Life Science at University of Warwick wins £1.7 million in new research funding

06 Mar 2014 | Network Updates | Update from University of Warwick
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Researchers at the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences have been awarded substantial funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The grants, worth £1.712m to the University, will support cutting-edge research in environmental microbiology, crop evolution and facilities improvement.

Professor John McCarthy, Head of the School of Life Sciences, said: “The NERC grants are an excellent sign of the quality and breadth of the research produced by the School of Life Sciences. From the future of food security to shedding light on evolutionary processes and factors affecting the global climate, the School will be working on projects that have the potential to improve lives around the world”.

The School of Life Sciences led a successful bid to NERC for £120,000 to support the purchase of state-of-the-art mass spectrometry equipment that will facilitate cutting-edge research in environmental microbiology. The new Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry instrument, equipped with a radiometric flow scintillation analyser, is optimized for monitoring single or dual labelled radioisotopic samples and will further enhance the quality of current and future NERC research activity at Warwick. It will be available to colleagues across the University and to external users.

Dr. Joseph Christie-Oleza was awarded a prestigious NERC Fellowship of £575,000 to support a five-year study on eco-interactomics: from microbial interactions to the fate of dissolved organic matter in the oceans. Oceans function as global carbon sinks by capturing atmospheric CO2 and converting it into organic matter. The marine microbial food web funnels CO2 into recalcitrant matter that can be retained in the deeper waters for decades or even centuries. During this Fellowship, Dr Christie-Oleza intends to study the microbial interactions that occur within the marine microbial food web and what drives this process. His research will shed light on the evolutionary processes that have pushed marine primary producers, those that carry out over 50% of global CO2 fixation, to depend on their co-existing degraders, forming a dependent consortium by sharing vital functions.

Associate Professor Robin Allaby was awarded £636,000 for his three-year research project on the archaeogenomics of Sorghum domestication and adaptation. Sorghum is an important crop that is cultivated in warmer climates for food, fodder, the production of alcoholic beverage and biofuels. By analysing the genome of archaeological samples of Sorghum, Robin and his team will assess how the species evolved during the process of domestication, providing an insight into how the species adapted to cope with drought tolerance. Such findings could be translated to other crop species and will contribute to the significant world issue of food security.

Associate Professor Hendrik Schäfer was awarded £381,000 to study the microbial degradation of dimethylsulphoxide (DMSO) in the marine environment in collaboration with Dr Yin Chen, from the School of Life Sciences, and colleagues at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. DMSO is a major sink for dimethylsulphide, the latter has been implicated in transporting sulphur from the oceans to terrestrial environments and influencing the global climate, but the fate of this compound is poorly understood. This project will provide new insights into sulphur cycling in the surface ocean and will identify the key microorganisms involved in the degradation of DMSO.

The University of Warwick is one of seven partners involved in CENTA – the Central England NERC Training Alliance supported by a grant totalling £4.9M from NERC.

In addition to the University of Warwick, the alliance of Universities and research institutes comprises the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, Loughborough University, the Open University, the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester.

The Universities and research institutes will work together to provide excellence in doctoral research training through the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) within the interdisciplinary research themes of Anthropogenic impact and environmental sustainability; Evolution of organisms and ecosystems; Dynamic Earth; and Organisms, ‘omics and biogeochemistry.

The DTP will create a strong and active community of students that are able - and encouraged - to integrate, work, and learn together. These students will receive in-depth, advanced research training, as well as training in the professional and transferable skills essential in today's economy.Students will have the opportunity to gain experience through an extended placement in another research laboratory in the UK or overseas, or with a potential future employer.

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