Return to homepage Skip to navigation Skip to site search Skip to main content Skip to footer

Theme: Environment

Embracing Global Challenges and Opportunities in the Environment

The Environment Theme at Abertay University combines research in environmental science and engineering, food, and biological sciences, to deliver the solutions needed to address contemporary environmental challenges, to develop research in this and related areas, and to support Abertay’s research-informed teaching. We combine fundamental and industry-focused research fuelled by interactions between discipline experts, experimentalists and theoreticians.

Our main areas of expertise encompass environmental science and engineering, biology, food science, systems biology, and sustainable technologies. Our theme draws on the expertise of researchers in our established research and knowledge exchange centres including Food Innovation @ Abertay (FIA), Sustainability Assessment Visualisation and Enhancement (SAVE), and the Urban Water Technology Centre (UWTC), as well as from the five schools of the University.

Our aim is to bring together active researchers who will contribute leadership and expertise as specialists in their own field to develop our theme. In pursuit of this, we will: 

  • Share knowledge and build research capacity internally, and develop external networks and collaborations
  • Generate high-quality research and review publications, and other forms of output including external impact and knowledge exchange
  • Provide support for research funding applications
  • Support postgraduate research students and their supervisors

For general information about the Abertay Environment Theme please contact Dr Andrew Spiers

Environmental Science and Engineering

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.


Food Science and Innovation

Savour the flavour, the future of the food industry will be viable, safe and secure.

Abertay has a proven track record for solving industrial challenges for the food and drink industry. The future of the food and drink industry is threatened by the increase in raw material price, product, water and packaging waste, changes in consumer demand and eating habits. Research undertaken by Abertay is split between the industry facing Food Innovation @ Abertay and the multidisciplinary food research team.

Food Innovation @ Abertay (FIA) has a track record of successfully providing food and drink businesses with expert support for innovation by accessing the skills and knowledge, applied research and practical technical solutions available across a range of academic disciplines within Abertay University. The FIA team works with a cross-section of food and drink businesses on diverse projects relating to food technology and science, food processing, food product design, food packaging, consumer research, and marketing (branding).

In addition to the industry focused FIA, Abertay also combine its multidisciplinary research into three distinct themes related to food research:

Creative industries

  • Visualisation.
  • Mobile app development with food companies.


  • Consumer research.
  • Consumer analysis.
  • Psychology and food choices.

Science & Technology

  • Analytical services.
  • New product development / reformulation technologies.
  • New processing technologies.
  • Novel ingredients.
  • Food, nutrition and health.


Recent publications (2011 – 2016):

Troise AD, Vitiello D, Tsang C & Fiore A (2016). Encapsulation of ascorbic acid promotes the reduction of Maillard reaction products in UHT milk. Food Funct 7:2591–2602.

Grigor JM,  Brennan CS,  Hutchings SM &  Rowlands DS (2015). The sensory acceptance of fibre enriched cereal foods: A meta-analysis. Int JFood Sci Technol 51:3–13.

Tsang C, Smail NF, McDougall GJ, Almoosawi S & and Al-Dujaili EAS (2015). Bioavailability and urinary excretion of phenolic-derived metabolites after acute consumption of Purple Majesty potato in humans. EC Nutrition 1:96-105.

Cheong JN, Foster KD, Morgenstern MP, Grigor JMV, Bronlund JE, Hutchings SC & Hedderley DI (2014). The influence of the Temporal Dominance of Sensations method on oral processing behaviour. J Texture Studies 45:1–11.

Hutchings S, Foster K, Grigor J, Bronlund J & Morgenstern M (2014)  Differences between age groups in the selection of dominant textural attributes using the TDS technique. J Food Qual Pref 31:106–115.

Hutchings S, Foster K, Grigor J & Morgenstern M (2014). Investigating the cause of changes in stickiness perception with age. J Food Qual Pref 37:1–9.

Khan S, Grigor J, Win A & Boland M (2014). Differences and commonalities in new product development practices between companies manufacturing functional foods and other food companies: a New Zealand study. British Food J  116:1346–1368.

Al-Dujaili E, Tsang C & Moosawi SA (2013). Polyphenol-rich dark chocolate in the treatment of diabetes mellitus risk factors. Nutrition and Health 7:341–353. 

Bunting H, Baggett A & Grigor J (2013). Adolescent and young adult attitudes to energy drinks: a qualitative study. Appetite 65:132–138.

Chu BS & Nagy K (2013). Enrichment and quantification of monoacylglycerols and free fatty acids by solid phase extraction and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci 932:50–58.

