Departmental Research at the 2018 Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference

A group of researchers and students from the Biology Department’s Group for Extreme and Marine Microbiology (GEMM) has just returned from their participation on the 2018 Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference in Birmingham – the biggest annual microbiology event in Europe.

The team, led by Dr André Antunes presented 6 posters focusing on microbiology of high salinity environments, biotechnological applications, geomicrobiology, and bio-animation:

  • “Innovative Assessments in Microbiology: The Bio-animation Project Experience”- Antunes, A., Fernández-Martínez, L., Ashton, P. & Jukes, A.
  • “Environmental Characterisation and Metabolic Profiling of The Anderton Park Brine Springs: An Unexpectedly Diverse Hypersaline Environment”- Gray, G., Barsby, M., Kelbrick, M., Cooney, C. & Antunes, A.
  • “Microbial Bioprospection in the Cheshire Salt District: Surveying Bioplastic-Producing Potential”- Hardman, R., Kelbrick, M., Simões, M. F. & Antunes, A.
  • “The Cheshire Salt District: An Unexplored Source of Halophiles with Biotechnological Potential”- Kelbrick, M. & Antunes, A.
  • “Genomic-based Insights into the Production of CaCO3 Biominerals by Bacillus and Idiomarina”- Loftus, P. & Antunes, A.
  • “First Insights into the Microbial Diversity of the RSPB Marshside Saltmarsh”– More, P., McGenity, T. & Antunes, A.

In addition to Dr André Antunes, the group included Dr Marta Simões (supported by the Microbiology Society), PhD student Priyanka More, and dissertation students Philippa Loftus, George Gray, and Matthew Kelbrick. The dissertation students were supported by EHU’s Student Opportunity Fund, and were thus able to attend their first scientific conference and present results of their research to other experts in the field.

Researchers search for extreme life in Cabo Verde

Salt pans of Pedra de Lume, Sal Island, Cabo Verde

Academics from Edge Hill University are exploring extreme environments in the hope of discovering new species of microbes that will help conserve the salterns in Cabo Verde, and assist future developments in biotechnology.

After devoting most of his research life to the study of microbial communities thriving in marine and extreme environments, Dr André Antunes, Senior Lecturer in Microbial Genetics, is leading the project which has received funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund.

André is working with Dr Marta Filipa Simões, Junior Research Fellow in the Biology department, Dr James Rowson,, Lecturer in Earth Sciences in the Geography department, and they are collaborating with Aires da Moura and Hélio Rocha from the Jean Piaget University of Cabo Verde (formerly known as Cape Verde).

This year-long project will survey microbial diversity in salterns on three islands in Cabo Verde (Sal, Boavista, and Maio), formerly used for the production of salt but now mostly abandoned and under threat from construction pressure in coastal areas. These are neglected areas that have seen a decrease in jobs and increase in poverty, and this project will help reverse this process, promote the conservation of the sites and their natural biodiversity, while contributing to increasing their scientific and economic value.

Once samples are collected, microbes will be isolated, characterised, preserved and made available for future studies. They will also be screened for biotechnological potential including production of enzymes, bioplastics, biominerals, and anti-microbial compounds.

As they are analysing locations that have never been studied before, André thinks it is highly likely that they will make significant new discoveries, including the isolation of novel microbial species..

The samples will be collected at the end of May and brought back to the UK for analysis. The researchers and microbiologists from Cabo Verde will spend the summer on campus working alongside academics from Edge Hill in the Tech Hub’s new Microbiology facilities.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

BSBI training and research grant

Hay meadows, one of Europe’s most biodiverse habitat, was the subject of the PhD research of EHU researcher Elizabeth Sullivan. This work has recently featured on the blog of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Elizabeth studied hay meadow change over a quarter of a century in the Trough of Bowland and then examined how connected the meadows are within Bowland and in a corresponding area of Worcestershire.

The work was supported financially by EHU, Natural England, NHM and the BSBI. If you want to read Elizabeth’s first peer reviewed paper, you can find it here.

Ashley Tuffin nominated for Sandwich Placement award

 

Genetics student Ashley Tuffin has been nominated for a 2018 Sandwich Placement award. They are undertaking their placement at The Morton Arboretum, Illinois, USA.

