Professor Daphne Goring of the University of Toronto visited our department and lab on the 13th May 2014. Daphne is an expert in cell-cell signalling, in particular events downstream of receptor kinases that involve the ubiquitin pathway. She is a plant scientist who has focussed her efforts on understanding the molecular basis of self-incompatibility in Brassica and Arabidopsis species. She gave a seminar to the department entitled ‘Signalling events following pollen-pistil interactions in the mustard family: Pollen acceptance or rejection?’.
Algae Group members from the University of Bath showed up in numbers at the recently held 2nd UK Algae Symposium. Were attending two PhD students and a lecturer from the Department of Chemical Engineering, 1 PhD student from Chemistry, and 2 PhD students, 2 KTA Post-Doctoral Fellows and a visiting scientist from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry.
A new industrial plant that uses algae to clean waste water has opened in Gloucestershire, run by scientists from the University’sDepartment of Biology & Biochemistry, and environmental innovation company Aragreen (UK) Ltd.
The pilot facility will demonstrate the efficacy of algae as a sustainable water polishing technology, using waste water from a nearby Welsh Water plant. The algae will then be harvested and used in the production of saleable products. The first of its kind in the UK, this pilot scheme will be used to trial different techniques and methods, and to experiment with different species of algae to find those suitable for water polishing and biofuel, biochemical and protein production.
Rod Scott, Professor of plant molecular biology and academic lead on the project, said: “There is a large demand for both sustainable water polishing techniques and production methods for renewable fuels and algae biomass which pose less competition to increasingly scarce productive farmland. However, finding a cost-effective method for growing algae in large quantities has historically been difficult. By working with Dr Tom Arnot in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Prof. Matthew Davidson in the Department of Chemistry, we have invested in a multidisciplinary approach to tackle these issues.”
Waste water is high in nitrates and phosphates, which companies have to remove to create clean water. Currently, a number of chemical processes are used to treat the water and remove these substances to avoid pollution of natural water systems. Professor Scott said: “Nitrates and phosphates are required by algae as nutrients, and the process of growing algae strips them out of the waste water. In the future we may also use waste carbon dioxide from industry to further enhance the process and make use of another waste stream.”
“We are also currently investigating algae growing in the city’s Roman Baths which can survive at higher temperatures and could cut the cost of cooling the photo-bioreactors. Along with other cost-cutting measures, such as low-energy lighting, we hope to be able to demonstrate a viable waste water cleaning solution which may also provide valuable biomass as a by-product.”
The waste water for the pilot plant will be piped from a nearby Welsh Water plant into photo-bioreactors, large clear tubes under LED lights, in which the algae will grow. The clean water will be returned to Welsh Water free of cost for the purposes of the pilot scheme, although resale of this product will eventually be essential in reaching commercial viability. When the algae is ready to be extracted from the photo-bioreactor it is first concentrated by specialised machinery before being dried into biomass which can be used for a range of purposes such as biofuel, fertilizers or proteins.
Three members of staff from the Faculty of Science at the University of Bath have recently returned from participating in a prestigious scientific symposium in Brazil aimed at surveying the horizons of current research and fostering collaborations between scientists from Brazil, Chile and the UK. A total of 76 scientists were individually invited to participate: 35 from Brazil, 8 from Chile and 33 from the UK, including Dr Paula Koverfrom the Department of Biology & Biochemistry.
The UK-Brazil Frontiers of Science symposium was one of the major international events of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary year, and was organised jointly by the Royal Society, FAPESP (the Research Agency for the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil), the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Chilean Academy of Science.
Dr Kover carried out four public engagement visits to secondary schools in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro when she discussed evolution and its central place in modern biology, reaching over 1200 students from underprivileged backgrounds with her presentations. Dr Kover summed up her visit by saying: “This has been an amazing opportunity! From high school and university level students and teachers to research staff, there’s a high very level of engagement and interest in developing future collaborations with the UK. Science in Brazil is supported by increasing levels of public finance, and as a key developing country it’s absolutely the right time to be exploring how UK scientists can engage with Brazilian research”.
For the full story, see here.
Researchers have discovered that plants, like animals, also have a battle of the sexes when it comes to raising their offspring. Their findings could open new avenues to increase crop yields and improve food security for an ever-growing global human population. The researchers, from the Universities of Bath, Exeter and the Albrecht von Haller Institute for Plant Sciences in Germany, have now shown that this parental struggle also exists in plants.
The study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows for the first time that male plants can influence the size of seeds.
Using the model plant Arabidopsis, they bred female plants with a variety of different male plants and measured the size of seeds produced with each pairing. They found that crossing the female plant with a specific strain, or genotype, of male plant produced bigger seeds, allowing the father to have more healthy offspring at the cost of
the mother. Dr Paula Kover, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath, explained, “Seed size can make a huge difference to whether a seedling is likely to survive, so you would imagine that there would be an optimum seed size for mothers to produce, balancing the likelihood of survival with the cost in energy of producing them. However, we see a lot of variation in seed size. The reason for this is a long-standing debate. Previously it was thought that seed size was controlled solely by the mother’s genes, but for the first time we’ve shown clearly that genes passed on from the father plant can also have an effect on seed size. The next step will be to identify the specific genes that influence seed size. Previously plant breeders only considered the mother’s genes in the breeding process, so this study could open the door on a whole new group of genes that could increase crop yield.”
For further information, see here.
Ensembl Plants – a freely available web resource for plant genomics research – has been launched by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), in partnership with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA. Ensembl Plants allows researchers worldwide to access and visualise the results of genome-scale experiments in different plant species.
The first release includes genome data from new research funded BBSRC. Richard Mott from the University of Oxford’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, along with Paula Kover from the University of Bath, have sequenced the genomes of 17 strains of the thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana. Arabidopsis was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, and is an important reference point for applied plant research. In addition to providing a detailed catalogue of variation in the Arabidopsis genome, the project serves as a pilot for the application of high-throughput sequencing methods to plant genomes.
For the full story, see the BBSRC report here.
Algae growing in Bath’s Roman Baths could one day be used to make fuel for our cars. This video shows how The Roman Baths are at the centre of a Department of Biology & Biochemistry study aimed at producing renewable biofuels from algae.
This video was produced by University of Bath, and kindly allowed permission to reproduce here.