Deep sea creatures

Biological Sciences research

Explore our research groups including ecology and evolution, biophysics and molecular genetics, and marine biology

Our Biological Sciences research explores everything from how the diverse range of life on Earth has evolved over time, to the huge ecological consequences of human activity, and the growing threat posed by antibiotic resistance. And through our wide-ranging and collaborative research – across our three interconnected research groups – we're turning our expertise into action.

In our Biophysics and Molecular Genetics research group, home to the European Xenopus Resource Centre and the Centre for Enzyme Innovation, we’re researching the molecular basis of life, and apply our knowledge to address environmental and medical issues.

From microbes to plants and animals, the Ecology and Evolution research group is exploring the evolution of organisms and ecosystems by studying ecological interactions and genome changes.

Our researchers in the Marine Biology research group, based at the Institute of Marine Sciences, are at the forefront of international projects that address key environmental issues in the marine environments and advance our knowledge of biological processes in marine ecosystems.

We're involved in all five of the University’ research themes. Researchers in all three of our research areas contribute to the Sustainability and the Environment theme. Developmental geneticists in our Biophysics and Molecular Genetics research group investigate the genetic basis of disease in the Health and Wellbeing theme, while analysing the genetic material of archaeological samples contributes to the heritage focus in the Democratic Citizenship theme.

Explore our research groups in Biological Sciences

Find out more about our research – and learn more about our recent projects, the academic and industrial partners with whom we collaborate, and the major funders who fund our work.

Ecology and evolution research group

The University of Portsmouth is expanding knowledge of the diversity of the living world, from molecules to ecosystems, and creating a basis for assessing and reversing the extinction of species.

Image by Tony Lee from Pixabay.
Read more

Biophysics and molecular genetics research group

The University of Portsmouth is studying biomolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins to allow us to tackle issues such as disease, pollution and energy.

Enzyme structure, courtesy of Centre for Enzyme Innovation, Portsmouth
Read more

Marine biology research group

The University of Portsmouth is researching key environmental issues in marine science such as climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat degradation and ocean acidification.

School of fish swimming in deep ocean
Read more

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Monitoring Research Group

We're researching pure and applied aspects of biological and environmental sciences that are associated with how humans impact the environment.

Read more

Research in the Biological Sciences

Explore some of our research within the School of Biological Sciences, meet some of our researchers and students, and find out what impact we're having on the environment. 

Our research is focused on understanding the biodiversity. Particularly we focus on oyster reefs, seagrass, saltmarsh and kelp forests and our research really looks to see how marine organisms will function and how they respond to environmental pressures. So these are things such as overfishing, climate change, microplastics. A real problem here is all the excess of nutrients, which is called Eutrophication.

Ultimately, why it's called restoration ecology' is because the science we do underpins the protection of restoration of coastal habitats.

We've lost 95% of all our native oyster reefs and pretty much, half - as a conservative estimate - of all our seagrasses and salt marshes and these systems that are largely gone are really crucial for our human well-being, but also our planetary health, because they provide services that we absolutely rely on.

Such as, clean the water, they draw down carbon, so they help buffer climate change and we need a healthy marine environment for our own well-being because of these things, but also psychological benefits and well-being.

Microplastics are sort of a huge concern. We know there are a lot of them in the marine environment. We don't particularly know where they are, so we're analysing sediment water organisms to really find out the impacts. 

Microplastics when they're out there, they're not clean. They get covered in a biofilm and we fed microplastics that are covered in the biofilm to oysters and compared those with plastics that are just clean and we found they took up ten times more microplastics. And the concern is that means that microplastics can more easily go up the food chain to higher trophic organisms, but also into humans.

We're really focussed on looking at how we can improve water quality within the marine environment, focusing on places like The Solent.

So these projects are linked with colleagues in France and in other institutions in the UK, and we're testing these different types of interventions.

These interventions involve growing oysters and looking at how those oysters develop and how good they are filtering out nutrients in places like Langstone Harbour. 

We're also interested in culturing seaweed and seeing how good they are at absorbing those nutrients and also converting that algal mat which develops because of these elevated nutrients into something more useful like polychaete worms which can be used for aquaculture feed.

And finally, we are also trying to test how we can remove some of the algal mat, in an environmentally friendly way that minimises impact to those habitats and see then, if we can convert that algal mat into something more useful.

