How viruses might influence estimates of global warming
The tiniest life forms on Earth have a big impact on the way carbon dioxide is cycled between the atmosphere and the ocean, new research from the University of Warwick has found.
These life forms are viruses of some of the most abundant organisms on our planet: marine cyanobacteria.
The new research, Viruses Inhibit CO2 Fixation in the Most Abundant Phototrophs on Earth and published by Current Biology, demonstrates that the viruses of these cyanobacteria, cyanophages, use these genes to maintain the so-called “light-reactions” of photosynthesis, while shutting down the “dark-reactions”.
Cyanobacteria have had an incredible impact on the Earth by seeding the atmosphere with oxygen about 3 billion years ago, allowing for the existence of life as we know it. Today, this same process that acts to produce oxygen sucks up CO2 from the atmosphere.
Professor David Scanlan of the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences, the lead author of the research, said: “CO2 is a key greenhouse gas directly implicated in global warming. Given CO2 is converted into organic compounds during photosynthesis, factors that directly affect this process play a key role in modulating atmospheric CO2 levels.”
“We have known about these viruses for several decades” said Scanlan. “Things changed in 2003 when we discovered that these viruses have stolen genes from cyanobacteria that participate in photosynthesis. Now we have shown that these viruses modify photosynthesis during the demise of their host”.
On a global scale this results in losses of 0.02-5.39 Pg C yr-1 to viral induced inhibition of CO2 fixation. Per annum this upper figure is approximately 10% of the total CO2 fixed in the marine environment.
This data has important implications for measuring greenhouse gasses. Professor Scanlan explains:
“Quantification of net primary productivity is usually determined by directly measuring cyanobacterial photosynthesis and these methods rely on the coupling of light reactions to CO2 fixation”.
“In virus infected cells, this assumption of light reactions linked to CO2 fixation is incorrect and can therefore lead to a significant over estimation of CO2 fixation. This has very important implications for our understanding, and the estimates of, global warming.”
Professor Dave Scanlan
Dr Andrew Millard
The School of Life Sciences welcomes Professor Murray Grant, who recently took up the position of Elizabeth Creak Chair in Food Security and, thanks to a generous donation from the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust, researchers teach children about soil at the Kenilworth Show.
Plants remember stress to help protect themselves
A new generation of plants better adapted to mitigate the effects of environmental change could be created following a fundamental step towards understanding how plants are able to retain a memory of stress exposure.
The research, led by Dr Jose Gutierrez-Marcos and published in the journal eLife, provides the first compelling evidence that plants have evolved ways to remember previous exposures to stress, in this case high salinity conditions, which can help subsequent progenies withstand the same stress in future.
Guardian ranks University of Warwick in UK top 10
The UK's Guardian Newspaper has today, Monday 23 May 2016, once again ranked the University of Warwick in the UK’s top 10 universities, ranking it at 9th overall in the UK.
The full set of tables can be found at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/ng-interactive/2016/may/23/university-league-tables-2017#S100
Interested in studying biosciences with us? Come to one of our Open Days on 24 and 25 June to visit our campus and experience what it is like to be a student at Warwick.
University of Warwick honoured at Accreditation Awards Ceremony for Bioscience Degrees
The University of Warwick has been formally awarded Advanced Accreditation for eight degree programmes by the Royal Society of Biology at the 2016 awards ceremony. The fourth annual awards, presented at the House of Commons on Thursday 14 April, recognised bioscience degree programmes which promote academic excellence, and prepare graduates for employment within the biosciences.
The University received Advanced Accreditation for the School of Life Sciences MBio bioscience degree programmes in Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Medical Microbiology and Virology. Dr Isabelle Carre and Dr Rebecca Freeman were present to accept the award along with Rose Hodgson a current MBio with industrial placement student, and Gemma Barnes who graduated from the MBio in 2015 and received the Royal Society of Biology Top Graduate award.
Selection pressures push plants over adaption cliff new study has significant implications for how we address rapid climate change
New simulations by researchers at the University of Warwick and UCL’s Institute of Archaeology of plant evolution over the last 3000 years have revealed an unexpected limit to how far useful crops can be pushed to adapt before they suffer population collapse. The result has significant implications for how growers, breeders and scientists help agriculture and horticulture respond to quickening climate change.
