School pupils from Tayside and Fife are part of an Abertay University project aiming to discover more about the role bacteria can play in battling coastal erosion.
Brechin High School student Sofiya Zyza, 18, and Dana Cheung, 16, of Glenwood High in Glenrothes, are analysing samples from mud flats at Tenstmuir beach between St Andrews and Dundee as part of microbiology analysis work.
Carried out in connection with wider coastal erosion exploration from the University of St Andrews, the project aims to analyse the properties of a certain type of bacteria known as pseudomonads, which has unusually been found in sediment at the site.
One strand of the research is to analyse how these bacteria and other microbes such as algae contribute to cementing together sandbanks in the tidal zone, using a high pressure water jet to gauge its level of resistance to wave power.
Dr Andrew Spiers is supervising the project in Abertay's Microbial Ecology Laboratory with the assistance of visiting student Rebecca Rickart, 30, from Leuphana University in Germany.
He said the pseudomonads would more commonly be found in plants and soils rather than beach sediment and, as such, their properties merited further investigation.
Dr Spiers added: “We have been isolating bacteria from these samples and are looking at 30 to determine if there are differences between those found in the grass bank and those found further down.
“One of the things we are doing is looking at how well connected the sand is.
“The top layer has so many microbes on it, including algae, that all of the proteins and polymers act as a sort of glues that holds it all together.
“Microrganisms compact the sand so that it resists quite a bit of the wave action, and for us that’s a nice step because when we look at biofilms in sand, the bacterial growth could be contributing to keeping it in place.
“So we are interested to see how different or similar this sediment is from normal soil and to ask whether some of the polymers which act as the cement may be expressed by these bacteria.”
The school pupils are at Abertay as part of a Nuffield research placement over the summer.
The wider project is looking at coastal erosion in a fuller light including the development of seawall defenses.
For more information on studying science at Abertay, including the BSc in Environment, Science and Technology, visit https://www.abertay.ac.uk/discover/academic-schools/science-engineering-and-technology/divisionofscience/