Tora Smulders-Srinivasan

I didn't win, but I've had great fun -- it was completely worth the time, effort, & feeling overwhelmed with questions at times! It was so much fun, I'm going to miss it! :-) Thanks to everyone who voted for me!

Favourite Thing: I love asking questions about biology and doing experiments that no one has ever done before to answer them. It’s like piecing together parts of a jigsaw puzzle to figure out how different aspects of biology work!



Franklin Regional Senior High School, Class of 1992, Murrysville, Pennsylvania, USA; Cornell University, 1992-1996, Bachelor of Science in Biology (Genetics and Development), Ithaca, New York, USA


Duke University, 1996-2003, Ph.D. in Genetics/Cell Biology, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Work History:

Newcastle University, 2004-2009, NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Current Job:

full-time independent researcher at Northumbria University, 2013-now, Anniversary Research Fellow


Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Me and my work

I race fruit flies to discover more about how Parkinson’s disease makes brain cells die!

Parkinson’s disease affects neurons (brain cells or nerve cells) in people and causes many difficulties for those people. Scientists have found out what some of the problems with the neurons are — and one of those possible problems is with the mitochondria in the neurons.

Mitochondria are the parts of our cells that convert the energy from the food we eat (carbohydrates, sugars, fats, etc.) into a form of energy that the cells can use (ATP).

Neurons (brain cells or nerve cells) use a lot of energy so are very affected by mitochondrial problems and mitochondria seem to be part of what is going wrong in affected Parkinson’s disease neurons.

All the exact details of what is going wrong in Parkinson’s disease neurons are not yet known. It is unclear if the same parts of neurons always go wrong in all the neurons of all people with Parkinson’s disease or different parts of the neurons go wrong in different people or in different neurons.

Since I have learned a lot about mitochondria in my previous job and I was very curious about the details of what goes wrong in Parkinson’s disease neurons, I decided to study the details about what goes wrong with mitochondria in those neurons.

During my research for my Ph.D., I used fruit flies as my model system to study a different aspect of biology. Now, I knew that other researchers had figured out some really exciting details about what’s going wrong in Parkinson’s, all in fly models and what they found in flies applies to what going on in the brains of people with Parkinson’s.

So I am now studying the details of what goes wrong with mitochondria in neurons affected by Parkinson’s disease in the fruit fly model system.  I hope that understanding more about the details of what’s going wrong in Parkinson’s neurons will help us to design better treatments in the long run.

I am also testing new chemical compounds created by some of my colleagues in Chemistry at our University to see if they improve the symptoms of my Parkinson’s flies.

The Parkinson’s flies don’t climb as well as the normal flies — I am using that difference to see what happens when different parts of the mitochondria are defective as well. So I run races with the different flies to see if they get faster or slower depending which parts are defective.


My Typical Day

I go straight to my lab, sort my flies and run races with them. They do better in mornings, so I try to run all the races by lunchtime!

A typical day starts in the lab. Flies are more awake and more sleepy at different times of the day, just like we are!  They’re more awake in the mornings, so I try to do all my fruit fly races before lunch time.

I go to my office to have my lunch & to do any work I might need to do on the computer.

Then in the afternoon, I’m back in the lab doing more fly work. I make food for the flies to grow on, transfer the flies to new food, cross different kind of flies to each other, and collect the right kinds of flies to do the different experiments.

Some of my experiments involve fruit fly races, others involve dissecting the brains out of the fruit flies to image individual neurons under a microscope & the specific neurons glow red under special light! — that’s very cool to see!


What I'd do with the money

Work with schools to develop a presentation that inspires girls & boys to become scientists themselves!

I’d like to develop a presentation using my research to take to schools to show girls and boys how exciting science can be! I’d consult with schools (teachers &  boys & girls) & possibly make a web site to do the same thing.

I’d try to visit many primary and secondary schools in the area to spread my love of science.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

mum, wife, scientist

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

pepperoni pizza (& chocolate of all kinds — ice cream, by itself, cake, etc.)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

The happiest that I’ve ever been is a tie between seeing my sons for the first time after they were born and getting my first scientific paper accepted for publication

What did you want to be after you left school?

a geneticist

Were you ever in trouble at school?

very rarely in trouble, but yes once in a while (more when I was young, my reports always said I ‘talks too much’)

What was your favourite subject at school?

math and science (biology the best of all!)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I presented my work at a conference with an audience of 500+ people

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I loved learning about DNA and how it worked in my 1st real biology class in school

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

very depressed… (I don’t think I can be anything else!)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) a nobel prize (& to be a successful scientist professor — but that all goes together I think!) 2) healthy happy family & me 3) to move closer to my parents (or them to me)

Tell us a joke.

Fly says, “Hey, bug on my back, are you a mite?” Mite says, “I mite be.” Fly says, “Stupidest pun I ever heard.” Mite says, “What do you expect? I just made it up on the fly.”

Other stuff

Work photos:

Below is a fluorescent microscope image of a whole fruit fly brain with specific brain cells (dopaminergic neurons) highlighted in red fluorescence.

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the images above & below are the set-ups for my fly races

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