The research led by Professor Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences has just been published in the journal Evolutionary Genomics and is entitled "Evolutionary Genomics Surprisingly Low Limits of Selection in Plant Domestication".
Read the full Press Release
School of Life Sciences hosts British Biology Olympiad finals 4-6 April
Sixteen of the country’s best young biologists came to the University of Warwick this week for the British Biology Olympiad (BBO) finals; organised by the Royal Society of Biology and sponsored by BBSRC. The students had been selected through three rounds of examinations from more than 7,200 secondary school applicants.
The British Biology Olympiad final practical training programme in the School of Life Sciences was organised by Dr Leanne Williams and Dr Kevin Moffat, with Dr Miriam Gifford and Dr Logan Kistler. The students faced intensive high-level practicals covering a huge range of topics: animal anatomy, systemics and evolution, biochemistry and molecular biology, plant morphology, taxonomy and physiology. Their skills were assessed the following day with exams in the lab, and together with theory exams in the evening, an Olympiad team of 4 students was selected. Teaching was supported by the professional and enthusiastic Life Sciences lab technical team, who rapidly turned around the labs during the quick-fire four-course banquet of practicals and exams!
Details of the participating students and the winning team that will complete in the International Biology Olympiad in Vietnam this summer can be seen at British Biology Olympiad results
In July 2017 the University of Warwick in partnership with the Royal Society of Biology will host the International Biology Olympiad (IBO). This is a week-long biology competition for 16/17 year-olds which brings together winners of the National Biology Olympiads from over 60 countries. The School of Life Sciences will be involved in the practical and theory components of the competition utilising our excellent facilities and biological expertise.
The many-headed-slime: It's alive!
As part of British Science Week, members of Life Sciences took part in the Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair held at the NEC 16-19 March. Representing the Faculty of Science, staff and students from Life Sciences joined colleagues from Chemistry, Engineering and Physics to demonstrate science to children, parents and teachers.
Matt Teft is part of winning team at Warwick Staff Awards
Matt Teft, a second year MIBTP (Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership) student, is part of a team that has won an award for Public Engagement at the University of Warwick Staff Awards.
The MIBTP is a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership between the Universities of Warwick, Birmingham and Leicester. As part of their training, the BBSRC requires students to complete a Professional Internship for Phd Students (PIPS). Matt participated in the University's activities at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2015 as part of his PIPS and has written a blog of his experience: blogs.warwick.ac.uk/mibtp/entry/cheltenham_science_festival
Matt is a PhD student with Dr Miriam Gifford in the School of Life Sciences working on a project entitled 'Investigating conservation of function of SCARECROW-LIKE/GRAS transcription factors and their interactions in controlling root architecture responses'.
IFSTAL Away Day Success
On Saturday 5 March, Oxford University hosted the first IFSTAL (Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning) Away Day, where students from Warwick, Reading, Oxford, City and LCIRAH were able to meet and network with fellow students and food sector professionals, including Gavin Milligan – Group Sustainability Director at William Jackson Food and Angela Baker – Deputy Director, Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England. Two Masters students and two PhD students from the School of Life Sciences were involved in the day, presenting their own research and working with others to solve ‘real’ workplace scenarios in a relaxed and fun environment.
IFSTAL is an interactive training programme designed to improve postgraduate knowledge and understanding of the food system through numerous activities and events throughout the year, as well as an interactive Moodle site.
Want to get involved? To join you must be a postgraduate registered at Warwick University (or one of our partner institutes), although some events will be open to all.
Email Kelly Reed at IFSTAL-Warwick@Warwick.ac.uk to be put on the mailing list.
Alternatively find us on Facebook, Moodle and Twitter – simply search for IFSTAL.
Summer research placements in Entomology and Pathology
The School of Life Sciences has a number of summer research placements available in Entomology and Plant Pathology during the summer vacation of 2016. The placements are funded by the BBSRC through its Strategic Training Awards for Research Skills (STARS) scheme and provide training in strategically important and vunerable skills for bioscientists.
The 10-week placements are for second year undergraduate students enabling them to join a research group in Life Sciences and undertake a small research project related to the group's activities.
Each student will receive a bursary of £2000 (£200 per week).
For further details and how to apply see the Summer research placements flyer (pdf).
The closing date for applications is 18 April.
