Our Environmental Research is internationally recognised and contributes to our understanding of the sustainability of our natural, agricultural and urban environments. The research interests of our academic staff are diverse and our research approach is often multidisciplinary and industry–facing.
Microbial Ecology and Applied Microbiology
The way in which microbes, including bacteria and fungi, respond to their immediate physical, chemical and biological environment drives the successfull colonisation of new sites and results in complex communities that can impact on soil function, nutrient cycling and biowaste treatment, plant health and productivity, food and beverage production, as well as to acute and life-threatening infections in people. Our expertise and interests in applied and molecular microbiology, microbial ecology and evolution, fungal-associated unhealthing housing and sick building syndrome, and biophysical models, aims to get a better understanding of how the physical and chemical environment determines microbial colonisation, activity and fitness.
Sustainability Assessment and Visualisation Enhancement
We developed methods to incorporate sustainability assessment within the decision making process, showing that even for an apparently straightforward either/or question, the assessment of relative sustainability is complex. Assessment requires a combined and weighted evaluation of various social, economic, environmental, and technical aspects resulting from the implementation and adoption of alternative infrastructure developments, as well as an assessment of public responsiveness to any encouragement to change practice and use. We developed an effective communication tool, permitting communication and interrogation of complex model outcomes to support informed decision making in the face of multiple interacting factors changing over time. Drawing upon our expertise in computer games technology, computing and engineering, we created a framework (SAVE) which transforms 2D planning into 3D interactive visualisation underpinned by sustainability modelling to inform stakeholders in decision taking with application in Urban planning, water management, coastal and land-use management and Food Science.
Environmental Chemistry and Ultrasound Applications
Our environmental chemistry research investigates the use of highly efficient Activated Carbon Cloth as a potential adsorbing and oxidizing catalyst for phenolic wastewater, the acquisition of fingermarks from fabrics using vacuum metal deposition, and the use of nanoparticles for fingermark enhancement. Our work on the dissolution and passivation of iron in neutral acetonitrile-water mixtures, the effect of coupled chemical, electrochemical and sonochemical energies on the direct synthesis of (a) phenol from benzene and (b) tetramethyladipic acid by dimerization of pivalic acid led to novel methodology for pollutant disintegration which is now patented in the US and Europe, and we are investigating the acoustic and hydrodynamic cavitational effects on degradation of organic compounds in the context of industrially important reactions and Green Technology.
Recent publications (2011 - 2016):
Archer NAL, Otten W, Schmidt S, Bengough AG, Shah N & Bonell M (2016). Rainfall infiltration and soil hydrological characteristics below ancient forest, planted forest and grassland in a temperate northern climate. Ecohydrology 9:585–600.
Moshynets OV & Spiers AJ (2016). Viewing biofilms within the larger context of bacterial aggregations. In: Microbial biofilms – Importance and applications. D. Dhanasekaran & N. Thajuddin (Eds.). InTech Publishers.
Harrison E, Dytham C, Hall JPJ, Guymer D, Spiers AJ, Paterson S & Brockhurst (2016). Rapid compensatory evolution promotes the survival of conjugative plasmids. Mobile Genetic Elements 6:e1179074.
Downie HF, Adu MO, Schmidt S, Otten W, Dupuy LX, White PJ & Valentine TA (2015). Challenges and opportunities for quantifying roots and rhizosphere interactions through imaging and image analysis. Plant Cell Environ 38:1213–1232.
Falconer RE, Battaia G, Schmidt S, Baveye P, Chenu C & Otten W (2015). Microscale heterogeneity explains experimental variability and non-linearity in soil organic matter mineralisation. PLoS One 10:e0123774.
Hapca S, Baveye PC, Wilson C, Lark RM & Otten W (2015). Three-dimensional mapping of soil chemical characteristics at micrometric scale by combining 2D SEM-EDX data and 3D X-Ray CT images. PLOS ONE 10:e0137205.
Harrison E, Truman J, Wright R, Spiers AJ, Paterson S & Brockhurst MA (2015). Plasmid carriage can limit bacteria-phage coevolution. Biol Lett 11:20150361.
Mohammed IU, Deeni Y, Hapca SM, McLaughlin K & Spiers AJ (2015). Predicting the minimum liquid surface tension activity of pseudomonads expressing biosurfactants. Lett Appl Microbiol 60:37–43.
