You are in: Submissions > Select unit of assessment > UOA 17 Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences > University of Newcastle upon Tyne > RA5a

UOA 17 - Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

University of Newcastle upon Tyne

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

 

1 Introduction and Main Developments since 2001

Coupled with our commitment to excellence in both fundamental and problem-driven research, the substantial investment we have made over the last six years in both staff and infrastructure has allowed our research to prosper. We are now well-positioned to attack the future scientific, technological and economic challenges associated with global change and urbanisation.

Our intellectual strategy is encapsulated in our adoption of Earth Systems Science, Engineering and Management (ESSEM) as our overarching and strategic research theme. The overall University research strategy links the Earth Systems Science reported in this UoA with the Earth Systems Engineering reported in UoA27 and UoA28, reflecting our drive to use cutting-edge science as a means of solving problems of global importance to society. Underpinning our intellectual strategy, we were, in 2002, instrumental in the University’s decision to set up the £20 million Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability (IRES) which combines the research power of the three Schools from which the UoA draws, and which provides the geographical and intellectual focal point for the research portfolio reported here. University investment of £5.6 million in equipment and laboratories has ensured a robust research infrastructure within which to pursue our goals.

As outlined in detail in Section 2, we have very largely achieved the key aims we set ourselves in 2001:

(a) To perform excellent pure and applied science to help solve globally important problems

£18 million funding from diverse sources has allowed us to achieve and enhance our research mission. Fundamental excellence is demonstrated by ten papers in Nature, Science and PNAS, whilst our problem solving activity is demonstrated by spin out company activity, patents and the provision of research solutions to both industry and NGOs in the form of both knowledge and software tools.

(b) To further develop our core strengths and undergo a modest expansion

We have appointed two new Chairs (Burgess and Wagner), made six first appointments (Fialips, Poulton, Talbot, Caldwell, Stach and Wigham) and taken on one RCUK Fellow (Gray) since 2004, further strengthening research in Biogeochemistry, Marine Ecology and Marine Biotechnology.

(c) To ensure our analytical capabilities

We have invested £5.6 million in both laboratories and equipment.

(d) To develop our research portfolio by integrating expertise both inside and outside Schools

Two-thirds of our submitted publications have external coauthors and around half have international coauthors. Our much-strengthened links with engineering colleagues are demonstrated by £4 million joint current grants with researchers submitted to UoAs 27 and 28.

2 Research Groups, Themes and Achievements

Research within UoA17 is undertaken and managed within two major groups: Geoscience and Marine Science, with links exemplified by work in marine biogeochemistry and palaeoclimate.

2.1 Geoscience (Abbott, Aplin, Fialips (ECR), Gray (ECR), Head, Jones, Larter, Manning, Poulton (ECR), Talbot (ECR), Tyson, Uher, Upstill-Goddard, Wagner)

The Geoscience group’s multidisciplinary team of earth, chemical and biological scientists is configured to pursue fundamental scientific and technological questions raised by the changing climate and energy supply landscapes. Since 2001, Manning (Chair of Soil Science) has joined the group, and four additional staff have been appointed to strengthen our position in mineralogy (Fialips), organic and inorganic geochemistry (Poulton, Talbot), and palaeoclimate (Wagner (Chair of Earth System Science)). Adding to historical strengths in organic geochemistry, petroleum geoscience and microbial ecology, and with £9.4 million funding since 2001, the group now pursues a truly cross-disciplinary programme linking fundamental research on the Earth’s cycle of biologically important elements such as carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and iron through to the application of research in energy and clean water.

Geoscience research is grouped into two related themes: Biogeochemistry and Geoenergy.

2.1.1 Biogeochemistry

Quantifying the biogeochemical processes at the heart of the Earth System requires the integrated biological and geochemical approach adopted in Newcastle. Head and Gray are central players in microbial biogeochemistry research which is strengthened by a broader grouping conducting complimentary research: Bythell, Ward, Goodfellow, Stach and Burgess (see Marine Sciences); also researchers submitted to UoAs 16 and 27. Head and Gray have combined novel theory and observation to make important steps in understanding the relationship between microbial community structure and its impact on fundamental biogeochemical processes in natural, engineered and polluted environments (Head1-4; Gray1-4; see also Geoenergy section). Examples include Gray’s1,2 elucidation of the role of niche differentiation versus dispersal assembly in controlling local bacterial community structure, and Head’s4 industrially important demonstration that the configuration of biological treatment reactors has a significant effect on the structure of their microbial communities. The major collaboration with colleagues such as Curtis and Davenport in UoA27 is evidenced by several joint papers submitted to UoA27 explaining the patterns and dynamics of natural microbial communities (e.g. Curtis et al., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 361, 2023–2037).