SLS authors publish new edition of 'Introduction to Modern Virology'
The new 7th edition of the popular textbook ‘Introduction to Modern Virology’ is published today.
First published in 1974, this was one of the first textbooks in the field of virology. Authored by academics from the School of Life Sciences, the purpose of the book was and remains to provide a clear and comprehensive coverage of virology at a level accessible for undergraduates. It provides a broad introduction to virology, which includes the nature of viruses, the interaction of viruses with their hosts and the consequences of those interactions that lead to the diseases we see.
The latest edition, authored by Professor Nigel Dimmock, Professor Andrew Easton and Dr Keith Leppard, has been updated throughout to cover the ever growing subject area. The book includes new chapters focusing on the economic impact of virus infections and the impact that viruses have on the planet.
The text provides ideal reading for students in biology and medicine wishing to study virology.
Dr Leppard said, “the book underpins teaching of the subject to our undergraduates in Medical Microbiology and Virology, and Biomedical Science.”
Professor Nicholas Dale receives MRC Discovery Award
Innovative University of Warwick research will be accelerated thanks to funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to take ground-breaking ideas into industry and out to patients. A Discovery Award of £973k will support vivo microscopy researchers investigate the dynamic activity of individual neural cells during complex behaviours.
Led by Professor Nicholas Dale, researchers will investigate the activity of neural cells deep in the mammalian brain that help control complex behaviours such as feeding and breathing and the operation of the body’s circadian clock.
Dr Elizabeth Fullam wins Seed Grant Award to study Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Dr Elizabeth Fullam has been awarded a seed grant of £25k from the Warwick Quantitative Biomedicine Programme (funded through the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund). In a programme open to all Warwick researchers, seed grants are provided through an open, peer reviewed competition to explore quantitative biology in all areas of modern biology. Dr Fullam's project aims to quantify nutrient uptake and metabolism in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and will fund a postdoctoral researcher for 6 months.
Tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is a major global health problem, with the World Health Organisation reporting 9 million new cases of TB and 1.5 million deaths from TB in 2014 alone. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population is latently infected with Mtb and Mtb is unique in its ability to be able to survive within the human host for decades.
Currently there is a lack in our understanding of the nutrients that Mtb is able to utilise to survive intracellularly. The aim of this Quantitative Biomedical Seed Grant is to utilise advanced imaging techniques to enable us to understand and quantify these essential nutrient uptake and metabolism processes in this pathogenic organism.
Research Fellow vacancy - apply by 16 February 2016
SBRI funding received to develop diagnostic biosensors for strokes
Sarissa Biomedical, a spin-out company established by Professor Nick Dale, Ted Pridgeon Professor of Neuroscience in the School of Life Sciences, has been awarded £150,000 from Innovate UK’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). Sarissa Biomedical has pioneered highly sensitive analytical devices known as microelectrode biosensors, which can be used to monitor in real-time the levels of purines - neurochemicals that influence the function of the nervous system. These biosensors have been used to demonstrate that purines are elevated in the blood of stroke patients compared to healthy controls.
Plants use a molecular clock to predict when theyll be infected
Dr Katherine Denby and colleagues discovered that a plant's molecular clock is connected to their immune system to increase levels of resistance to infection at dawn – the time at which fungal infections appear most likely to occur, with plants unable to maintain the highest level of resistance at all times of day.
The researchers identified a single protein, JAZ6, in the plant cell which drives this time-of-day difference in the effectiveness of the immune response, with it connecting the plant clock to the immune system.
Professor Liz Wellington receives BBSRC award to investigate bovine tuberculosis control strategies
Professor Liz Wellington, Professor of Environmental Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences, has been awarded £1,172,973 from BBSRC for her project on ‘The farm environment: an overlooked reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis?’.
M. bovis is the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a disease that affects cattle health and welfare and has serious impacts on the agriculture industry. Uncertainty around the transmission of bTB has impeded the development of effective control measures, but recent research has suggested that indirect transmission through M. bovis in the environment may play an important role in the spread of bTB between cattle and wildlife. This project brings together interdisciplinary expertise in epidemiology, microbiology, genomics and ecology, to investigate the distribution and survival of M. bovis in the farm environment and to determine how biosecurity measures may be adjusted to limit the transmission of this harmful bacterium. The research will be carried out in collaboration with Professor Mark Pallen from Warwick Medical School, Professor Rosie Woodroffe from the ZSL Institute of Zoology, and Professor Christl Donnelly from Imperial College London.
