Researcher in laboratory

Applied and Environmental Biology

The group conducts research on organisms and processes of commercial and environmental importance, embracing experimental approaches that encompass genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry and physiology. Commercial applications range from natural products discovery and creation of novel antimicrobials and biopesticides, sustainable methods of reducing food spoilage, microbes involved in biofuel production, and uses of microbes in bioremediation of polluted environments. Our fundamental research provides evidence for the underlying molecular and physiological processes that affect animal behaviour and physiology. Research into the physiological performance and productivity of crops and natural plant populations in response to abiotic (drought, salinity, ground-level ozone and other environmental pollutants) and biotic (insects, pathogens) stressors is directed towards the development of functional molecular markers. Microbial studies incorporate fundamental research on secondary metabolites, plant-microbe interactions (beneficial and pathogenic), microbial communities in soils and aquatic fungi.

We collaborate nationally and globally with a range of research partners that include Universities, government institutes and industry. Our research is driven by the desire to inform the development of new biological systems which can be designed to address key global challenges pertaining to health, food, energy and water security. The applied nature of our work has led to the formation of successful University spin out companies (e.g. geneiuslabs) that offer graduate employment opportunities and make a substantial contribution to the local economy. Our research interests are reflected in the teaching we deliver at both UG and MSc level.

Our research laboratories are based in the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS), Devonshire Building, and include well-equipped molecular laboratories for PCR and qPCR amplification, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), and facilities for production of novel recombinant proteins, including protein engineering. Microbiological laboratories are equipped to Category 2 standard. We have state-of-the-art equipment for profiling plant leaf gas exchange and light use efficiency, high performance liquid chromatography, fluorescence and light microscopy and easy access to central facilities for confocal and electron microscopy, DNA sequencing, microarray analyses and proteomics. We also have a suite of licenced controlled environment rooms for growing transgenic plants and for housing quarantine invertebrate pests.

We invite contact from interested individuals for research collaboration.

Specific research projects within the group include:

  • Peptide-PNA conjugates as species-specific antimicrobials
  • Antisense-based antimicrobial screens
  • Detection and description of microbes and microbial communities in food and environmental samples using next generation sequencing
  • The use of microbes and plants to clean up contaminated environments
  • Inhibition of microbial food spoilage with ozone and other environmentally sustainable treatments
  • Plant-pathogen interactions and decomposition of plant matter
  • Molecular systematics and evolutionary phylogeny of environmentally important microbes
  • Bioengineering Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) to improve plant water-use efficiency
  • Exploiting the potential of CAM plants as second generation biofuel feedstocks
  • Development of novel biopesticides and investigating effects on non-target beneficial organisms
  • Understanding the effects of low-level ozone pollution on crops, natural vegetation and pollinators
  • Functional genomics of plant responses to abiotic and biotic stressors
  • Neural and endocrine mechanisms that underpin feeding behaviour, metabolism and reproduction in vertebrates

Current PhD Projects