Work on modern and ancient global elemental cycles in both terrestrial and marine environments is underpinned by high quality laboratory and analytical geochemistry facilities, in which we have invested £2.6 million since 2002. Particular emphasis has been placed on the cycling of carbon in both terrestrial and marine environments. Manning2,3 has pioneered coupled thermal analysis with simultaneous C isotope ratio determination to shed new light on organic matter quality and degradation pathways in soil-related systems, whilst Abbott1,4 has provided fundamental chemical insights into the fungal degradation of lignin. Within the marine environment, microbial populations in the sea surface microlayer (bacterioneuston) have been analysed for the first time and shown to be distinct from those in underlying seawater; they play an important and previously unknown role in air-sea gas exchange (Upstill-Goddard1,2). The fact that tropical mangrove coasts appear to be net greenhouse gas emitters (Upstill-Goddard3) contradicts conventional wisdom and impacts greenhouse gas mitigation strategies. Work on the cycles of sulphur and nitrogen has revealed that coastal reduced sulphur emissions are significantly higher than previously thought (Uher2) and shown that the photochemical production of ammonium has important consequences for marine carbon cycling in nutrient-limited oceans (Uher4).

Research led by Wagner, Talbot, Poulton, Tyson and Fialips combines data acquisition, modelling and geochemical principles as means to monitor and understand the causes of palaeoenvironmental change. Tyson’s generic modelling work (Tyson3) and critical reanalysis of published modern marine sediment data (Tyson1) has clarified the true role of dissolved oxygen on sediment organic content and has perhaps finally resolved the long-standing productivity versus preservation debate. Using our new LC-MS facility, Talbot1-4 has established the significance of bacteriohopanepolyols as markers of palaeo microbial populations including methane oxidisers, sulphate reducers and cyanobacteria.

Special emphasis has been placed on understanding the Earth System during periods of major change. Wagner’s1-4 work on the late Quaternary and the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse shows the importance of global tectonics, hydrologic cycling and orbital fluctuations in continental climate as drivers of carbon and nutrient export and rapid oceanographic change; Poulton’s3,4 development of robust palaeodepositional redox indicators provides crucial evidence not only of a widescale transition to sulfidic oceanic conditions ~1.8 billion years ago (Poulton1) but also that the deep ocean only became oxic around 580 million years ago, a billion years later than previously thought (Poulton2). These studies have provided a critical link in the debate concerning the nature and timing of animal evolution early in Earth’s history. Fialips’3 new thermodynamic model predicts the hydration state of hydrated minerals under variable conditions of temperature and water-vapour pressure. This has resulted in a unique tool for managing changes in the stability of hydrous minerals and has provided novel insight into the origin of equatorial water on Mars (Fialips1,3,4).

2.1.2 Geoenergy

Research led by Aplin, Head, Jones, Larter and Manning focuses on (i) biodegradation and the deep biosphere and (ii) fluid flow in sedimentary basins. Work on petroleum biodegradation is an excellent example of the successful integration of fundamental biogeochemical and more applied petroleum research. Combining analytical geochemistry (Jones2), microbial ecology and petroleum geoscience, research funded by multiple oil companies on hydrocarbon biodegradation in anaerobic petroleum reservoirs has resulted in four Nature papers outlining a new paradigm for the microbial transformation of oil in petroleum reservoirs (Larter1; Head1; Jones1,3), with several other outputs (Larter2-4) outlining rates and mechanisms. We have also elucidated the bacteria responsible for the amelioration of oil spills (Head2-4), shown that ammonium is a previously unrecognised source of nitrogen for the deep biosphere (Manning1), and determined criteria for distinguishing biological from thermal sulphate reduction (Manning4). All these results place limits on the rate at which the deep biosphere operates, as well as generating a fundamental understanding of the way in which most of the planet’s petroleum resource has been degraded. The work’s high industrial relevance is exemplified by two patent applications and the commercialisation of software (BacchPath; www.permedia.ca, used by e.g. Shell, BP, Petrobras and ConocoPhillips) to predict biodegradation in exploration targets.

The translation of fundamental geoscience into industrial applications is also exemplified by Aplin’s multi-company funded work on fluid flow in sedimentary basins (Aplin1-4). His suggestion (Aplin4) that mudstone pore systems may become oil-wet challenges the conventional industry approach to seal capacity determination, whilst research on the permeability and compressibility of fine-grained sediments (Aplin1,2) provides much tighter constraints on basin-scale fluid flow. The research has resulted in software which is now used by several major oil companies (e.g. BP, Shell, ExxonMobil).

2.2 Marine Science (Bentley, Burgess, Bythell, Caldwell (ECR), Clare, Edwards, Goodfellow, Olive, Polunin, Stach (ECR), Thomason, Ward, Wigham (ECR))

Burgess (Chair of Marine Biotechnology) joined the group in 2005 and we have since made three new staff appointments to strengthen our position in chemical ecology (Caldwell), microbiology (Stach) and deep sea biology (Wigham).  Research within Marine Science is grouped into two themes: Marine Ecology and Marine Biotechnology, with the former emphasising the more fundamental and the latter the more applied aspects of our research.