And those projects then link directly into restoration because if you're restoring seagrass, if you're restoring oysters, you need to understand the water quality that those oysters and those seagrass beds are going back into to make sure that they are appropriate for those restoration projects to flourish.

Our research is also underpinning the restoration of other blue carbon habitats, such as kelp forests and saltmarsh.

The aim of these projects is to trial methods to work out the most effective ways of both establishing and monitoring restoration sites in terms of both their restoration success and also the services that they provide to wildlife and people.

For example, in the River Hamble, we have a project pioneering the use of biodegradable structures placed in front of saltmarsh, which aim to promote the growth whilst also providing a substrate for oyster larvae to settle upon. And the monitoring around that project will investigate not only the effects of the structures on the saltmarsh and the oysters, but also the fish populations, the bird populations, the nutrient concentrations and the sediments of the local area.

For our MRes project, we've been working in collaboration with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Boskalis on the Solent Seagrass Restoration Project and what we've done so far is plant over 21,000 seeds in Farlington Marshes. 

So the whole project is going to last one year and what we do is we go back every three or four months, sort of spring, summer, autumn, check on the seed, see how they're doing. Hopefully we'll see some growth soon. Part of our research is that Bron is going to be tracking blue carbon changes and I'm going to be tracking changes in biodiversity. And the great thing about this project is that it can continue past the year that we're doing our research and for the years to come.

So we're here in the algal culture room which is the first in a variety of rooms for the production of the native oysters. The larvae and the adult oysters will be requiring this kind of feed. So this is the first batch that will go into that production this year. Oysters do us a great service by filtering impurities from the seawater and improving coastal water quality. 

A healthy oyster can filter an astonishing 140 litres of seawater a day, consuming algae and other organic material. They also create a unique seabed habitat, forming aggregations and supporting restructures, providing nursery fishing grounds and a whole host of environments for other marine life.

Here at the Institute of Marine Sciences, we have built the UK's first restoration focussed oyster hatchery, focussing on the native species.

The research we're doing here is to overcome some of the knowledge gaps around the reproduction and hatchery production, and we're also investigating the resistance to disease. So we have Bonamiosis, which is a disease that's wiped out lots of oysters and it's present in the South. But we also have a disease resistant remnant stock.

So what we're doing is we're taking local stock into the hatchery, breeding from them and this way you benefit from both their genetic resistance to the disease, but also their local adaptation to the condition. And so, the research is being done here by our team and Monica Fabra, our PhD student is really trying to solve some of these barriers to this production of this larvae that is then settled on, spat-on-shell. So we settled the larvae on shell and we put the shell and the larvae out into the environment and that's like kickstarting the natural lifecycle of the native oyster.

There's been growing interest in blue carbon habitats because they have potential to offset carbon emission, support climate change mitigation. As such, the services they provide, such as carbon sequestration can be seen as a product and in that way, these carbon credits can be used to offset carbon emissions that we couldn't otherwise reduce. 

This can be used to kind of incentivise wider financial support for the protection and restoration of these habitats.

So for instance, they sequester carbon in two ways. The first ways through that plants photosynthetic activity and the second way is through their canopy, it reduces the water flow and this enables the sedimentation to be enhanced.

In this way, our research is looking at fine tuning carbon flux in these habitats so that we can support financial investment and then the habitat restoration work that goes along side that.

In 2017, I co-founded the Native Oyster Network with the Zoological Society of London. I led a suite of handbooks that launched at COP26 last November, which enables the restoration and shows people how to do the restoration of seagrass. The overall goal of our research is to help facilitate bending the curve back for future generations, to increase biodiversity and all the services that will mitigate and help protect against climate change.

Our research centres

Much of our research takes place within the following cross-disciplinary centres – find out more below.

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.

Close up of a gloved hand and some petri dishes
Read more

Centre for Enzyme Innovation

At the Centre for Enzyme Innovation, we're researching solutions to some of the most pressing global environmental problems.

petri dish from centre for enzyme research
Explore our research

Centre for Blue Governance

Aquatic environments cover more than 70% of the earth's surface – find out how our Centre for Blue Governance is securing the future of the planet's marine and freshwaters

blue governance
Read more

European Xenopus Resource Centre (EXRC)

Discover the world’s largest Xenopus research facility and access different Xenopus specific resources, including antibodies, wild-type strains, DNA resources and egg extracts.

Marine research tanks
Explore the centre

Interested in a PhD in Biological Sciences?

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