Domoto N, Koenen ME, Havenaar R, Mikajiri A & Chu BS (2013). The bioaccessibility of eicosapentaenoic acid was higher from phospholipid food products than from mono‐and triacylglycerol food products in a dynamic gastrointestinal model. Food Scie Nutrition 1:409–415.

Khan R, Grigor J, Win A  & Winger R (2013). New Functional Food Product Development – opportunities and challenges for food manufacturers. Trends Food Sci Technol 30:27–37.

Lemos MA & Hungerford G (2013). The binding of Curcuma longa extract with bovine serum albumin monitored via time-resolved fluorescence. Photochem Photobiol 89:1-71–1078.

Wilkin JD, Ashton IP, Fielding LM & Tatham AS (2013). Storage stability of whole and nibbed, conventional and high oleic peanuts (Arachis hypogeae L.). Food Bioprocess Technol 7:105–113.

Almoosawi S, Ostertag LM, Tsang C, Fyfe L, Al-Dujaili E, De Roos B, Duthie GG & Davidson I (2012). The effect of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate on glucoregulatory biomarkers, lipid profile, blood pressure and glucocorticoids in healthy overweight and obese subjects. Food Funct 3:1035–1043.

Lemos MA, Aliyu MM & Hungerford G (2012). Observation of the location and form of anthocyanin in purple potato using time-resolved fluorescence. Inn Food Sci Emer Technol 16:61–68.

Thies F, Masson LF, Rudd A, Vaughan N, Tsang C, Brittenden J, Simpson WG, Duthie S, Horgan GW & Duthie G (2012). Effect of a tomato-rich diet on markers of cardiovascular disease risk in moderately overweight, disease-free, middle aged adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutrition 95:1013–1022.

Tsang C, Smail NF, Moosawi SA, Davidson I & Al-Dujaili EAS (2012). Polyphenol-rich pomegranate fruit juice influences urinary glucocorticoids, blood pressure and HOMA-IR in human volunteers. J Nutritional Sci 1:1–9.

Tsang C, Smail NF, Almoosawi S, Davidson I & Al-Dujaili EA (2012). Intake of polyphenol-rich pomegranate pure juice influences urinary glucocorticoids, blood pressure and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance in human volunteers. J Nutr Sci 1:e9.

Ali A, Duizer l, Foster K, Grigor J & Wei W (2011). Changes in sensory perception of sports drinks when consumed pre, during and post exercise. J Physiol Behav 102:437–443.

Foster KD, Grigor JMV, Cheong JN, Yoo MJY, Bronlund JE & Morgenstern MP (2011). The role of oral processing in dynamic sensory perception. J Food Sci 49:R49–R61.

Environmental and Systems Biology

The environment has a dramatic effect on the development and function of complex biological systems (e.g. nervous and reproductive systems), as well as impacting on genetics and pathological states such as cancer. Health and biological science research leaders at Abertay cover diverse expertise bases which uniquely overlap to address key environmental questions regarding complex biological systems. We cover neurobiology, reproductive biology, genetics and cancer. What joins these apparently diverse disciplines together is the unique approach to addressing key questions. The approach centres on Abertay’s strengths in computational and mathematical modelling and image analysis. To date this approach has proved very successful in areas of cancer and genetics and we are currently expanding this approach into the fields of neurobiology and reproductive biology to reflect the strength of expertise we have.


Cancer and Systems Biology

The cancer systems biology research in Abertay focuses on two overlapping areas: quantitative cancer biology and computational modelling. Our quantitative cancer biology research aims to understand the regulation of the signal transduction pathways related to tumorigenesis, through the development of methods that can provide quantitative information about the complex interactions of such pathways in real time in a single cell. Our computational modelling research develops and implements models using optimised quantitative pathology to understand the basis of drug resistance to treatment, and so contribute to discovery programmes that identify new targets. To achieve this we combine computational modelling of complex systems, cutting-edge experimental data generation, games-based real-time interactive visualisation and massively parallel simulation technologies. Computational models of cellular signalling networks offer an excellent platform for exploring the impact of drug interventions on cell functioning, and in particular understanding mechanisms of drug resistance.


Environment and Health

Our BIO- and Nano-Technologies for Health and Environment (BIONTHE) Research investigates aspects and mechanisms of growth, metabolism and effects of a variety of environmental stresses on a diverse range of cells, such as yeasts, urothelial, blood, candida, bladder and cancer cells of industrial, environmental and medical significance in biotechnology, life, food and forensic sciences. Through complex interactions the environment impacts on various biological systems affecting of health. We address the effect of the environment, be that via stimulation or biotoxicity, on the dynamic plasticity exhibited by neural networks via neuro-modulation and synaptic plasticity and we investigate the effects of environmental pharmaceutical toxins on the development and function of sperm. This directly synergises with much of the existing research in UWTC working on the removal of such toxins from the wastewater system.