2.2.1 Marine Ecology

With two new appointments since 2005 (Caldwell and Wigham) and funding of £3.3 million, the Marine Ecology group has made exceptional contributions in two areas: the dynamics of fragile marine ecosystems and invertebrate reproduction. In the former area, the work on coral reefs is the most highly cited in the UK and competes successfully with the leading coral-reef research groups worldwide (Thomson ISI www.esi-topics.com/coralreef/index.html - top institutions). Demonstrations of large-scale structural shifts in reef ecosystems directly linked to the removal of fishery-target species (Polunin1), dependence of commercial reef fishes on mangroves (Edwards1), and ecosystem-level consequences of climate-driven coral loss for reef ecosystems (Polunin3-4) have been widely taken up by the media (e.g. Guardian Unlimited). Collaboration with our microbial ecologists has led to the pioneering use of culture-independent molecular analyses to study emergent diseases in reef corals (Bythell2) and discovery of the involvement of apoptosis (genetically programmed cell death) in coral bleaching (Bythell1). This has driven new research directions by Australian and American groups through the World Bank Targeted Coral Reef Programme, an unprecedented global coral-reef research initiative which Edwards co-chairs. The group's international profile has been further enhanced by its first use of industrial ROVs to gather ecological data in an active work setting with the oil industry (Wigham3; www.serpentproject.com); its unique contribution to understanding stable isotope trophic-step fractionation (Olive3) and its application to quantification of fundamental ecosystem processes such as omnivory (Polunin lab: Sweeting et al. 2005 Functional Ecology 19, 777) and predator-prey interactions (Polunin2); and its novel use of HPLC pigment and GC-MS fatty acid analysis to show selectivity and resource partitioning amongst deep-sea deposit-feeding echinoderms (Wigham1,2).

In the area of invertebrate reproduction, the group has a long-standing reputation for excellence in the signalling of reproduction through environmental cues, hormones and infochemicals. Bentley2 has identified the polychaete Arenicola marina as a novel potential model for studies of cell cycle control with important advantages over established amphibian and echinoderm biomedical models (NERC – CNRS collaboration). With molecular biologists at Leicester University (Kyriacou, Rosato), Olive2 has pioneered marine genomics research on tidal clock genes stemming from innovative actograph studies of polychaete behaviour. The creation of a 10,000 gene-normalised Nereis virens micro-array and the identification and sequencing of a number of the previously unknown canonical clock genes in the N. virens genome (Olive4) is of significance to chronobiologists worldwide. This research has applications in marine environmental toxicology, developmental biology and tidal/circadian rhythm research (Olive2). A highly successful spin-out company, Seabait Ltd. (http://www.seabait.com/), provides an industrial focus for the group’s research and is an acknowledged leader in sustainable aquaculture. Three patents have been awarded since 2001 (Olive); the Company has expanded into the USA and Asia and has won several awards including the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development (2003) and The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade (2003). The production of unsaturated aldehyde toxins by diatoms has been shown (Caldwell2-4, Bentley1) to affect gamete viability, fertilisation and embryogenesis in a range of marine invertebrates; further, toxicity enhancement occurs in the presence of common heavy metals (Bentley4). This challenges the view that diatoms in phytoplankton are beneficial to microalgae, highlighting the need for a complete revision of aquatic food web theory and a need to incorporate the effects of infochemicals into global fisheries models (Caldwell1). 

2.2.2 Marine Biotechnology

Burgess, Clare, Goodfellow, Stach, Thomason and Ward form an interdisciplinary group performing research to underpin the development of environmentally-benign solutions to biofouling control and bioprospecting of microbes (especially actinomycetes) and their natural products. The theme has been strengthened by the appointment of Burgess (Chair of Marine Biotechnology) in 2005 and Stach in 2007. There is considerable overlap in interests between the two foci; for example, Burgess, Goodfellow and Ward contributed to five projects in the NERC Marine & Freshwater Microbial Biodiversity programme (2000-05) in the area of bioactives and natural products from marine bacteria. The group also has strong links with both UoA17’s microbial ecologists (e.g. Aquatic Microbial Metagenomics programme, Head, Stach, Goodfellow and Ward) and - guided by the ESSEM philosophy - UoA28’s marine technologists, in the area of antifouling and ballast water treatment.

Since 2001, the group has developed a balanced portfolio of £5.1 million funding from RCUK, industry and the EU. It is at the heart of major international, interdisciplinary marine biofouling programmes sponsored by the EU (AMBIO and CRAB) and the US Office of Naval Research (ONR). Biofouling research has been strengthened by the appointment of Burgess, whose programme on microbial fouling and its control filled a key gap in our expertise. Our achievements in the area of marine biofouling (research on hydrodynamics of antifouling coatings is returned under UoA 28) include:

  • The first demonstration that bacterial extracts could be added to paints to give antifouling performance (Burgess3; John Logie Baird Award for Innovation);
  • Leading of an Anglo-Japanese team to a major breakthrough in our understanding of barnacle fouling by elucidating the nature of the settlement pheromone and the likely mode of action of this cue (Clare1-3); this goal has eluded researchers for over 50 years;
  • US ONR sponsored research underpinning the development of more effective fouling-release systems and resulting in novel findings on the importance of surface wettability to mussel byssus attachment (Clare4);
  • Work with Kiel University showing that it is the pattern on mussel shells, not the size of the texture, that prevents barnacle settlement, establishing the subtlety of natural non-chemical antifouling (Thomason1);
  • Research with TNO (Holland) demonstrating the key impact of having multiple larvae in the standard barnacle settlement assay (Thomason3).