 

Supervisor, Dr Andrew Hipp, nominated Ashley for the award, saying “Ashley is one of the most exceptional undergraduate students I have ever worked with. They have assumed an extraordinary amount of responsibility that they execute with independence. They have had to not only learn their work but also train others to assist them in it. They are a model student and enabled us to do work that we absolutely would not have gotten done without them.

 

Explaining more about the work undertaken during their Sandwich Placement, Dr Hipp explained that they  have had two major projects. First, Ashley assumed lead responsibility for a major biomass collecting experiment in an experimental prairie planted on the Arboretum grounds. This was a 3.5-month project that entailed learning and perfecting biomass collecting protocols, including plant identification for approximately 110 North American species. Ashley had to train volunteers and contract workers in these protocols as well as conduct field collections. These collections were then dried, collated and analysed. The analysis and writing up of their findings is on-going.

The second project is an oak genomics and population genetics project that Ashley began recently and will continue until the end of their sandwich placement. In this project, they are working  to extract DNA from leaves of 300 oak trees; learning and optimising HybSeq genomic protocols as well as generating genomic libraries for these 300 oaks.  Following this, they will sequence these genetic libraries and assist in the bioinformatic analysis of the genomic data.  In addition, Ashley participates in ongoing curatorial work in the herbarium, attends weekly staff meetings, and audits a graduate-level phylogenetic statistics course. These valuable skills will undoubtedly be useful as Ashley completes their Genetics degree and develops their career.

Congratulations to Ashley on such a successful Sandwich Placement.

Controversial finding could affect the future of developing countries

Research conducted by an academic from Edge Hill University has led to a discovery which could impact on the future of some developing countries.

Sven Batke, Lecturer in Biology, has jointly authored a paper titled Increasing stomatal conductance in response to rising atmospheric CO2, which has been published in the Annals of Botany, an international plant science journal.

The paper reassesses how plants interact with the climate. Until now it was assumed and has been demonstrated that ecosystems across the world would reduce their water loss under future predicted increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, this new study challenges that assumption using several lines of evidence.

Stomata, tiny openings on the surface of leaves, take in carbon dioxide and release water vapor into the air during the process of photosynthesis. An increase in carbon dioxide as a result of burning of fossil fuels in the atmosphere, is causing plants to keep their stomata shut for longer, resulting in the plants becoming more water use efficient (i.e. requiring less water).

This is good news for the plants. However the decrease in water loss through the process of transpiration is causing the soil to become more saturated with water, therefore contributing towards flooding by increasing the risk of run-off.

However, not all plants are reacting in the same way.

Dry, arid countries, such as some African nations, are already environmentally challenged as they are prone to drought. Instead of conserving water, insights from this new study show  that  plants in these countries might be doing the opposite to what is expected  The increase in loss of water from the soil, has the potential to increase the risk of drought in these regions.

“The results from our study has clearly highlighted that the response of plants to elevated carbon dioxide is by no means uniform across all global biomes. What was particularly interesting to see was that in some dry and hot regions in the world, plants actually lose water instead of conserving it. This could have potentially large negative consequences for local communities who particularly rely on the availability of water for their food production,” said Sven.

This is something few researchers have looked at previously, and as well as creating further challenges for people living in these areas, it provokes a number of questions. Does this imply that the desert will expand? Do crops need genetic modifications so they can grow in these areas, or are there other ways to encourage plants to conserve water?

Sven will be conducting further research into this controversial topic in the coming months.

Read the full paper here.

ENTO ’18 The good, the bad and the ugly

National Science Meeting

Edge Hill University
Wed 29th – Friday 31st Aug 2018

Exploring the importance of lesser studied insects

Advancement in entomology is frequently driven by a variety of factors beyond scientific exploration and interest, from ease of sampling and identification or the favouring of more ‘charismatic microfauna’ to difficulties in obtaining resources required for specialised field or laboratory techniques or funding bias. This conference seeks to address this by providing a platform for areas of entomology that are often understudied.

