MRes Projects - Biological Sciences
MRes Science can be studied either full time (1-year) or part time (2-years). You will develop a wide variety of skills, experience and competence on this course, and the MRes will provide a thorough grounding for students moving towards Doctoral (PhD) studies, or pursuing research related activities as a career.
Please note this list of projects is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.
MRes Science - Biological Sciences research projects:
- Intertidal Seagrass restoration in the Solent – mapping changes in carbon and diversity services
- Investigating changing harbour porpoise distributions around the UK
- Haul-out patterns and anthropogenic disturbance of the Solent seals
- Epitope labelling at endogenous loci using gene editing (2 projects)
- Structural biology of plastic-digesting enzymes
- The Activation Mechanism of an Arthritis-Related Metalloproteinase
- X-ray Crystallography and NMR of Matrix Metalloproteinases
- Synthetic Biology - designed mini-collagens for bio-research
- Role of Proteases in Periodontal Disease
- Investigating metabolite-RNase communication
- Developing novel technologies for the study of RNA-interactions
- Studying a novel mechanism linked to pathogenic bacterial virulence
- Investigating the inhibition of the novel antibacterial target, RNase E
- Understanding novel bacterial molecular switches applicable to synthetic biology
- The Role of variant histones in Xenopus early development
- Role of histones and histone variants in the first stages of reprogramming fibroblasts into pluripotent stem cells
- DNA Target-Site Location by Restriction Endonucleases or DNA Ligases (1 of 3)
- Bacterial DNA ligases as novel targets for inhibiting nucleic acid repair and replication (2 of 3)
- Purification and Characterisation of DNA Ligase Domains (3 of 3)
- The effect of pollution on the ecology of plankton in Langstone Harbour
- Analysis of Ostrea edulislarval recruitment and settlement in the Solent
- Microplastic uptake in filter feeding marine invertebrates in the Solent
- The microbial community associated with marine plastics
- The translational control of retinoid receptor expression
- Improving urban air-quality using plants
- Improving the health benefits from greenhouse grown crops
- Cell Biology of neurogenesis
- Developmental biology of drug-associated autism
- Cell polarity during vascular ingression
- Axon guidance signals that organise the early axon scaffold in the vertebrate brain
- Turning mats into money
- Intersexuality and metal pollution in amphipods crustaceans
- Neuroendocrine disruption in crustaceans
- Phylogeny of Antarctic coralline algae
- Carbonate changes of different populations of Corallina officinalis under future climate change scenario
- Plasticity of Corallina officinalis in long term experiments
- Structural integrity of different population of Corallina officinalis
- The effects of antidepressants on embryonic development and adult behaviour in zebrafish
- Assessing the global marine ornamental trade
- Protein engineering of lignin-active enzymes
- Genetic variation, local adaptation and climate change: how do wild crop relatives respond to drought?
- Predator-Prey interactions of the Oyster drill (Ocenebra erinacea) and assessment of implications for restoration of the native oyster Ostrea edulis
- Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment
- What has produced the extraordinary phenotypic diversity of fish? Between potential and constraint
- Why the kangaroo face? Understanding the reason for the diversity in skull shape among kangaroos and their relatives?
- Teaching how to identify and avoid fake news: digital literacy in the era of post-truth
- Using Virtual Reality to facilitate learning and engagement in school-age students with special educational needs
- Antimicrobial Resistance in Biofilms found in Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP)
- The impact of biofilm formation on macrofauna found in coralline algae
Intertidal Seagrass restoration in the Solent – mapping changes in carbon and diversity services
Supervisors: Dr Joanne Preston, Dr Ian Hendy, Tim Ferraro (HIWWT)
Seagrass habitats are one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Seagrass restoration could provide a multitude of benefits, ranging from habitat for many species to providing various ecological services such as, nutrient cycling, sediment stabilisation and carbon sequestration. Seagrass restoration therefore has the potential to benefit the ecology and environment locally and at a wider scale. However, seagrass restoration is often challenging, given the dynamic environment that seagrasses inhabit.
This MRes would work alongside our project partner the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to undertake trials of seagrass bed restoration in the Solent. This research will aim to characterise the seagrass restoration sites to assess post restoration change at the sites and in the ecosystem services they provide, ultimately gauging the success of restoration. Alongside intertidal work at the restoration sites the project will likely involve seagrass seed culturing on site at the Institute of Marine Science. This MRes represents an exciting opportunity to work alongside a partner stakeholder on seagrass restoration research.