Selected publications (2011 - 2016):

Campbell JM, Savage AL, Madamidola O, Tamhane K, Soriano R, Adya AK & Brown S (2013). Progesterone significantly enhances the mobility of boar spermatozoa. BioDiscovery 9:BioDiscovery.2013.9.5.

Moult PR, Cottrell GA & Li WC (2013). Fast silencing reveals a lost role for reciprocal inhibition in locomotion. Neuron 77:129–140.

Savage A, Katz E, Eberst A, Falconer RE, Houston A, Harrison D & Bown J (2013). Characterising the tumour morphological response to therapeutic intervention: an ex vivo model. Dis Model Mech 6:252–260.

Wellington EMH, Boxall ABA, Cross P, Feil EJ, Gaze WH, Hawkey PM, Johnson-Rollings AS, Jones DL, Lee NM, Otten W, Thomas CM & Williams AP (2013). The role of the natural environment in the emergence of antibiotic resistance in Gram-negative bacteria. Lancet Infect Dis 13:155–165.

Bown J, Andrews PS, Deeni Y, Goltsov A, Idowu M, Polack FAC, Sampson AT, Shovman M & Stepney S (2012). Engineering simulations for cancer systems biology. Curr Drug Targets 13:1560–1574.

Charlet L, Chapron Y, Faller P, Kirsch R, Stone AT & Baveye PC (2012). Neurodegenerative diseases and exposure to the environmental metals Mn, Pb, and Hg. Coordination Chem Rev 256:2147–2163.

Sustainable Technologies

Efficient, well-engineered techniques and processes that are viable in the long term are essential for the improvement of social and environmental conditions. Our research is driven by a policy shift in Europe towards developing more sustainable technologies for environmental protection. Applied research into Biofuels, Anaerobic Digestion Technologies and Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) is a key area of strength and our work involves a mixture of laboratory, pilot scale and field studies.


Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems

This research aims to develop more sustainable technologies for drainage, with the goal of reducing the impact of stormwater flows on the environment.  Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) is a key area of strength at Abertay and the concept of SUDS was identified as being the key means of addressing the problems of urban pollution. The principle of dealing with surface water runoff at source has now been taken to heart in the development and redevelopment of surface runoff systems, and as a result, a wide range of SUDS systems have been installed in Scotland.

Anaerobic Digestion

In the past five years, UK government bodies (i.e., DEFRA, WRAP, Zero Waste Scotland) have encouraged the use of anaerobic digestion for the treatment of food wastes and agricultural residues, thereby bringing about growing interest in anaerobic digestion in the UK. Our research explores complex microbial communities with the aim of developing new technologies for the reduction of environmental impacts or production of useful products from municipal and industrial products. Our work has led to the use of new biomass and new biomass pre-treatment methods, greater understanding of the biochemical pathways associated with the reduction of nitrogen oxides in anaerobic digestion systems, the mode of action of some inhibitory compounds (notably salinity and phenolic compounds) on anaerobic microorganisms, and the development of models capable of predicting process inhibition and adaptation periods of anaerobic micro-organisms.


Waste Water Treatment and Bioenergy

This research focuses on environmental technology, specialising in engineering application of biological, physical and chemical processes for the control and abatement of environmental pollutants, and in the production of bio-energy. Our special focus is on the identification, characterisation, manipulation and modelling of microbial interactions associated with the biodegradation of organic carbon and nitrogenous compounds, leading to the optimisation and/or development of pollution abatement technologies. The research aims to (i) develop new (and improving existing) engineered technologies for harnessing beneficial products from municipal and industrial waste materials e.g. organic fertiliser and bio-energy production organic residuals, and (ii) solve common environmental problems, primarily for reduction of adverse impacts i.e. treatment of sewage, municipal and industrial waste, water treatment.


Selected publications (2011 – 2016):

Al Qarni H, Collier P, O'Keeffe J & Akunna J (2016). Investigating the removal of some pharmaceutical compounds in hospital wastewater treatment plants operating in Saudi Arabia. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23:13003–13014.

Hierholtzer A, Chatellard L, Kierans M, Akunna JC & Collier PJ (2013).The impact and mode of action of phenolic compounds extracted from brown seaweed on mixed anaerobic microbial cultures. J Appl Microbiol 114:964–973.

Davies L, Wade R & Scholes L (2011). UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011, Chapter 10 Urban Ecosystems. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.