Plenary Speakers

Professor Stefan Scheu – Georg August University Göttingen

The Good – Belowground goodies: Ecology and evolution of soil microarthropods

Professor Lin Field – Rothamsted Research

The Bad – Aphids as vectors of crop diseases

Professor Richard Wall – Bristol University

The Bad – Ticks and tick-borne disease

Dr Jason Dombroskie – Cornell University Insect collection

The Ugly – Yes that’s nice…but look at this! Challenges of generating interest in and relevance to the non-charismatic microfauna

Proposed sessions:

  • Agriculture and Forest Entomology
  • Ecological Entomology
  • Insect Conservation and Diversity
  • Insect Molecular Biology
  • Medical and Veterinary Entomology
  • Physiological Entomology
  • Systematic Entomology
  • Outreach and Citizen Science
  • Open Sessions

Submissions on any topic are welcome including more popular areas of entomology! Further information on registration, and abstract submission can be found at www.royensoc.co.uk.

Meeting convenors: Dr Anne Oxbrough: anne.oxbrough@edgehill.ac.uk; Dr Clare Strode: clare.strode@edgehill.ac.uk

Conservationist says Edge Hill habitat ideal for students

A conservationist has graduated from Edge Hill University with the highest marks not only on her course but across all postgraduate arts and sciences courses this year.

Natalie Hunt, 38, from Southport, wanted to change direction in her career after working in contaminated land remediation for 15 years.  As a project manager, she was responsible for the design, implementation and management of site investigations, remediation schemes, risk assessment and validation for a wide range of client sectors across the UK.

She said:

“I had been looking for the right course for the last few years to change direction in my career and I spotted the MSc Conservation Management course advertised in Butterfly Conservation magazine. I was attracted to the balance between ecological theory and the practical application of conservation management with plenty of fieldwork and the opportunity to do a conservation placement.

“As a ‘mature’ student, I was a bit trepidatious about going back to university so many years after my first degree but I needn’t have worried.  Edge Hill University has everything you could possibly need to make it very easy to get back into the swing of things from an extensive, 24-hour library, easy access to work stations and different study rooms to suit every individual and coffee available in almost every building!  The campus, with all its green spaces and water features makes it a very friendly, pleasant place to study and a university which I would recommend to anyone.”

Natalie completed a work placement at Ainsdale National Nature Reserve (NNR) as part of her course, and has continued to volunteer there since. The placement inspired her thesis, which she hopes will be published in a scientific journal.

She said:

“With Natural England at the Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR I work with a small group of dedicated volunteers and we get involved in a variety of tasks from clearing scrub, checking livestock, tree planting, mending fences to surveying many of the unique species of flora and fauna to be found at the reserve.  Seeing conservation in action and being able to put my identification skills learned on the course to the test has proved an invaluable experience. My research project stemmed from this – the study aimed to look at open dune habitat regeneration and the effects of management and distance to existing open dunes on plant community composition within formerly forested pine plantation canopy gaps.”

Natalie said she was ‘speechless!’ when she found out about her top marks. “I had no idea.  It makes all the hundreds of hours reading and researching even more worthwhile.”

And what does the future hold?

“My goal is to turn what was essentially my hobby into a career and this course, together with volunteering as much as possible, are the first steps towards that,” she said. “I am looking forward to progressing my career in conservation management, wherever that may lead.”

Find out more about studying MSc Conservation Management here

Volunteering and Placement Fair

As part of this year’s activities on Employability the Biology and Geography Department have recently paired up the Careers and Employability offices to offer you the 1st Edition of the Bio- and Geosciences Volunteering and Placement Fair.

The event, which took place a few weeks ago, hosted several organisations and companies interested in providing volunteering and placement opportunities to our students (listed below), and finished with a round-table discussion with some of our former students currently in successful working careers (Tony Hunter at the National Museums, Liam Purcel at Perfectus Biomed, and Josh Styles at the Tyrer Partnership).

The department would like to thank once again all of the participant organisations, alumni, current students, and members of the organizing committee for contributing to the massive success of the event.