Investigating changing harbour porpoise distributions around the UK
Supervisors: Dr Sarah Marley and James Robbins
An understanding of the current distribution and drivers of mobile marine megafauna is integral to appropriate conservation management. Harbour porpoise are conserved under Article IV of the Habitats Directive, but are at risk of bycatch in fisheries gear. Large-scale surveys have revealed a shift in distribution, with porpoises appearing to move into the English Channel. In collaboration with the whale and dolphin charity ORCA, this project will use long-term citizen science time series to further investigate the shift in distribution and the environmental drivers, and whether this may lead to greater overlap with anthropogenic threats. This project will be primarily computer-based and will suit a student with strong quantitative skills.
Haul-out patterns and anthropogenic disturbance of the Solent seals
Supervisor: Dr Sarah Marley
The number of harbour seals and grey seals utilising the Solent is increasing. Monthly counts by local monitoring schemes have identified two main haul-out sites, which are vital for seals to rest, moult and breed. In collaboration with the Chichester Harbour Conservancy and Langstone Harbour Board, this project will use a combination of existing datasets and field observations to investigate the environmental and anthropogenic variables influencing haul-out behaviour in seals. This project will have a strong fieldwork component and will suit a student with their own transportation who is willing to spend long hours outdoors, as well as being confident with data handling and analysis.
Epitope labelling at endogenous loci using gene editing (2 projects)
Supervisor: Prof Matt Guille
Proteins are the major “doing molecules” in cells and visualising them relies on antibodies. For many key proteins however effective antibodies cannot be raised consistently; this has been identified as a major problem for biomedical science. Introducing genes/mRNAs encoding epitope-tagged versions of proteins has been a way of overcoming this, but it has limitations because the expression of these tagged proteins is not at endogenous levels and is unlikely to be in the precise cells expressing the target protein. To overcome this we have used gene editing to introduce an HA-tag to the gata2locus; we need now to test if other loci can be similarly targeted, optimise the pipeline for producing these gene edited, transgenic animals and test whether these proteins can be visualised using an anti-HA antibody. The students will learn gene editing, microinjection, embryo culture, mutant screening, advanced experimental design, western blotting and immunostaining.
Structural biology of plastic-digesting enzymes
Supervisors: Prof John McGeehan and Dr Andy Pickford
This project is part of a collaborative UK-US project with the goal of addressing one of our most imminent global challenges, plastic pollution. Plastics are now part of our everyday life, and polymers such as poly(ethylene terephthalate), or PET, are highly versatile, but are accumulating in the environment at a staggering rate as discarded packaging and textiles. The chemical properties that make PET so useful also endow it with an alarming resistance to natural biodegradation, likely lasting several centuries in the environment. We are working on newly discovered enzymes that have the ability to depolymerise plastics including PET. While our US colleagues are providing extensive molecular biology support, the Portsmouth team will focus on the characterisation of potential plastic-degrading enzymes using X-ray crystallography as a platform for protein engineering. Using a combination of biophysics and structural biology approaches, the goal of this MRes will be to join our growing team in order to identify, characterize, and optimize key enzymes that can degrade man-made plastics.
The Activation Mechanism of an Arthritis-Related Metalloproteinase
Supervisor: Dr Andy Pickford
A common pathological feature of the chronic inflammatory condition rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the gradual destruction of the articular cartilage that lines the synovial joints of the body. One of the predominant macromolecular components of cartilage is fibrillar collagen. The enzymes responsible for breaking down this collagen in RA are members of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) family. These collagen-degrading MMP enzymes are secreted by cells as inactive zymogens which are then activated in the extracellular space. Therefore, the mechanism of activation of these collagenases is of great biomedical significance. Thus, the objective of this project is to investigate the mechanism by which the collagenase MMP-1 is activated by a variety of other proteases. A range of biochemical and biophysical techniques will be used in this study including site-directed mutagenesis, protein expression, chromatography, SDS-PAGE, surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and NMR spectroscopy or x-ray crystallography. The project would suit a biology/biochemistry graduate interested in enzyme mechanisms and structure-function relationships.
X-ray Crystallography and NMR of Matrix Metalloproteinases
Supervisors: Dr Andy Pickford and Dr John McGeehan
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a class a degrading enzymes that are involved in emryogenesis, development and tissue repair, but are also implicated in a number of diseases such as cancer, arthritis and fibrosis. The enzymes are synthesised as inactive precursors (zymogens) and then activated once secreted from the cell. This project will use X-ray crystallography and/or NMR spectroscopy to characterise wild-type and mutant MMPs, both in the zymogen and mature state. The student will also gain experience in recombinant protein expression, protein folding and purification. The project would suit a biology/biochemistry graduate interested in protein structure-function relationships and mechanism underpinning health and disease.