The industrial impact of our fouling research is highlighted by strong links to the world’s leading antifouling paint company, International Paint (IP) Ltd., with Clare holding two research contracts and Thomason awarded a Royal Society Industrial Fellowship with the company. Thomason’s work has resulted in IP setting the commercial standard in immersion data quality, and his major breakthrough on an analytical model of fouling has informed company decision-making processes.

Goodfellow, Stach and Ward, together with UK and international collaborators, have demonstrated the widespread occurrence and taxonomic diversity of marine actinomycetes (Goodfellow3,4; Stach3,4; Ward1), especially in deep-sea sediments. The application of isolation strategies, the taxonomic characterisation of marine actinomycetes and the theoretical underpinning from comparative genomics have significantly influenced search and discovery strategies for novel bioactive metabolites from the marine environment (Stach3,4; Ward1). This has resulted in the discovery of novel biochemistry (Goodfellow1) and new, bioactive natural product drug leads, notably abyssomicin (Riedlinger et al., 2004; J. Antibiotics 57: 271) and proximicin from a novel marine actinomycete strain. Stach was recently awarded a BBSRC grant to investigate the biosynthetic pathways of the abyssomicin and proximicin-producing strain. Stach has also developed new molecular methods for the bioprospecting of actinomycetes in marine environments, providing tools to high-grade environments for finding new taxa displaying novel natural product chemistry (Stach1,2). The team has long been involved with industry including Boehringer Ingelheim (provision of natural products extracts for screening purposes) and Glaxo Smithkline (identification of drug-producing strains for a high-profile legal dispute).  A spin-out company, Actinomics, has been set up, with a remit to identify novel natural product antimicrobials from actinomycetes.

SRIF II funding (ca. £4 million) has provided access to state-of-the-art genomics and proteomics facilities which have allowed Ward to use comparative genomics to analyse speciation in “Streptomyces coelicolor” A3(2); this analysis has contributed towards an improved definition of the bacterial species concept (Ward2) and demonstrated the conservation of antibiotic biosynthetic genes clusters at the species level, against a background of extensive lateral gene transfer (see Ward & Goodfellow, 2004; pp. 288-316, Microbial Diversity and Bioprospecting (ed. A.T. Bull)). These results have provided theoretical backup to renewed search and discovery efforts and underpinned the value of taxonomic characterisation in search and discovery programmes (Goodfellow2), as exemplified by the concept of the taxonomic roadmap to biosynthetic gene clusters (Ward & Goodfellow, 2004)

3 Research Environment

3.1 Managing and Promoting Research and Research Culture

Since the UoA combines researchers from three Schools, we have developed a twin-track approach to research success which combines (a) the handling of management and HR issues by Schools (outlined here and in Section 3.6) with (b) the intellectual vigour of the Geoscience and Marine Science research groups, fostered by IRES and outlined in Section 2.

Research groups comprise PhD students, research staff and academic staff. Their key purposes are to provide support and to generate intellectual vigour and enthusiasm. Formally, they:

(a)   Run monthly meetings in order to cascade information, exchange ideas, exert peer pressure and consider current and future research issues;

(b)   Operate a range of seminar series, including regular, funded external presentations and lunchtime workshops run by RAs and PhD students where common interests and research plans are discussed;

(c)   Organise internal peer review of research proposals and research papers.

Group leaders and deputies meet monthly to ensure consistency and to develop cross-group collaboration. Our ESSEM philosophy means that some meetings are held jointly with research groups submitted to UoA27/28 and has undoubtedly contributed to the £4 million of current grants held jointly between UoA17 and UoA27/28 staff. Group Leaders and an RA representative of each Group form the Research Committee, which also liaises with the PGR Board of Studies. Heads of School and Group Leaders are ultimately responsible for updating the research strategy and policies, and twice-yearly away-days are held in order to agree the strategy with staff.

Research groups are supported by a proactive administrative support team which provides a lifecycle project management structure that extends from identifying funding opportunities and preparing proposals to financial management and reporting. A weekly newsletter disseminates information on research achievements, future events and deadlines.

3.2 Infrastructure

Through SRIF, School, Royal Society, RDA and Research Council funding, we have invested £5.6 million in infrastructure (e.g. £1.4 million into refurbished laboratories) and new analytical equipment. The UoA’s central role in IRES has provided a major new infrastructure, creating a superb platform for research at the biological interfaces of Earth and Environmental Science. IRES is housed in the £22 million Devonshire Building, with state-of-the-art laboratories for analytical geochemistry and molecular ecology/systematics. Since 2004, £3 million of equipment for molecular ecological studies has been purchased, including a large scale, automated sequencing facility, robotic systems for metagenomic studies, real-time PCR facilities and microarray-based gene expression technology. We have also invested £1.2 million in a wide range of geochemical analytical equipment (e.g. ICPOES, GC-MS, LC-MS, IR, MICP), with Wagner’s Wolfson Research Merit Award (2005-2010) directly supporting the development of a new stable isotope facility.

