School of Biological Sciences

Featured News

New ‘promiscuous’ enzyme helps turn plant waste into sustainable products

Lignin in an oak tree

A new family of enzymes has been discovered which paves the way to convert plant waste into sustainable and high-value products such as nylon, plastics, chemicals, and fuels.

The discovery was led by members of the same UK-US enzyme engineering team which, in April, improved a plastic-digesting enzyme, a potential breakthrough for the recycling of plastic waste.

The study published in Nature Communications was led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Gregg Beckham at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Professor Jen Dubois at Montana State University, and Professor Ken Houk at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The new family of enzymes are active on the building blocks of lignin – one of the main components of plants, which scientists have been trying for decades to find a way of breaking down efficiently.

Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth, said: “We have assembled an international team for the discovery and engineering of naturally occurring enzymes. Enzymes are biological catalysts that can perform incredible reactions, breaking down some of our toughest natural and man-made polymers.

Read more at the University of Portsmouth news site

Engineering a plastic-eating enzyme

Scientists have engineered an enzyme which can digest some of our most commonly polluting plastics, providing a potential solution to one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

The discovery could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles, made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment.

The research was led by teams at the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more on our news site.

floating plastic

Marine Biologist lends a voice of knowledge to short Sci-Fi film

Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology, Dr Trevor Willis, provided his expertise and his voice for a short film by filmmaker Barry Gibb about the survivor of a pandemic that has torn nature apart.

Barry, a former molecular biologist, contacted Trevor after receiving funding from Imagine Science Film, along with nine other filmmakers, to create experimental, innovative science films about chimeras (an animal constructed of more than one animal type). The end result, according to the Chimera Experiments website, will create a “science-driven anthology film by ten visionary, international filmmakers featuring stories from the most influential scientists of our time.”

Read more on our news site

trevor film

New European alliance to save the European flat oyster

Marine Biologist Dr Joanne Preston has helped to establish a European alliance for the conservation of the European flat oyster.

If successful, it could see the water quality and biodiversity of the North Sea greatly improved.

The European flat oyster represents a key species with important ecological functions and ecosystem services in the marine ecosystem. As reef structures, oyster beds provide food and habitat for numerous species and, in addition, serve as nursery grounds for many fish species.

Read more on our news site

flat oyster

Marine scientists discover kleptopredation – a new way of catching prey

When it comes to feeding time sea slugs are the pirates of the underwater world – attacking prey that has just eaten in order to plunder their target’s meal, new research has found.

University of Portsmouth scientists are the first to have observed this cunning and brutal feeding strategy in the natural world and have named the behaviour kleptopredation. Their paper has been published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Dr Trevor Willis, a senior lecturer and course leader at the university, led the research into the behaviour of nudibranchs, a family of sea slugs, off the coast of Sicily. He said: “This is very exciting, we have some great results here that rewrite the text book on the way these creatures forage and interact with their environment.”

Read more on our news site


Amazing diversity of species reported on Solent oyster restoration project

A surprising diversity of species including seahorses and critically endangered eels have been reported in the Solent.

They have been found inhabiting oyster cage systems, which are part of a major conservation project to restore the native oyster to local waters.

The aim of the ambitious Solent Oyster Restoration Project, led by the Blue Marine Foundation, is to reintroduce a million oysters over the coming year (and for the next five years) to help clean up the Solent, which once supported the biggest oyster fishery in Europe.

Read more on our news site

a juvenile seahorse

Department hosts intertidal zone sandpit event

Dr Gordon Watson from the Institute of Marine Sciences hosted an earth observation within the intertidal zone sandpit event in conjunction with The South Coast Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications. The event included the likes of the European Space Agency, the Satellite Applications Catapult, SMEs, NGOs and government agencies from around the UK to address how space science and satellite imagery can benefit the intertidal zone and its management. Over 25 invited guests attended the event producing from round table discussions a number of priorities that will lead to future funding opportunities.

intertidal event

Day of reckoning for marine invaders

Volunteers are being asked to help track an alien invasion taking place around the UK’s coastline, including here, in Portsmouth.