List of participant organisations:

Alzheimer’s Society

British Science Association

Burscough Community Farm

Lancashire Wildlife Trust

National Museums

National Trust

Northwest Ecological Trust

Parkinson’s UK

Perfectus Biomed

The Tyrer Partnership

XCellR8 Ltd

Careers/Edge Hill Works

FAS Placements Team

Academic Excellence Awards

The academic achievements of the top students of the Biology Department was recognized with 3 awards at the Excellence Scholarship Awards 2017:

Academic Achievement Level 5 Excellence Awards (Award recognising students that have achieved the highest average in their Faculty)

  • Katy Andrews- BSc (Hons) Human Biology
  • Leah Eccles- BSc (Hons) Biology

Chancellor’s Scholarship (Award recognising students who have helped raise the profile of the University and made an outstanding contribution to the University)

  • Joshua Styles- BSc (Hons) Ecology

Josh got his award for his impressive contribution to the conservation of campus plant biodiversity, and for supporting botanical education within the department and promoting botanical work performed at Edge Hill in several conferences.

The department congratulates our award recipients, and is proud of their achievements.

ENTO opportunities conference

Five Edge Hill students were lucky enough to attend the BENHS ento-opportunities conference on the 28th October 2017.

The day started by inspecting the moth traps which had been set up the night before. The large moth traps, had a surprisingly diverse content, from several species of moths to some large sleepy European hornets.

After viewing the contents of the traps, the presentations began. The first presentation was “an inordinate fondness for bugs – building a career in entomology” by Alan Stewart, this talk explained about a 75% decline in invertebrate biomass over the last 27 years, and ways to help the recovery of the invertebrate species. Alan highlighted key ways to improve your chances of employment within entomology by honing your identification skills, being open-minded as to which group of invertebrates you want to specialise in, networking at meetings and conferences, volunteering if possible and most importantly not getting disheartened and giving up!

Next up was Matthew Esh from Edge Hill University, who spoke about his ongoing research with Silphidae beetles, and the importance of recording data via different services which are available to the public such as iRecord. Recording schemes are classed as outreach and can improve your C.V. I found Matthew to be very approachable and was more than happy to talk about his research.

The next talk was presented by Richard Comont on “Ladybirds and bumblebees: invasions and conservation”. Richard explained some of the new threats within ecology and conservation, such as the Asian Harlequin ladybird, and how it is affecting the biodiversity of our UK species through competition.

Following this, some students delivered presentations on current projects which they are carrying out in their free time. The one  I found most fascinating was the “marmalade migration” delivered by Will Hawkes, which told the story of how hoverflies migrate over vast distances, from Britain all the way to Africa following the “aphid trail”!

In the afternoon, the first talk was by Graham Holloway speaking about “Reading insects”. Graham brought the room alive with his sharp wit and brilliant sense of humour. The talk explained Grahams current research, career history and how he came to be a lecturer at the university of Reading.

Next, Lizzy Peat managed to keep the upbeat atmosphere with her talk on “working in a local environmental records centre”, Lizzy explained how she completed her undergraduate degree and then carried out voluntary work before being recognised and offered a salary for the work that she was carrying out. The importance of this type of work was also very well explained, showing just how important it is to have a record of different invertebrate communities when planning applications are submitted. This talk enforced the fact that you don’t necessarily need to be field based to work in ecology.

Keith Lugg then explained new worm identification and recording techniques. The recording scheme introduced was the National Earthworm recording scheme: http://www.earthwormsoc.org.uk/identification

The final talk of the day came from team ENTOCAST (Liam Crowley and Nick Howe), who explained the possibilities of podcasting for a job, or for fun. Liam and Nick have an entomology based podcast called “ENTOCAST”. I have started listening to this and find it both entertaining and educational, and would highly recommend any budding entomologists to subscribe and give it a listen!

The presentations all gave a brilliant insight into building a career within entomology from field based ecology to Podcasting.

Overall, I highly recommend this meeting for any undergraduate or graduate who is planning to start a career within entomology. I will definitely be attending the meeting next year and will be subscribing to BENHS. I would also to like to thank all of the key speakers and the organisers especially Liam Crowley, Glenda Orledge, Ian Sims & Jon Cole for the photos.

John Beresford

2nd year BSc (Hons) Ecology and Conservation

Edge Hill University