3.3 Technical Support

The effective use of our infrastructure is paramount. The molecular ecological, analytical geochemical and aquarium facilities have ten members of staff assigned to their management and upkeep, including five technicians, an Experimental Officer, two RAs and a member of academic staff. These staff meet weekly to plan the effective use of the facilities, which are supported not only by research grants but also by centrally-held overheads and the provision of commercial analytical services. Our IT infrastructure is supported by six technicians and academic-related staff, and we have 47 technicians providing support in workshops, laboratories and on board the RV Bernicia.

3.4 Relationships with Research Users

Our strong research links with the petroleum, waste management, wastewater and biotechnology industries are detailed in Sections 2.1 and 2.2 and are clearly demonstrated by the £6.9 million of research awards from 49 companies over the period, with an expenditure during the period of circa £4 million. The group has spun out three limited companies (Mineral Solutions, Seabait and Actinomics), has filed five patents and routinely provides analytical and knowledge-based consultancy to a wide, international, range of major companies. Two staff are currently part-seconded to industry (Aplin: BP; Thomason: Royal Society Industrial Fellowship at International Paint). In addition to having research contracts with 21 government, non-government and charitable organisations, we also advise both national (e.g. Fisheries Society of the British Isles) and international agencies (e.g. World Bank/GEF Coral Reef targeted programme), plus international non-governmental organisations such as the International Society for Reef Studies (Polunin, President 2003-06). 

3.5 Organisation, Training and Support for Research Students

Our research students make a critical contribution to both our research environment and outputs. The core of their training is what they learn by working alongside their peers, RAs and other staff within their research groups.  More formally, they attend research group meetings along with academic and research staff. Our research degree programmes are aligned with the QAA Code of Practice for admission, supervision, progress monitoring and the Roberts training requirements, including generic skills training at both School and Faculty level. The PGR Board of Studies is responsible for admissions, monitoring of progress and completion, and for ensuring the quality of the PG research environment. PhD students organise and participate in an annual PGR research conference and are funded to attend selected national and international conferences.

3.6 Staffing Policy: Training, Development and Support for Research and Academic Staff

We have taken important steps to provide a clear career development path for Research Associates and Fellows. In the first instance RAs work with PIs on a specific project and are encouraged to develop broader links within the university as integral members of the research groups. In 2003, the post of School Research Fellow was created for RAs with the drive and ambition to follow an academic career path. Progression to School Research Fellow is based on achievement and potential. We reassure research staff of their long term value to the Schools by underwriting salary and providing funds for research collaboration. The success of this policy is indicated not only by the retention of able RAs but also by the award to our RAs of three RCUK Fellowships in 2006 under our umbrella ESSEM research theme. Caldwell was also appointed to lecturer via the School Fellow track.

The UoA has an excellent track record of staff development, as evidenced by the quality of our new recruits, internal promotions and the success of contract researchers in obtaining funded fellowships. Teaching loads for new staff are zero in the first year and are kept low for at least three years; the success of this policy is shown by our ECR’s excellent papers in frontline journals and the £1.9 million funding they have won. As for all academic and research staff, new staff write a Personal Research Plan, which documents a five year research plan and forms part of the annual Performance Development Review, at which workloads are reviewed, development needs addressed and targets agreed. New academics join existing staff as joint PhD supervisors and also learn project supervision through MSc projects. New academic staff and research fellows are assigned a “buddy” who, along with group leaders, helps new staff learn about funding opportunities, reviews proposals and ensures that contact is made with key technicians and potential collaborators within the University. For those staff without grants, including new staff, the Schools underwrite analytical and travel costs to promote both research and the winning of research funds. Research performance is a key criterion for the promotion of academic staff, with research output rigorously reviewed and subject to international assessment for Readerships and Chairs.

3.7 Support for Collaborative Research, Seminar Programmes and Visitors

Regular external seminar speakers are funded by the Schools and IRES. A regular stream of collaborators (PhD students, RAs and visiting staff) passes through both the Schools and IRES, with Royal Society and other funding. A substantial cohort of EU PhD students has visited us through our Marie Curie Centre for Excellence in Biogeochemistry. Schools underpin the collaborative efforts by providing considerable support to visitors through the provision of IT support, technical assistance and subsidised access to analytical equipment. The fact that 70% of our submitted papers are co-authored by UK and overseas collaborators is a simple indicator of the success of this policy.

3.8 Submission to Other UoAs

UoA17 comprises personnel from the Schools of Civil Engineering and Geoscience, Biology, and Marine Science & Technology. The Schools also submit to UoAs 16, 17, 27, 28 and 44.

