School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Research Impact

Research Impact

Research conducted within the remit of plant and microbial sciences has led to two successful spin-out companies.

These spin-out companies were highlighted in the 2014 NERC IMPACT report.

We also lead an active ‘citizen science’ and public engagement programme (OPAL-North East) as part of the national Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network that is funded by The Big Lottery (£15 M).

Spin-out companies

The food industry suffers huge losses through spoilage and contamination before food reaches the consumer.

NERC-funded research led by Professor Jerry Barnes and Dr Ian Singleton, built on their existing plant and microbial sciences research to spin out two innovative new food testing and preservation companies. These new technologies and companies help food producers and retailers reduce waste, and hence boost productivity and growth.

Geneius Laboratories supplies a range of testing services to the Food and Drink Sector. All business Divisions are UKAS (ISO17025) accredited and approved to supply all major UK retailers (including M&S and Tesco - who have their own accreditation schemes). The company pioneered the use of cost-effective DNA-based approaches for the rapid detection and confirmation of foodborne pathogens, but also provides unique CSI-style DNA approaches for the exploration of microbial contamination issues and the dissection of supply chain problems.

The company's purpose-built HQ in Cramlington houses five principle testing divisions:

  • microbiology
  • specialist microbiological services
  • nutritional chemistry
  • allergens
  • food authentication

Recent accolades include: The Northumberland Business Award for Innovation, The Society for Food Hygiene and Technology Award for Best New Service and Medlink/Health Connect Business For Life Awards

Geneius has grown rapidly from 3 to more than 50 employees. It is now the largest single site food and drink testing services provider in the UK, and recognised as top-10 service provider to the UK Food and Drink industry.

Biofresh uses innovative technology to protect stored food from spoilage, based on fundamental research which demonstrated the efficacy of low levels of ozone in supressing the growth of fungi, bacteria and mould in high-value fruit and vegetables.

A commercial solution for using low-levels of ethylene gas was developed to suppress sprouting of potatoes. Low concentrations of both gases break down naturally into harmless by-products, eliminating the need for persistent chemical treatments.

Biofresh has now been taken over by Freshpallet and its products are marketed internationally. The treatment is used on more than 200,000 tons of potatoes worth £25m, including many sold by UK retail chains and the largest crisp manufacturer in SE Asia.

Citizen science and public engagement

Since 2008, OPAL-North East has engaged with over 20,000 people across the region by delivering training for:

  • environmental surveys
  • assessment of biodiversity
  • biological education
  • workshops and lectures

Our contributions to this award-winning and ground-breaking public engagement program are cited in the Opal Community Environment Report (PDF: 9.16MB) which was launched and discussed at the House of Lords in January 2013.

Our Plant Masterclasses are recognised as helping the region achieve a 15% extra take up in triple science GCSE’s from 2009-11 and in contributing to improved exam results at Key Stage 4 as cited in the Science Excellence and Innovation Partnership (SEIP) report to Newcastle City Council.