The project was funded by BBSRC’s Eradication of bovine tuberculosis through basic research and discovery (ERADbTB) scheme, which is also supported by DEFRA and is part of the wider Research Councils UK programme in Global Food Security.
Professor John McCarthy receives MRC award to identify novel drug therapies
Professor John McCarthy, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the University of Warwick School of Life Sciences, and Director of the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB), has received funding from the MRC to pursue research on ’Protein synthesis in trypanosomatids as a target for novel drug therapies’. The FEC award of £360k will be complemented by a simultaneous award from Fundação Araucária in the State of Paraná (Brazil) to collaborators in the Carlos Chagas Institute in Curitiba. Colleagues at the University of Leeds will also be involved in the project.
Trypanosomatids are parasites that migrate between insect vectors and mammalian hosts. They cause a number of highly debilitating and potentially fatal diseases with major impacts on human health and wellbeing on a global scale. Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, is believed to affect at least 11 million people in Mexico, Central America and South America. Leishmania is now endemic in South America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and more than 20 countries in Europe.
Given that the current anti-parasitic treatments are unpleasant, not fully effective, and encountering resistance, there is an urgent need for a new strategy to identify safe, efficacious drugs. This collaborative project will explore whether drugs can be developed based on selective targeting of protein-protein interactions in the trypanosomatid protein synthesis machinery.
The project was funded through MRC’s UK-Brazil Neglected Infectious Diseases Partnership scheme.
BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship awarded for phage therapy project
Antonia Sagona has been awarded a prestigious BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship for her project on ‘Engineering synthetic phages against pathogenic E. coli as an innovative tool for phage therapy’.
Antimicrobial resistance is an increasing problem. Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, with many hundreds of thousands more dying in other areas of the world. Phage therapy offers an alternative to conventional antibiotics as bacteriophages are naturally occurring viruses that infect and kill bacteria; they have high specificity for their bacterial targets and the side effects are minimal.
Antonia’s project will use state-of-the-art microscopy to understand the mechanisms by which phages infect and kill their bacterial targets. She will also engineer synthetic phages to target a strain of E. coli that is responsible for several serious medical conditions, including neonatal meningitis, sepsis, acute cystitis, and secondary infections in burn patients.
What new diagnostics are required to assist in eliminating visceral leishmaniasis in the Indian sub-continent?
Authors of a new supplement in journal Nature argue that investment in simple diagnostic tools for the developing world could have a dramatic impact on health, saving lives and ending disease epidemics. The supplement includes a paper by Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth and colleagues on 'Health-seeking behaviour, diagnostics and transmission dynamics in the control of visceral leishmaniasis in the Indian subcontinent'.
Visceral leishmaniasis is an infectious disease which causes significant numbers of deaths in the Indian sub-continent every year. Kala azar, or “black fever”, as it is known, is characterized by fever followed by potentially severe symptoms such as a swollen spleen. Untreated it is believed to almost uniformly fatal. Currently there is a large international effort to eliminate kala azar, but there is a need to consider strategies which will prevent a resurgence of infection when these controls are lifted.
Results published in Nature today suggest that reductions in time from when fever develops to diagnosis and effective treatment could be enough to reduce onward transmission and reduce the number of cases. Currently in Bihar state in northern India, it can take 90 days to be diagnosed, where as diagnosis times are shorter in Bangladesh and Nepal, where incidence is also lower.
The research, which was a collaboration across four institutions, used mathematical models to investigate the dynamics of infection in areas with different diagnosis times and suggested that reduced time to diagnosis by weeks or months may be an effective control strategy. By using simple models, informed by the limited data available on this neglected tropical disease, we can get an understanding of the dynamics of transmission.
The analysis also highlighted the potential use of a new diagnostic that would identify infections early in their development, before serious symptoms. Even at a moderately low probability of detecting a case, this had the potential to identify enough cases early enough to reduce transmission. However, the researchers also highlighted that such a diagnostic would have to be very specific to visceral leishmaniasis, otherwise there would be many false positives, particularly as cases of visceral leishmaniasis become rarer.
The research was coordinated by The Diagnostics Modelling Consortium