3.9 Future Research Strategy

Climate change, energy supply and sustainability are among the most pressing issues facing society globally, as highlighted in recent authoritative documents such as the Stern Review, the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the IPCC. Research to tackle these problems cannot be defined by traditional disciplinary boundaries but requires a research perspective that incorporates fundamental science and engineering solutions within a societal context. Our response to these challenges has been the formulation of ESSEM as the backdrop against which we have strategically planned our research for at least the next five years, focussing on issues surrounding Climate Change, Sustainability, Biodiscovery and the Transition to the Low Carbon Economy.

Through both recruitment (9 new staff since 2004) and engagement with a range of partners from local to international, we have been proactive in developing teams and structures with which to develop our strategy. In addition to strong links with our colleagues in UoAs 16, 27 and 28, we are at the heart of two new University research centres which will integrate research on Energy and Biodiscovery. Our combined strengths in research and its commercial exploitation give us a strong basis for future dissemination and exploitation using many different routes. The University, Newcastle City Council and the Regional Development Agency, OneNorthEast, will drive the development of Newcastle Science City as a world-class location for knowledge-based business, focussed on a major city centre site. The UoA is central to two of the four Science City themes earmarked for specific development in North East England: “Energy and Environment” (including “Clean Energy from the Geosphere”) and “Molecular Engineering” (including “Drug Discovery”). With funding from the Science City Excellence Fund set up by the RDA and University, two Professors have recently been appointed in Energy (Roddy) and Practice (Bradbury); they will help develop translational research into clean energy, including the creation of the Geothermal Research Education and Training Institute at Easington, County Durham.

With the ESSEM strategy now embedded within the UoA, we look forward confidently to the next period; below, we highlight the generic issues we face and then outline the more specific plans of our research groups.

With regard to funding, whilst our industrial and RCUK funding base is reasonably strong and diverse, we wish to (a) increase funding from the EU and (b) expand the number of researchers working at the interface of academia and industry. We have specifically put aside funds to lubricate the winning of FP7 grants, and are twinning individuals with strong industrial links with those who have the skills and desire to engage with industry. With regard to staffing, we must (a) continue to attract and retain the highest quality research staff and students to the Unit, and (b) make first rate replacements for those four to five staff who will retire before 2010. We will also build on recent grant, RCUK and NERC Fellowship successes to grow the cohort of Research Fellows in the Unit. Finally, we will enact policies to maximise the quality of the large number of overseas students who wish to study with us, including obligatory MSc programmes and the specific targeting of a small number of carefully chosen overseas institutions with which to develop lasting relationships.

3.9.1 Geoscience Strategic Aims

Biogeochemistry is central to our understanding of the response of the past and present Earth System to environmental change and is at the heart of our research agenda.  Our overarching aim is to develop a more quantitative and thus predictive understanding of how both microbial communities and related biogeochemical processes respond to environmental perturbation (e.g. ocean acidification, soil warming, pollutant loading) on a range of temporal and spatial scales, and in both engineered and natural environments. Underpinning ecological theory will come from Head and Curtis (UoA27), who have recently established a £1.2 million European centre of excellence to understand the dynamics of biological processes in engineered systems. The recent award of grants worth £1.5 million to Wagner, Poulton, Talbot, Abbott, Gray and Fialips – with a range of collaborators in e.g. NIOZ (Netherlands), Bremen, Bristol and Edinburgh - are strong indications of our rich and quickly developing research portfolio in the related areas of palaeoclimate change/reconstruction, the biogeochemistry of the land-ocean-atmosphere system, and microbially mediated redox reactions in both natural and engineered systems.

Since fossil fuels will continue be a major contributor to the world’s energy budget over the short to medium term, fossil fuel research will continue to be an important part of our Geoenergy research portfolio. However, in collaboration with University of Calgary, our emphasis is shifting towards extraction of cleaner energy from the planet’s huge reserves of unconventional petroleum: heavy oil and shale gas. We have substantial industrial and NERC funds with which to develop both the fundamental science of the deep biosphere and its practical applications in exploiting heavy oil via conversion to methane (and ideally hydrogen). A major objective is to develop methodologies to biologically convert heavy oil, residual oil and even coal to gas. We will also use our long-term research on the properties of shales and conventional source rocks to develop exploration and production strategies for shale gas (recent grant to Aplin, Larter and Rouainia (UoA27)) and to help reduce the risk of CO2 leakage. With EPSRC support to Manning, carbon sequestration within engineered soils will form part of our work within our Transition to the Low Carbon Economy theme.

