are hopefully just as keen as I am to learn.” 

After finishing her undergraduate studies here at Queen’s, Anastasia decided she should travel the world and learn her favourite language, French, before proceeding to her Master’s in Biology. So she bought a one-way ticket to France, where she lived with a host family, eating cheese, drinking wine, and embracing the culture.

“Upon my return to Canada, I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Adam Chippindale, my supervisor now, who had inspired me in 2nd year of University with his course Biology of Sex,” said Anastasia. “This course really makes you think “why sex” and all the evolution behind sex and even counter-evolution between males and females—that’s right! It was shocking to me too, how some species dread mating, like the praying mantis, I feel bad for that male! So this is where I am now, working with the professor who had inspired me in the first place to look deeper into the mystery that is sex conflict, and sex evolution.”

Anastasia’s current research focuses on whether male fruit flies have additional aspects, other than sperm, that contribute to successful fertilization. Specifically she is looking at the accessory glands, which release proteins that can change the female physically and mentally to favour the male (i.e increase ovulation, egg production, and decrease interest in sex to reduce sperm competition). She is now contributing to a long-term evolutionary experiment in the lab where fruit flies have been selected for a very short life cycle. The reduced life cycle takes away a lot of the time from these flies that they usually take to make large sperm, testes, and body size (something the females find very attractive). Anastasia is examining whether these flies are putting in their energy in making these accessory glands and proteins. This way rather than depending on their sperm to fertilize a female’s egg, they focus on the proteins that will help get their sperm to the egg. Anastasia’s research therefore seeks to determine whether seminal proteins are just as important as, or in the case of the fast fruit flies more important than, the sperm. This research could have significant implications for human fertilization, as many fertilization techniques focus on sperm and egg.

Anastasia’s goal is to become a professor, and to inspire people to learn. “I participated in the 3MT® because I love presenting and talking about what I do, and I like to make other people excited about it as well,” she says. “To be able to do this now, this really encourages me that, if I keep this enthusiasm for my work I have come this much closer to sharing my work and teaching others.” 

When Anastasia is not doing research she loves playing the piano, writing on her blog about her adventures as both a Masters student and traveler. She’s also fond of dancing (“mostly ballet”), and her “first and foremost love,” singing.

Anastasia would like to thank her labmate, Joshua Alpern and her good friend Justin Wong who encouraged her to sign up for 3MT® and helped her practice. She would also like to thank her supervisor, Dr. Adam Chippindale, for providing the opportunity for her research.