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School of the Biological Sciences


The Bioscience Impact Team were delighted to be able to provide funding from the BBSRC Impact Acceleration Account for nine pump-prime projects over the summer.

1. Phil Wigge & G’s Growers - Identification of molecular signatures for scheduling and selecting favourable traits in lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Lettuce growth is very sensitive to temperature changes and thus growers such as G’s would like the ability to predict the lettuce maturity date more accurately whatever the weather. Our pump-prime funding is enabling Phil Wigge from the SLCU to determine the lettuce transcriptome at different temperatures and identify specific temperature-associated markers. In the field, these markers will make scheduling crop growth easier and more efficient, targeting a reduction in the current 10-15% over-planting rate. Ultimately, these markers can be used in breeding programmes for early selection of plants with temperature-responsive traits.


2. Siobhan Braybrook – Exploring the utilisation of brown algal polysaccharides as biocontrol agents.

Brown algae are both very abundant and very diverse, and are a source of sulphated fucans. These molecules are of interest because they have anti-tumour, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant bioactivities (to name a few). Although sulphated fucans are currently poorly characterised, the group led by Siobhan Braybrook at the SLCU has developed efficient extraction techniques and molecular tools to study them and their bioactivity. Our pump-prime funding will enable the creation of a library of characterised sulphated fucans from brown algae. The contents of this library have the potential to be used by a wide range of industrial partners seeking to exploit the benefits of these fucans in areas such as food and biotechnology.


3. Matthew Allen & Fusion Implants – A novel knee replacement implant for dogs with osteoarthritis

Treatment options for dogs that develop degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) in their knees are currently limited to total knee replacement, surgical fusion or even amputation when drugs are insufficient. As a less invasive surgical alternative, Matthew Allen from the Department of Veterinary Medicine has designed an implant that replaces only the diseased areas in the joint. Our pump-prime funding will enable a collaboration with Fusion Implants, who will make the implant prototypes using advanced 3D printing technology. The implants will then be refined before testing in clinical trials, and have the potential to provide a new treatment option for osteoarthritic dogs.


4. Stephanie Swarbreck, Julia Davies & Agrii– Exploiting wheat response to blackgrass at small scale to predict tolerance in the field

Wheat is one of the major crops grown in the UK, but can be severely affected by the weed blackgrass. One solution is to breed varieties that are less sensitive to blackgrass. Stephanie Swarbreck and Julia Davies from the Department of Plant Sciences have identified wheat root morphological traits that are affected in the presence of blackgrass. With agri-tech company Agrii providing field trial data, our backing will enable them to find root traits that are early indicators of blackgrass tolerance in the field. In addition, our funding will go towards developing a high throughput screening method that can be implemented in breeding programmes by companies such as Agrii and RAGT to facilitate identification of tolerant varieties.


5. David Summers – Rescuing antibiotics from bacterial resistance

Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is influenced by production of the signalling molecule indole. By interfering with indole production, it might be possible for antibiotics to be made to work more effectively and for longer than they do currently. Our backing will enable David Summers, from the Department of Genetics, to test how inhibition of indole synthesis affects the sensitivity of E. coli to antibiotics in common use. The results of this work may ultimately lead to the development of combination therapies that enhance the effectiveness of certain antibiotics.


6. Fumiya Iida & G’s Growers – Feasibility study of “robotisation” toward intelligent vegetable harvesting (Vege-bot)

Baxter in action


Fruit and vegetables require careful handling from planting through to harvesting to ensure they meet consumer expectations. These processes are currently dependent on human workers, but Fumiya Iida from the Department of Engineering has developed a robotic manipulator “Vege-bot” equipped with artificial hands and various sensors that may be able to harvest vegetables. Our pump-prime funding is helping him test the feasibility of the robotics technology on a lettuce harvesting site at G’s Growers. This technology has the potential to transform modern agriculture, as automation could increase the harvesting efficiency whilst also relaxing the high demand for seasonal labourers.



7. Lucy Cheke, Emma Cahill & Peak – Memory and appetite regulation: feasibility investigation for a novel intervention

Obesity has quickly become a significant health concern in the western world. Evidence suggests that remembering recent meals may play a role in regulating food consumption. In collaboration with the app company Peak, Lucy Cheke and Emma Cahill from the Department of Psychology will use our support to assess the user-acceptability and weight-loss potential of a mobile phone app that uses photographs of meals and memory games. Additionally, they will explore meal-memory reactivation techniques in rodents as a model to investigate the underlying mechanisms by which memory is able to affect consumption behaviour. Their work could give rise to a much-needed novel approach for treating obesity and improve the consumer’s quality of life.


8.  James Fraser & Cairn Research – New generation electrophysiology software

Electrophysiological experiments require a software interface to record, process and display measurements made by the hardware to the user. The recording equipment and analysis techniques are controlled by the interface, but the currently available software is highly restrictive in its scope. With our funding, James Fraser from the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience will partner with software company Cairn Research to build a flexible, commercial software with increased capabilities. Its focus on user-friendliness and interface cleanliness will meet the need for new generation software in electrophysiology research, enhancing future work in this field.


9. Michelle Oyen & Plasticell – Nanofibrous materials for stem cell expansion

Although human stem cells are being used in research more and more frequently, the current inability to extensively expand cell populations while retaining their original cellular phenotypes presents a crucial barrier. Our pump-prime funding will enable Michelle Oyen from the Department of Engineering to work with biotech company Plasticell Ltd to generate a family of electrospun polymer scaffolds. These scaffolds will vary systematically in material and size, and will be tested for their potential to induce stem cell expansion in vitro. This will allow Michelle to find the optimal material for maximum cell expansion in different stem cell types, and so significantly expand the utility of stem cells for research and therapeutic applications.