Synthetic Biology - designed mini-collagens for bio-research
Supervisor: Dr Andy Pickford
As part of the extracellular matrix, collagens provide physical support to tissues and the body as a whole. Their fibrillar nature provides immense rigidity and tensile strength but, from a research perspective, makes them particularly difficult to investigate their functional properties at the molecular level. The objective of this project is to engineer, using recombinant expression from the methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris, shortened “mini-collagens” that have improved solubility compared to their full-length, wild-type counterparts. This will allow functional investigations of sequences of biological importance along the triple helix. The project will involve genetic manipulation of yeast, protein expression and purification, and structural and functional analysis of the mini-collagens using a variety of biophysical and biochemical techniques. This research project would suit a biology, biochemistry or biotechnology graduate interested in molecular biology, tissue engineering and structure-function relationships in proteins.
Role of Proteases in Periodontal Disease
Supervisors: Dr Andy Pickford and Dr Kristina Wanyonyi
The project will involve the development and application of methods for the quantitative analysis of proteases involved in the progression of gum disease (gingivitis) into destructive periodontal disease, the leading cause of tooth loss in the developed world. We want to establish whether a “bio-signature” of host matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) expression could predict which patients with poor dental hygiene will develop periodontal disease. The MRes project will develop techniques required to detect and quantify messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) transcripts encoding for matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in human saliva samples, and the subsequently translated enzymes and pro-enzymes. A range of biochemical and biophysical techniques will be used in this study including protein expression, chromatography, SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, quantitative PCR and surface plasmon resonance (SPR). The project would suit a biology/biochemistry graduate interested in protein structure-function relationships and mechanism underpinning health and disease.
Investigating metabolite-RNase communication
Supervisor: Prof Anastasia Callaghan
Understanding how metabolism is controlled within a cell is fundamentally important and is directly applicable to medical, environmental and biotechnological advances. Our studies have recently identified that a molecule of central metabolism interacts with an RNase and affects its ability to destroy mRNA. This project will unravel some of the details of this newly discovered mechanism and investigate whether it represents a conserved metabolite-RNase communicative link in prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
Developing novel technologies for the study of RNA-interactions
Supervisor: Prof Anastasia Callaghan
With their versatile functions and the recent explosion of interest in transcriptomics, RNAs, and their interactions with proteins, nucleic acids and small molecules, are currently the subject of intense scientific research. RNA may represent an, as yet, untapped resource in the search for novel pharmaceutical drug targets. Characterization of bio-molecular interactions with RNAs is becoming increasingly necessary as the repertoire of RNA functions continues to expand. Such interactions are regularly investigated using sensor technique instrumentation that involves the immobilisation of one of the molecules being studied. This project will involve working on developing a novel method to tag RNA molecules for sensor surface immobilization in order to support bio-molecular interaction studies of this important family of biological molecules using sensor technique instrumentation.
Studying a novel mechanism linked to pathogenic bacterial virulence
Supervisor: Prof Anastasia Callaghan
With antibiotic resistance on the rise, research into understanding the workings of bacterial organisms is crucially important, as are new approaches to combating the infections they cause. The aim of this project is to increase our understanding of a recently discovered mechanism of genetic regulation which has potential applications in the field of antibacterial research. Specifically, the interplay of small non-coding RNAs, their mRNA targets, and an RNA chaperone protein, result in a finely balanced mechanism of communication leading to either transcript destruction, or stabilization and subsequent translation. The project will address how this communication occurs and whether this mechanism, with a direct impact on pathogenic bacterial virulence, can be exploited in the search for novel antibacterial approaches and/or targets.
Investigating the inhibition of the novel antibacterial target, RNase E
Supervisor: Prof Anastasia Callaghan
In an era of increasing antibiotic resistance, new antibacterial targets are urgently required. Found only in bacteria, the essential endoribonuclease RNase E represents such a potential target. Extensive structural characterisation of RNase E from the model organism, Escherichia coli, has provided molecular level details of the workings of the protein, enabling the first steps to be taken towards structure based inhibitor design. This project focuses on furthering the understanding of the inhibition of E. coli RNase E and its homologues in pathogenic bacteria. Expanding on existing in silico inhibitor design studies, potential small molecule inhibitors will be tested experimentally and their mechanisms of inhibition characterised prior to assessment of in vivo effectiveness.