Hall JPJ, Harrison E, Lilley AK, Paterson S, Spiers AJ & Brockhurst MA (2015). Environmentally co-occurring mercury resistance plasmids are genetically and phenotypically diverse and confer variable context-dependent fitness effects. Environ Microbiol 17:5008–5022.
Udall YC, Deeni Y, Hapca SM, Raikes D & Spiers AJ (2015). The evolution of biofilm-forming Wrinkly Spreaders in static microcosms and drip-fed columns selects for subtle differences in wrinkleality and fitness. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 91:fiv057.
Baveye PC, Palfreyman J & Otten W (2014). Research efforts involving several disciplines: Adherence to a clear nomenclature is needed. Water Air Soil Pollut 225:1997.
Downie HF, Valentine TA, Otten W, Spiers AJ & Dupuy LX (2014). Transparent soil microcosms allow 3D spatial quantification of soil microbiological processes in vivo. Plant Signaling Behav 9:e970421.
Monga O, Garnier P, Pot V, Coucheney E, Nunan N, Otten W & Chenu C (2014). Simulating microbial degradation of organic matter in a simple porous system using the 3-D diffusion-based model MOSAIC. Biogeosciences 11:2201-2209.
Spiers, AJ (2014). Getting Wrinkly Spreaders to demonstrate evolution in schools. Trends Microbiol 22:301–303.
Vinoj B, Vaseeharan S, Thomas S, Spiers AJ & Shanthi S (2014). Quorum-quenching activity of the AHL-lactonase from Bacillus licheniformis DAHB1 inhibits vibrio biofilm-formation in vitro and reduces shrimp intestinal colonisation and mortality. Marine Biotechnol 16:707–715.
Hallet PD, Karim KH, Bengough G & Otten W (2013). Biophysics of the vadose zone: from reality to model systems and back again. Vadoze Zone J 12:vzj2013.05.0090.
Houston AN, Otten W, Baveye PC & Hapca S (2013). Adaptive-window indicator kriging: A thresholding method for computed tomography images of porous media. Computer Geosci 54:239–248.
Roberston M, Hapca SM, Moshynets O & Spiers AJ (2013). Air-liquid interface biofilm formation by psychrotrophic pseudomonads recovered from spoilt meat. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 103:251–259.
Downie, H, Holden N, Otten W, Spiers AJ, Valentine TA & Dupuy LX (2012). Transparent soil for imaging the rhizosphere. PLoS ONE 7:e44276.
Baveye PC, Rangel D, Jacobson AR, Laba M, Darnault C, Otten W, Radulovich R & Camargo FAO (2011). From dust bowl to dust bowl: Soils are still very much a frontier of science. Soil Scie Soc Amer J Vl 75:2037–2048.
Fechtner J, Koza A, Dello Sterpaio P, Hapca SM & Spiers AJ (2011). Surfactants expressed by soil pseudomonads alter local soil-water distribution, suggesting a hydrological role for these compounds. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 78:50–58.
Green JH, Koza A, Moshynets O, Pajor R, Ritchie MR & Spiers AJ (2011). Evolution in a Test-tube : Rise of the Wrinkly Spreaders. J Biological Educ 45:54–59.
Hapcaa SM, Wang ZX, Otten W, Wilson C, Philippe C. Baveye PC (2011). Automated statistical method to align 2D chemical maps with 3D X-ray computed micro-tomographic images of soils. Geoderma 164:146–154.
Koza A, Moshynets O, Otten W & Spiers AJ (2011). Environmental modification and niche construction: Developing O2 gradients drive the evolution of the Wrinkly Spreader. ISME J 5:665–673.
Kravchenko A, Falconer RE, Grinev D & Otten W (2011). Fungal colonization in soils with different management histories: modelling growth in three-dimensional pore volumes. Ecological Appl 21:1202–1210.
Moshynets OV, Koza A, Dello Sterpaio P, Kordium VA & Spiers AJ (2011). Up-dating the Cholodny method using PET films to sample microbial communities in soil. Biopolymers Cell 27:199–205.
Neri FM, Bates A, Füchtbauer WS, Pérez-Reche FJ, Taraskin SN, Otten W, Bailey DJ & Gilligan CA (2011). The effect of heterogeneity on invasion in spatial epidemics: from theory to experimental evidence in a model system. PLoS Comput Biol 7:e1002174.