HAS Research Blog


Just showing posts with the tag sustainability

UK/China workshop: Innovative Technologies for the Food Industry, 21 - 22 July 

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UWE is hosting a 2-day workshop on Innovative Technologies for the Food Industry organised by the Centre for Research in Biosciences, the Institute of Bio-Sensing Technology, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the China Agricultural University.

As  part of a BBSRC China partnering award, this workshop aims to bring together the UK and Chinese academia, industry, policymakers and other stakeholders in order to combine effort in addressing important issues of development, evaluation and taking to international market novel and rapid technologies for the food industry. Particular emphasis will be placed on cost-effective technologies for the detection of environmental pollutants in animal feed and animal-derived food.

The workshop will include presentations, poster sessions, industry exhibition and group discussions. There will be opportunity for networking, developing project ideas, exploring funding opportunities and discussing long-term collaboration between UK and Chinese academia and industry.

Click here for more information and to register

Bioluminescent bacteria: An interview with Professor Vyv Salisbury 

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Prof Vyv Salisbury is a microbiologist from the Department of Applied Sciences involved in applied research with bioluminescent bacterial biosensors. In 2003 Vyv obtained Wellcome Trust Engaging Science funding to put on an exhibition in the @Bristol Science Centre titled ‘Lighting up biomedical research’ with bioluminescent bacteria and flashlight fish. In 2009 she became involved with a UN backed project to evaluate medical uses of Himalayan oregano oil which gave her an opportunity to camp up at 3000m in the Himalayas whilst visiting the herb picking cooperative in the Himachal Pradesh. I met up with her to discuss her work ahead of her professorial inaugural lecture at UWE on 16 December.

You have your inaugural lecture coming up and the title is ‘Many bugs make light work: A personal journey with bioluminescent bacteria’. How long have you been researching with bioluminescent bacteria?
Since 1999.

So relatively recently in your career?
Yes, the use of genetically modified bioluminescent bacteria in microbiology research is a comparatively recent development. There were originally only a few groups worldwide researching the applications;  it’s just great that it’s taken off as it has. It’s such a useful tool.

What are the key projects you’re working on at the moment then?
At the moment bioluminescent bacteria have enormous potential as a marker to see how well cancer chemotherapy works so that’s very exciting.

What interests you the most about working with bioluminescent bacteria?
That’s easy. As a microbiologist you become used to working with bacteria that you can’t see. With bioluminescent bacteria you have a visible marker that tells you where the bacteria are and whether they’re metabolising. Other traditional methods, such as putting the bacteria into a growth medium and seeing whether they grow, are much more indirect.

So there’s an immediacy about it?
Exactly. With growth cultures you won’t have your results for 24 hours or so. With bioluminescent bacteria it’s almost instant. The other great benefit is that you can use them in-situ. I can give you an example: if we are using bioluminescent bacteria to test the presence of salmonella on a piece of meat as it’s being heated, we can see the results more or less instantly – as the salmonella is killed it will stop glowing. You can see the results with less manipulation. Previously we would have had to stop to test for the presence of bacteria at each stage by grinding up a bit of the meat and seeing whether we could culture bacteria from it.

Recently on the blog we featured a video of glowing bacteria from Dr Gareth Robinson’s work. Do you work with him and Dr Darren Reynolds? Are there others in the Faculty researching using bioluminescent bacteria?
Oh yes of course. I work with Darren and Gareth and was director of studies for Gareth’s PhD. Professor John Greenman uses bioluminescent bacteria to investigate biofilms, as does Dr Shona Nelson. Shona also uses bioluminescent bacteria to test the efficacy of probiotic bacteria, and looking at bacteria that stay alive inside protozoa.

So there’s a lot of interest in bioluminescent bacteria within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences?
Oh yes and it’s great. As more researchers have become interested in it and we have been able to publish our results, we’ve been able to apply for more research funding and use it to buy equipment. Subsequently we’ve really built up our facilities for this research and now have state of the art technology including low light imaging cameras.

In 2009 you became involved with a UN backed project to evaluate the medical uses of Himalayan oregano oil and visited the Himalayas. How did you become involved in the project and what are the aims?
I was approached by a colleague working in India who had established Biolaya Organics to cultivate Himalayan herbs and generate sustainable employment for local people. He needed to be able to test how well the oregano oil killed bacteria and wanted to know whether we could use bioluminescent bacteria to test its effectiveness as a disinfectant. Our research so far shows that it is really effective, even when used as a vapour.

The research is funded by the UN and is interesting from a sustainability point of view as well as a scientific one. Before the local people were gathering the roots of rare mountain herbs that wouldn’t grow back and it was only just make them enough money to live. However, oregano can be picked like tea and the plant will continue to grow, which provides ongoing employment for locals and protects other indigenous herbs.

And have you been able to visit India and see the project in action?
Yes, my first trip was to a workshop in Delhi for three or four days, where I had to present a paper, but on the second trip I actually had the opportunity to stay in the Himalayas and visit the oregano fields , which was absolutely incredible.

Thanks Vyv. Looking forward to the lecture!

Prof Salisbury in the Himalayas

Professor Salisbury at her camp in the Himalayas.