Understanding novel bacterial molecular switches applicable to synthetic biology
Supervisor: Prof Anastasia Callaghan
Bacteria can use specific molecules to either promote or repress protein translation through a novel post-transcriptional mechanism. This ability to turn genes on or off at the right times and at the right levels demonstrates a potential role for these specific molecules as molecular switches, ripe for exploitation within a synthetic biology context. This project will seek to explore the application of these specific molecules as artificial molecular switches.
The Role of variant histones in Xenopus early development
Supervisors: Dr Fiona Myers and Prof Matt Guille
The functional and developmentally differential control of specific histone variants during early development will be investigated using a combination of assays: xChIP, ChIPseq, immuno-histochemistry, in-situ hybridisation, morpholino knockdown, RNA-seq and CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. This work, in collaboration with Professor Guille’s lab, will use the Xenopus model system in order to study variant histones in an in vivo environment and will elucidate their roles in key developmental processes.
Role of histones and histone variants in the first stages of reprogramming fibroblasts into pluripotent stem cells
Changing cell fate holds the potential for therapy in regenerative medicine. If a patient’s cells, e.g. skin fibroblasts, could be turned into the cell type in need of regeneration all problems associated with tissue rejection would be eliminated. For this to develop we require a full understanding of how the gene expression profile of the initiator cell is altered to determine cell fate. This project, in collaboration with Prof Colyn Crane-Robinson, will investigate the role of both modified and variant replacement histones in the earliest stages of re-programming fibroblasts into pluripotent stem cells.
DNA Target-Site Location by Restriction Endonucleases or DNA Ligases (1 of 3)
Supervisor: Dr Darren Gowers
This research group focus on understanding the kinetics and binding of enzymes that interact with specific sequences or specific structures of DNA. These include a large number of DNA restriction enzymes (such as SfiI or BbvCI) that have to locate a specific target site; exonucleases (such as lambda exo) that have to locate a DNA end, and ligases (such as E.coli DNA ligases A and B) that have to locate a specific nick site within a long DNA chain. The work will involve growing E.coli cultures, harvesting and purifying proteins, using PCR, checking enzyme purities on SDS gels, designing experiments, running accurate timecourses, analysing DNA fragments by electrophoresis through agarose or polyacrylamide, gel imaging, quantitation and data fitting.
Bacterial DNA ligases as novel targets for inhibiting nucleic acid repair and replication (2 of 3)
Supervisor: Dr Darren Gowers
This research group focus on understanding the kinetics and binding of enzymes that interact with specific sequences or specific structures of DNA. Two E.coli proteins that we are very interested in are LigA and LigB. These repair enzymes seal breaks in the phosphodiester backbone that arise during DNA replication, and also as the terminal step in all DNA repair pathways. Inhibition of one or both of these ligases would lead to loss of bacterial genome integrity and cell death: that is, an antibacterial action. This project will involve elements of in-silico (computer-based) molecular docking, in-vitro testing of compounds in ligase activity assays and in-vivo experiments to see if the novel compounds can enter bacteria and cause a bacteriocidal effect. The work will involve use of MOE software, harvesting and purifying proteins, using PCR, checking enzyme purities on SDS gels, designing experiments, running accurate timecourses, analysing DNA fragments by electrophoresis through agarose or polyacrylamide, gel imaging, quantitation, data fitting and Kirby-Bauer in-vivo plate testing.
Purification and Characterisation of DNA Ligase Domains (3 of 3)
Supervisor: Dr Darren Gowers
This research group focus on understanding the kinetics and binding of enzymes that interact with specific sequences or specific structures of DNA. Two E.coli proteins that we are very interested in are LigA and LigB. These repair enzymes seal breaks in the phosphodiester backbone that arise during DNA replication, and also as the terminal step in all DNA repair pathways. The 3D structure of LigA is known, though one part of it - the BRCT domain - has never been determined by X-ray structural analysis. We are looking to use the technique of NMR to solve the solution structure of the BRCT domain and examine its effect on nick closure and ligation efficiency. The work will initially involve gene-fragment cloning, followed by growing E.coli cultures and harvesting and purifying recombinant proteins. If successful, the work will then move to NMR theory and training before attempting to undertake 1H and/or 15N 2D NMR experiments on the BRCT domain (and other relevant LigA or LigB constructs).
The effect of pollution on the ecology of plankton in Langstone Harbour
Supervisor: Dr Joanne Preston
Langstone Harbour receives a range of anthropogenic inputs, including frequent storm water discharges (a mixture of rain and untreated sewage). The increased nutrient status associated with this pollution can drive phytoplankton blooms and lead to decreased water quality. This project will examine the relationship between nutrient status, phytoplankton community and zooplankton diversity, with a focus on the larvae of ecologically important marine species (the native oyster Ostrea edulisand the invasive mollusc Crepidula fornicata). The project will involve boat and fieldwork, and utilise microscopy, flow cytometry and molecular techniques to analyse the plankton community.