3.9.2 Marine Science Strategic Aims

Opportunities within Marine Ecology are being driven by major national (e.g. NERC) and global (e.g. World Bank/GEF) strategies and international commitments (e.g. World Summit on Sustainable Development, Convention on Biological Diversity). Within this context our research will combine molecular, geochemical, macroecological and other approaches to elucidate organismal, population and ecosystem responses to changes within fragile marine ecosystems. We have considerable forward momentum generated by £1.4 million of recent grants from RCUK, EU and charitable sources. Specific growing points include (a) molecular biological and geochemical work on frontier hydrothermal-vent communities in the Southern Ocean (NERC 2008-12: Polunin, Gray, Talbot; NERC studentship 2007-10: Wigham, Polunin); (b) ecological studies of mechanisms of reef disassembly and means of restoration (EU FP6 INCO 2005-08: Edwards; Leverhulme Trust 2005-08: Polunin); (c) molecular studies of corals’ primary barrier to microbial invasion (Leverhulme Trust 2006-09: Bythell) and (d) ecological and molecular studies of climate-change impacts on coral disease (NERC 2007-10: Bythell). Within this framework we have made strategic links with world-leading collaborators such as the National Oceanography Centre (Polunin - NERC CHESS consortium, Wigham - industry-funded SERPENT programme) and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies (Bythell - NERC, Polunin - Leverhulme Trust, JCU and Churchill Fellowship). The retirement of Olive in 2008 will be an opportunity to recruit an accomplished researcher to complement the group's work on fragile marine ecosystems.

Research within Marine Biotechnology maps strongly on to both RCUK and EU research strategies. Both ballast water management (e.g. UKIERI award to Bentley, Burgess, Caldwell, Clare and Delany (with Mesbahi UoA28)), and marine fouling control (e.g. EU AMBIO funded to 2010; two NERC new studentships to Caldwell and Clare; new contracts to Clare and Thomason with International Paint Ltd), will continue to be important research areas. The application of ‘omics’ technology to the characterisation of the marine environment and the pursuit of exploitable biology (e.g. in antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals) is being pushed forward in an NERC metagenomics research award (NERC Aquatic Microbial Metagonomics – Head, Stach, Goodfellow and Ward) utilising SRIF funded arrays and magnetic bead nanotechnology. Our key role in the cross-University Drug Discovery Platform of Science City includes Burgess’ involvement in a £3.8 million Knowledge Transfer Network and a BBSRC Dorothy Hodgkin PhD studentship in collaboration with Croda Entreprises Ltd. The University’s Dove Marine Laboratory and RV Bernicia are important platforms for delivering this research. Technology to underpin aquaculture will continue, with Ward and Olive advancing a programme with Seabait Ltd to understand the biosynthesis of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) biogenesis and microbial ‘farming’ by marine worms in sediments. Strategic replacements will ensure that this area of our portfolio continues strongly after the retirement of Ward and Goodfellow before 2010.

4 Esteem

Abbott

Associate Editor, Organic Geochemistry

International conferences: five keynote/invited speaker, e.g. 223rd ACS National Meeting, Orlando; 17th International Symposium on Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis, 2006, Budapest

 

Aplin

International Conferences/Symposia: six x keynote and four x invited speaker, e.g. Gas Shales Calgary 2006, Gas-Water-Rock Interaction, Paris 2004

Petromaks Grant Committee, Research Council of Norway

Professor in Practice with BP, 2007-2009

 

Bentley

President, International Society Invertebrate Reproduction & Development

Convener; 10th International Congress Invertebrate Reproduction & Development

Editor, Invertebrate Reproduction Development

External Assessor, Thailand Research Fund

 

 

 

Burgess

Editor-in-Chief: Marine Biotechnology

International conferences: six keynotes and three organising committees; e.g. keynote at EU Presidency Conference on European Maritime Policy 2007, Bremen

Management Board KTN Biotechnology

Steering Committee, NERC Thematic Programme in Marine and Freshwater Microbial Biodiversity

 

Bythell

World Bank/GEF/UNESCO Coral Bleaching Working Group

International conferences: three x Plenaries, e.g. Coral Reef and Health Diseases, Israel, 2003

NERC PRC

 

Caldwell (ECR)

International conferences: two invited, one session organiser

Associate Editor: Marine Biotechnology

Science and Engineering Ambassador for SETNET

Runner up: Westminster Medal for Britain's Younger Scientists, Engineers and Technologists (SET for Britain)

Council member, Challenger Society for Marine Science

Journal Reviews: e.g. ChemBioChem; Limnology and Oceanography; Aquatic Toxicology

 

Clare

International conferences: one plenary (12th International Congress on Marine Corrosion and Biofouling, 2004), three keynote, two invited, four organising committee

Editorial boards: Biofouling, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology

NERC PRC

Scientific Assessment Panel, MISTRA Marine Paint (Sweden)

 

 

 

 

 

Edwards

Chair GEF/World Bank CRTR Reef Restoration and Remediation Working Group.

International conferences: one keynote, two invited speaker, three mini-symposium organiser, e.g. Coral Reef Symposium, Okinawa, 2004

 

Fialips (ECR)

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director’s Fellow 2001-2003

International conferences: one co-chair; eight invited seminars in four countries

Committee Member: MinSoc Clay Mineral Group

Journal Reviews: e.g. Journal of Colloid and Interface Science; GCA; American Mineralogist

 

Goodfellow

Member, ISI highly cited list

Honorary DSc Autonomous Metropolitan University, Mexico City (2006)

Diploma, International Group for Research on Pathogenic Actinomycetes (2004)

Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Bergey’s Manual Trust (2005 – present)

Member, Quality Assessment Panel, Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

International Conferences: 12 keynotes

Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of General and Molecular Biology (Antonie van Leeuwenhoek)