For centuries, marine species have moved around either by hitching ride on the hulls of ships or as stowaways in ballast water. In many cases, species have been deliberately introduced for commercial purposes.

Now, a national campaign to record non-native marine species is taking place to map non-native marine species to help scientists understand the impact they are having on the coastal environment.

Read more on our news site

non native species

Have flowers devised the perfect honeytrap?

Nectar, the high-energy ‘honey’ produced by flowers, might be a brilliant distraction technique to help protect a flower’s reproductive parts, according to new research.

Rather than merely providing a ‘come-on’ to bees and other insects to attract them to pollinate the flower, nectar could be playing a much more subtle and entrancing role.

A team of scientists from across the world, including the department's Professor Scott Armbruster, have studied the part played by herbivores, such as sawflies, which eat petals and nectar, on an iris found in the Himalayas. They are now confident that a visiting insect which feasts on the nectar and the gland which produces it, and makes merry, is playing into the hands of the flower and ensuring it survives and thrives.

Read more on our news site


Could an artificial coral reef protect marine biodiversity against climate changes?

Climate change from rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) is having two major effects in our seas – global warming and ocean acidification – and the combination of these threats is affecting marine life from single organisms to species communities.

Researchers from the School of Biooghical Sciences are helping to build an artificial reef that could protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea against climate change.

Read more on UoP news

artificial reef

Could sharks help save shipping industry millions?

Whales, sharks, butterflies and lotus leaves might together hold the secret to saving the shipping industry millions and help save the planet, according to a marine biologist at the University of Portsmouth, UK.

Environmental microbiologist Dr Maria Salta is examining how on land and at sea, nature’s ability to self-clean might give scientists a window into solutions which could be used on manmade objects at sea.

Read more on our news site

Maria Salta

Nuffield Bursary student hosted by Institute of Marine Sciences wins prestigious award

Charlotte Day, a 6th form student who completed her project on 'Comparing the grazing rates of Green Sea Urchins, Common Periwinkles and Top shells', has been given the title of 'South East Young Scientist of the Year'. Charlotte spent several weeks last summer designing, running and analysing her experiments at the Institute of Marine Sciences, under the supervision of Dr Gordon Watson. Charlotte had to produce a poster about her project and then talk to judges and some of the 8,000 visitors, before being told at the Big Bang competition ceremony that she had won.

Charlotte Day

Re-constructing the crew of the Mary Rose

For the first time in 500 years, scientists examining human remains from Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose will be able to determine if any bones come from the same person.

Research by Dr Garry Scarlett, a DNA expert at the University of Portsmouth, should enable museum staff to recreate accurate skeletons of some of the crew.

Read more on UoP News

Mary rose crew

Portsmouth hosts UK’s largest international disaster response exercise

The world is arguably better prepared today than ever to face major disasters, including earthquakes, major oil leaks and terrorist attacks.

Those on the frontline of disasters, including international emergency response, took part in the UK’s largest international disaster simulation exercise, run by experts at the University of Portsmouth.

Read more at UoP News

simex 2017

Portsmouth researchers work with Ben Fogle

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth are playing a significant role in a major conservation project to restore the native oyster to local waters.

The aim is to reintroduce one million oysters by the end of the year to help clean up the Solent, which once supported the biggest oyster fishery in Europe. The project seeks to significantly increase the population of native oysters by 2020 with the long-term aim of achieving sustainable stocks and with the likely added benefit of improved Solent water quality, ecosystems and associated benefits for local inshore fisheries.

Read more on UoP News

ben fogle

Humans having dramatic effect on wildlife

Just how astonishingly small the amount of pollution that’s needed to cause dramatic changes in aquatic life was the focus of a free public lecture at the University of Portsmouth.

Professor Alex Ford, whose research has shown time and again the powerful and sometimes shocking impact of prescription drugs passing through our bodies, into our sewers and seas, discussed how aquatic parasites have both helped and hindered the search for scientific answers.

Read more on UoP News

Alex Ford

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