Our applied marine science research is aimed at sustainable use of the oceans. This research is focused in three main areas.
The first is marine antifouling and ballast water treatment research. Preventing colonisation of surfaces in the marine environment in a sustainable way given the diversity of marine life and mechanisms used to sense and stick to surfaces is one of the most challenging topics facing marine science and technology. Whether we are concerned with measuring and monitoring the oceans, securing food from the sea, developing new marine sources of energy, naval and maritime defence or transporting goods around the world, marine biofouling needs to be controlled. Meeting the challenge requires a transdisciplinary approach and accordingly most of our research is delivered through collaborations with industry and involvement in large international programmes funded by the US Office of Naval Research and the EC (SEACOAT and COST Action Biological Adhesives). Our contribution to these programmes is aimed at improving our knowledge of the physico-chemical factors that affect surface colonisation by marine invertebrates, in particular barnacles, and the nature of the adhesives involved. Over the past decade we have developed an advanced laboratory-scale capability for evaluating antifouling and fouling-release technologies that comprises mostly custom-built equipment for measuring adhesion and settlement behaviour. Preventing the spread of marine organisms with the capacity to colonise, compete and cause significant ecological and financial impact is a key challenge for marine science. Our understanding of factors contributing to the successful transport and survival of planktonic organisms in ship's ballast is leading to the development of new treatments and management strategies.
The second area is bacterial bioactive products. Surface fouling by bacteria remains a serious problem which can be extremely difficult to prevent or remove. Thus we are also engaged in understanding biofilm formation and dispersal. This work has led to advances in our understanding of enzymes involved in biofilm breakup in marine bacteria, and the subsequent application of such enzymes in cleaning and biofilm removal in a number of medical and industrial situations. In addition we work with academics and doctors in the medical school to develop medical therapeutics based on our discoveries in marine ecology.
The third area is marine bioenergy – or biofuels from the sea. The need to replace fossil fuels, particularly those used in the transport sector, with renewable, sustainable and affordable alternatives is a key policy driver for the UK and beyond. Biofuels of terrestrial origin do not meet crucial sustainability criteria; as such, marine sources (algae) are a central area of our research focus. We specialise in developing key enabling technologies that further the development of algae bioenergy, in terms of product yield, process efficiency and cost reduction. Our research has shown early potential to shape the nascent algae bioenergy industry: using a radical approach of infochemical stimulation we have manipulated microalgae growth and product yields (Carbon Trust Algae Biofuels Challenge); we have demonstrated 'infinite' process stability for the production of methane by the anaerobic digestion of seaweed (Scottish Enterprise Seaweed Anaerobic Digestion); and we have designed and manufactured a microalgae foam flotation harvesting system (EPSRC) that has the potential to reduce harvesting costs by over 90% compared with current industry standards.
To ensure the continued protection of our seas and the sustainable use of its resources, awareness of marine issues is vital. We are involved in a number of projects that look for ways of facilitating engagement of people with the marine environment, and with a deeper understanding of the role of science in society. Citizen Science initiatives are one area of research where we seek to understand how publics can contribute in a meaningful way to environmental understanding.