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Students take on global research issues

Students take on global research issues

Published on: 23 November 2016

Creating better pollen substitutes, investigating antibiotic resistance and looking at the after-effects of volcanic eruptions are among the subjects covered by this year's scholarship students.

Effective pollen substitute

A Newcastle University student has been studying bee nutrition to help create an effective pollen substitute.

The worldwide decline in honeybee populations is a huge concern due to the central role they play in our eco system. One of the main reasons for the decline is believed to be poor nutrition brought about by intensive agriculture. As a result, beekeepers are increasingly using artificial pollen substitutes to feed and maintain their colonies, but most of these are ineffective.

Supported by funding from the University's Research Scholarship and Expeditions programme, BSc (Hons) Biology student Ruby Scott discovered that different proteins in artificial solutions affected how much honeybees consumed. “I think this is really important research in order to maintain bee colonies for the honey industry and for pollination worldwide,” says Ruby. Her research will now be used to develop an improved pollen substitute for optimal nutrition.

Ruby will be presenting her research at a special public lecture taking place at Newcastle University tomorrow to celebrate this year’s University Research & Expedition Scholarship students.

Antibiotic resistance

The Scholarships support undergraduate students to work alongside researchers on summer vacation projects, while the Expeditions Scholarships give students the opportunity to undertake field research in other countries. Both schemes enable students to experience research-led learning and to develop key skills.

Joining Ruby tomorrow will be Jia Yee Ho, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences, who is based at NUMed Malaysia. Her research dealt with a global concern: antibiotic resistance, which compromises our ability to treat infectious diseases.
Using a river in South Malaysia as her study site, Jia Yee investigated whether drug-resistant E. coli present in faeces could be widely transmitted through the water. On analysing her river water samples, Jia Yee detected E. coli, which was subsequently found to be resistant to three out of five antibiotics, namely: ciprofloxacin, ampicillin-sulbactam and sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim. The E. coli demonstrated some susceptibility towards two other antibiotics tested, ceftazidime and cefotaxime.

Traditional aspects of life

Also looking at global concerns, diseases associated with later life were thought to be rare in sub-Saharan Africa. However, ageing populations have led to a higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Natasha Forthergill Misbah, MSc Public Health (Global Health), spent her expedition time in rural Tanzania researching Parkinson’s and discovered there were many misconceptions about the cause of this disease, ranging from cold weather to evil spirits.

She identified a lack of health services and social support as limiting understanding of PD among healthcare workers. As cultural beliefs play a big part in these communities, Natasha’s research shows just how crucial it is that biomedical treatment practices are incorporated into traditional aspects of life. “I was quite shocked at how influential the traditional and religious views of this rural population were on their beliefs about illness,” she says. “It was fascinating to talk to people with Parkinson's disease about their disease, but also quite heartbreaking listening to the suffering they endure as a result. I'm carrying out my PhD on the same subject on a broader scale in Africa and I can't wait to dig deeper into the issue.''

Volcanic eruptions

Other presentations include Holly-Ann Carl, BA (Hons) Archaeology, who has been studying Hylton Castle in Sunderland. She compared historic images, as well as archaeological evidence, to examine how perceptions of the castle have changed through time. The castle, which currently lies in ruins, is about to undergo major restoration and renovation before being turned into an education centre.

Alexandra Mckee, Rebecca Leitch and Diana Luke, all BSc (Hons) Geography, studied the impact of the Calbuco volcano eruption in Chile last year on the surrounding environment.

They investigated fluvial geomorphology, lahar characterisation and ecological disturbance at two sites along the Río Blanco Este which were highly affected by volcanic processes and materials.Preliminary findings of the river geomorphology indicated that although the impact was felt at the upper site immediately after the eruption, there was evidence of disturbance at the lower site several months later.

While the lower site features trees near to the river edge, the first signs of living vegetation were found 100m away from the current river position at the upper site. Ash allowed some vegetation to exist, whereas areas in direct contact with the lahar flow still have no vegetation today.

Valuable research and problem solving skills

Professor Suzanne Cholerton, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) at Newcastle University, said:
“Conducting research gives students the opportunity to plan, organise and execute projects often in challenging and unfamiliar environments and can have a very positive impact on their confidence and motivation. By giving them the opportunity to work closely with staff on research projects, these Research and Expedition Scholarships enable students to have a window on the research environment, helping them to better understand different research activities and techniques.
“Whatever the domain of activity, a Research and Expedition Scholarship provides an opportunity for students to find out what research is like and develop valuable research and problem solving skills that will help them throughout their academic career and beyond.”

Since its launch in 2007, the scheme has become established as an important platform for students to showcase their research. There has been significant growth in the number of successful applications for Research Scholarships over the years: some 111 were undertaken this year, compared with 32 projects funded in 2007. In addition to the five presentations taking place, there will also be posters from all participants on display, with a prize for the best poster.  

The public lecture is free to attend, and takes place in the Curtis Auditorium of the Herschel Building from 5.30pm until 7.30pm on Wednesday 23 November. Posters from all participants will be on display in the Lindisfarne Room from 4.30pm. 

For more information about the Expeditions and Research Scholarships, visit their website.


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