Fungal cultures in a petri dish in microbiology lab

Environmental microbiology and biotechnology research

Explore our work in environmental microbiology and biotechnology, 1 of 6 areas of expertise in our Biological Sciences research area

Our environmental microbiology research focuses on the vast number of unknown microbes. This large microbial diversity is exploited in our Biotechnology research to provide new antibiotics and other important enzymes and molecules. Our Biotechnology research aims to provide the technology needed to harness microbes for human benefit.

Our research tackles some of the most important issues facing the planet – from responsible consumption and clean water, to food security and climate action.

Most microbes have never been grown in the laboratory, or even been fully described – and often the focus is solely on pathogenic species. We're studying microbes that can break down complex polymers and chemicals, such as lignin and plastics.

We're exploring the symbiotic interactions between host and bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and the control of microbial growth and degradation. We're looking into biofilm formation and control, and studying antimicrobial resistance gene transfer mechanisms, to help counter 1 of the most serious problems facing humanity.

Our research primarily focuses on the following topics

  • Biofilms
  • Environmental microbiology
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Biosurfactant fermentation
  • Bioprocess development
  • Biosynthesis of nanomaterials
  • Biorefinery

Facilities and research methods

We're home to exceptional facilities for protein expression, purification, downstream bioprocessing, analytical ultracentrifugation and metabolomics. We have a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and Atomic Force Microscope (AFM).

We use the following methods in our research:

  • DNA-based microbial community profiling, Fluorescent in situ hybridisation, DNA stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP) and other functional detection methodologies.
  • Condition-specific engineering of Pseudomonas metabolism for rhamnolipid biosurfactant production
  • The design and application of machine learning and multi-level optimisation algorithms to predict the optimal conditions for using lignin-derived carbon sources for optimal rhamnolipid biosynthesis
  • Genome-scale comparative analysis of the metabolomic and lipidomic landscape of selected Pseudomonas species
  • Application-specific qualitative and quantitative methods for bio-based products related to food, cosmetic and biopharmaceuticals

Collaborations and funding

We work extensively with the University's Centre for Enzyme Innovation. We also collaborate with partners in industry and academia. Our recent partners include the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Historic England, the Mary Rose Trust, the Centre for Process and Innovation (CPI), Durham University, University College London, TeeGene Biotech Ltd, and the National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC).

Our work has received funding from organisations including the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the European Union (EU) – and our research is published by leading industry publications, such as the International Society for Microbial Ecology, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, FEMS Microbial Ecology, and Frontiers in Microbiology.

Publication highlights 


Biofuel production – tapping into microalgae despite challenges

Biofuels (2017). Vol. 8, No. 2, 261–271, Kamaljeet Sekhon Randhawa, Louise E. Relph, Michael C. Armstrong, Pattanathu K. S. M. Rahman


Project highlights


Establishing a Joint UK-NZ Partnership in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Exploiting Algae and marine biomass for IBBE, (2017), Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Saul Purton, Jeff Green


Discover our areas of expertise

Environmental microbiology and biotechnology is 1 of our 6 areas of expertise in our Biological Sciences research area. Explore the others below.

Biodiversity and Evolution

We're cataloging new species, and creating a basis for assessing and reversing the extinction of species. Explore our biodiversity and evolution research.

Man holding an oyster on a boat in the Solent
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Epigenetics and developmental biology

We explore new ways to treat genetic disorders, identifying novel targets for drugs and searching for advances in treatment that could impact the lives of millions.

Double helix close-up of DNA helix
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Ecotoxicology and Environmental Monitoring

We're examining how humans impact ecosystems, and developing new ways to assess and counteract our impact on the environment.

Langstone harbour with tide in
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Marine Sciences

Through our research in marine science, we're working to improve the marine environment for future generations, and to make marine activities more sustainable.

School of fish swimming in deep ocean
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Molecular Biophysics

We're exploring the composition, function & behaviour of biomolecules so they can have societally, industrially and medically useful functions. Explore our molecular biophysics research.

Enzyme structure, courtesy of Centre for Enzyme Innovation, Portsmouth
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Research groups

Institute of Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences

We're exploring disciplinary boundaries to discover, understand and develop knowledge for the benefit of the environment and humankind.

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Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology Research Group

We're researching the vast number of unknown microbes in the world to solve issues such as food security and climate change.

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Interested in a PhD in Biological Sciences?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Biological Sciences postgraduate research degrees page.