 

Gray (ECR)

RCUK Fellow, 2006 - 2009

Editorial board: Journal of Microbiological Methods

NERC PRC

International conferences: three x invited speaker including Society General Microbiology, Keele, 2005

Invited author, Microbial Ecology section, Elsevier Encyclopedia of Ecology

Journal Reviews: Journal of Microbiological Methods, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, Environmental Microbiology

 

 

 

Head

International Society for Microbial Ecology Young Investigator Award (2004)

International conferences: 12 x invited keynote/invited speaker (e.g. Gordon Conference, 2003 and 2006; 11th Symposium on Microbial Ecology, Vienna, 2006); six x session convenor

Member, KNAW Ecogenomics International Advisory Committee

Editorial boards: six international journals, e.g. Applied Environmental Microbiology

NERC PRC

 

Jones

International Conferences: Invited speaker, Canadian Society Coal Science and Organic Petrology, 2002; Organising committee, SIMSUG 2007

Patent applications: Hydrocarbon Recovery 2005, Biodiesel Remediation 2006

 

Larter

Foreign Member Norwegian Academy of Sciences (2004)

Nominee, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2006-07

AAPG Distinguished Lecturer (2005-06)

International Conference: Meeting Chair Gordon Conference (2006)

Canada Research Chair in Petroleum Geology (2004)

 

Manning

Schlumberger Medal (2004)

Leverhulme Fellowship (2001-2)

Member, Soil Science Advisory Committee (NERC-BBSRC; 2001-4)

EPSRC College (2001-4)

Trustee & Vice President Geological Society of London (2004-7)

Director, Mineral Solutions Ltd, 1996-2006 

Invited Speaker, NSF-EPSRC Bio-Soils Workshop, Boston, 2007

 

Olive

Queen’s Award for Enterprise (2003) and Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development (Seabait Ltd)

Convener of British High Commission/DTI Sustainable Aquaculture workshop

Assessor to the French Government programme PNEC (2001 – 2005)

International conferences: Keynote lectures at international symposia on sustainable aquaculture Korea (2002), Brazil (2003), Indonesia (2005), Singapore (2006)

 

Polunin

International conferences: three x co-organiser; keynote, 10th International Coral Reef Symposium, Okinawa, 2004

Editor: Environmental Conservation

DEFRA Marine Fisheries Science Advisory Group

President of Foundation for Environmental Conservation and International Society for Reef Studies

Cited >570 times from papers published since 2001

 

Poulton (ECR)

NERC Research Fellowship 2005-2008

Marie Curie Individual Fellowship 2002-04

International conference: Invited keynote, “Major Oxygenation Events in Earth History”, Stockholm, 2007

Journal Reviews: e.g. Science, Geology and GCA

 

Stach (ECR)

International conferences: invited lectures, International Symposium on Biology of 

Actinomycetes, Melbourne 2003, Newcastle 2007

Journal Reviews: e.g. Environmental Microbiology; FEMS Microbial Ecology; Soil Biology and Biochemistry

 

Talbot (ECR)

International conferences: Invited speaker, Earth Systems Processes, Calgary, 2005; International Meeting on Biomedical Spectrosocopy, London, 2003

Session Chair, IMOG 2007

Journal Reviews: e.g. GCA, EPSL, Limnology Oceanography, Organic Geochemistry

 

Thomason

Royal Society Industrial Fellowship (International Paint)

Visiting Professor, University of Kiel

 

Tyson

International Conferences: two invited lectures, e.g. SEPM, July 2005, Utah

Invited member, Nominating Committee for The Society for Organic Petrology

Research level book (1995): 317 citations

 

Uher

International Conferences: Session convener, EGU 2006, 2007

Marine Sciences Core Member, NERC Fluoronet

 

Upstill-Goddard

International conferences: one keynote (International Symposium on Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Balances, Tsukuba, Japan, 2005), one invited, three convenor/organising committee, two session chairs

UK SOLAS Planning and Steering Committees

External Steering Group Member NERC CASIX

Invited Member CARBOEUROPE Group of Experts

NERC PRC

NERC AMT Consortium Project Steering Committee

 

Wagner

Heisenberg Fellowship of the German Science Foundation (2002-2005)

Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2005-2010)

International Conferences: 10 Session Chair/Co-chair, one organising committee, seven invited presentations, e.g. Gordon Conference presentation 2002 and invited session chair Gordon Conference 2006

Journal guest editorships: three, e.g. Palaeo3

 

Ward

International Conferences: 10 invited speaker, Organising Committee International Symposium on Biology of Actinomycetes 13 (Melbourne) and Organiser of ISBA 14.

Member, BBSRC Streptomyces Investigating Gene Function Initiative Committee 2003-06

Member, BBSRC Systematics Working Group 2005.

 

Wigham (ECR)

International Conferences: one x organising committee, two x session chair (e.g. 10th International Deep-sea Biology Symposium, Oregon, 2003), one x invited speaker (Linnean Society)

Journal Reviews: e.g. Marine Biology, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Deep-Sea Research