Click here for more information about Professor Salisbury’s inaugural lecture
Click here to see a video of bioluminescent bacteria

Sustainability research: Decontaminating radioactive soil using plants 

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Dr Neil Willey from the Centre for Research in Plant Science has published an article that investigates how plants could be used to help decontaminate radioactive soil. The research, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, examines factors affecting the plant uptake of the radioactive isotope Technetium-99 (99Tc) from soil.

The process of using plants to remove decontaminants from soil is known as phytoremediation. Certain plant species can extract undesirable elements from soil through their roots and store them so that they can be removed from an environment by harvesting the plants. This process has been used to clean up soils contaminated with many substances including heavy metals such as zinc or nickel and can also be used to remove radioactive substances such as 99Tc. Technetium-99 is a key component of nuclear waste, produced in large quantities from nuclear fission of uranium. A large amount of 99Tc is to be buried in nuclear waste stores but this has raised concerns about the likelihood of the 99Tc coming into contact with water and being leached out of storage, potentially contaminating foodchains. Dr Willey’s journal article investigates the inter-species effects in soil to plant transfer of 99Tc.

Speaking about the significance of the research Dr Willey said that, “Using plants to remove radioactive contaminants from soils does not dramatically disturb the landscape and is relatively cheap compared to engineering-based technologies such as removing topsoil for storage in landfill.” As the global nuclear industry continues to expand it’s becoming more and more important to be able to accurately predict the behaviour of waste products in terrestrial environments and this research will help us to understand which species might become contaminated and which species might be useful in phytoremediation.

For more information contact Dr Neil Willey

Sustainability research: iConnect 

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Dr Jane PowellAn interview with Dr Jane Powell

It's Sustainability Week here at UWE this week and to celebrate we're highlighting some of our research projects with a focus on sustainability and the environment. I interviewed Dr Jane Powell from the Centre for Public Health Research about the iConnect study that aims to measure and evaluate the benefits of the Connect2 travel investment from an idea pioneered by sustainability charity Sustrans. The initiative, which is funded by Big Lottery, is designed to revitalise walking and cycling in local communities across the UK.

How did you become involved with iConnect?

I was invited to a sandpit event of 30 academics sponsored by EPSRC at a ramshackle Coventry hotel – I think via an association with Phil Insall at Sustrans that I’d had for years (we applied for lots of funding together, but hadn’t been successful). The sandpit was three days of activities designed to form ‘teams’ that could develop high quality research ideas centred around the natural experiment of Sustrans’ Connect2 Programme. At the time Connect2 had been put forward for a public vote for £50m of Big Lottery funding… and we didn’t know as we were writing the bid whether Connect2 would win the vote. Luckily it did.  I will never forget the three days at the sandpit as long as I live. We went through it all, am dram (embarrassing), standing on one leg showing others how tall our imagined cartoon character was (bizarre) and drinking some very bad coffee and wine. I think I enjoyed it!

iConnect is a collaborative study with eight institutions working together; can you tell me a bit more about UWE’s specific role in the project?

UWE is leading on the economic appraisal of the entire Connect2 programme, but we are also leading parts of the contextual fieldwork and population-based cohort studies at the Cardiff Connect2 site. We will also lead a workplace study in active travel at Cardiff City Council and a randomised controlled trial of the costs and benefits of additional promotional materials and computer visualisation tools at the Glasgow Connect2 site. So it’s busy!

The study’s been ongoing for over 2 years now, what has the research shown so far?

It’s a five year study, so our initial results are pending, but the whole point of this research is to go beyond the tools and evaluation evidence that has been presented to date in the field of active travel, in particular to develop a robust evidence base and to trail blaze for future research projects in this area from a multidisciplinary perspective. This means that engineers get to talk to public health specialists for example, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is working so far.

Will the iConnect study be used to make further recommendations for investment in cycling/walking networks of this sort?

Yes that’s the idea. Anja Dalton – PhD student on iConnect is doing some very interesting research on women’s participation in cycling and I think she will be in an excellent position to make recommendations that will help more women cycle.

Do you have a personal interest in cycling or walking?

I have a personal interest in physical activity and competitive sport.  I’m just about to buy a Brompton and have started commuting from Chepstow on the train and walking in to Glenside. I enjoy watching sport – live events and on TV, particularly tennis – I’m an Andy Murray fan. I love the natural environment we have in Britain and dislike driving immensely, I find it boring and I’m terrible at parking. 

So, have you seen benefits from Connect2 in your local community?

I have cycled quite a few of the Connect2 routes in Wales, but will not join Sustrans or any transition movement until this research is complete. I think it is important to be seen to be independent as an academic whatever your personal views might be.

For more information contact Dr Jane Powell 

Sustainability week 

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Hello! It‘s Sustainability Week here at UWE from 18 – 22 October and there are special events happening on all of our campuses. The emphasis across the university is on becoming more sustainable as an organisation. It’s not just about being environmentally friendly but also saving money, benefitting the local economy, promoting social justice and improving quality of life for everyone. To celebrate, next week on the blog we'll be highlighting HLS research projects with a focus on sustainability or the environment.

For more information about events happening throughout Sustainability Week at UWE see the Environment webpages.