Analysis of Ostrea edulis larval recruitment and settlement in the Solent
Supervisor: Dr Joanne Preston
Historically the Solent supported one of the largest native Oyster (Ostrea edulis) fisheries in Europe. The oyster population suffered a catastrophic crash in 2006 due to overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and potentially climate change impacts. The recovery of the native oyster has been poor despite closure of the fishery, and a large project is underway to restore the native oyster population and oyster seabed habitat. This project will be part of the larger restoration work, and will analyse the onset and duration of spawning, planktonic larvae behaviour and settlement rates of juvenile oyster spat. The project will involve boat and fieldwork, and utilise microscopy, flow cytometry and molecular techniques to analyse the life history of this ecologically and commercially important species.
Microplastic uptake in filter feeding marine invertebrates in the Solent
Supervisor: Dr Joanne Preston
Plastic pollution is pervasive in the marine environment and has devastating impacts on marine ecosystems and the organisms therein. Often, the first entry into the animal food web is via invertebrate filter feeders. This project will examine a range of filter feeding marine species (sponges, oysters, mussels, tunicates) for their microplastic uptake and retention. The microplastic content of the water will also be analysed. The project will involve boat and fieldwork, and utilise microscopy, fluorescent microscopy, flow cytometry and aquarium based experiments.
The microbial community associated with marine plastics
Supervisors: Dr Joy Watts and Dr Michelle Hale
Using a range of techniques such as direct counts, fecal coliform numbers and DNA extraction and community analysis the effects of marine litter on microbial community stability and function in Langstone harbour will be examined. Microbial source tracking from sewage outfall and sediment resuspension will also be an area of focus.
The translational control of retinoid receptor expression
Supervisor: Dr Colin Sharp
The retinoid receptors mediate retinoid signaling, which, in the early embryo, is important for axial patterning and for neuronal differentiation. Examination of the transcripts that encode the retinoid receptor RAR alpha 2 show that it has an extensive 5’ untranslated region (UTR) that precedes the open reading frame encoding the receptor. Preliminary experiments show that the 5’UTR determines when, during Xenopus development, RAR alpha 2 mRNA is converted into protein. Sequence analysis indicates that this mechanism is conserved across the vertebrates. The aim of the project is to determine the regions of the 5’UTR that mediate this regulation and identify the factors in the embryo that determine when the mRNA is translated. This will involve molecular biology to construct minigenes that can be injected into Xenopus embryos and then Western blotting as an assay for protein production. The project requires an interest in molecular biology, gene expression and embryology.
Improving urban air-quality using plants
Supervisor: Dr Mike Fowler
This project will involve characterising the composition and deposition rates of a range of urban air-pollutants to different forms of urban vegetation. Road-side plants and street trees will be examined in both the urban environment and under controlled conditions.
Particulate-matter air-pollution is responsible for approximately 50, 000 premature deaths each year in the UK and ranked the 13th leading cause of human mortality worldwide. Urban vegetation is a very effective way of filtering particulate pollution from the atmosphere so saving lives and money. Key to the effectiveness of this approach is identifying the best vegetation forms for specific environments.
This project will help identify the vegetation forms needed to optimise particulate pollution removal in urban environments. The project would suit a student with interests in sustainability, plants and air-pollution.
Improving the health benefits from greenhouse grown crops
Supervisor: Dr Mridula Chorpa
This project will investigate the effect changes in growth, harvest and storage conditions have on the shelf-life and nutritional content for selected greenhouse grown crops.
Dietary consumption of salads, fruits and vegetables have been linked to human health benefits by providing beneficial nutrients and antioxidant compounds. However, the nutrient content of such crops can change depending on growth and storage conditions. The aims of this project are to quantify the impacts different growing, harvest and storage conditions have on yield, antioxidant content and shelf life of selected greenhouse grown crops.
This project would suit a student with interests in plants, agronomy and nutrition.
Cell Biology of neurogenesis
Supervisor: Dr Frank Schubert
In the embryonic vertebrate brain, neurogenesis is initially restricted to a few clusters of cells. FGF signalling is a major factor in suppressing neurogenesis in other parts of the brain. The molecular mechanisms mediating the FGF signal, however, are unknown. The project is based on a previous MRes project that showed that two signalling pathways (Ras/MAPK and p38/MAPK) act in parallel to inhibit neurogenesis in the midbrain. Furthermore, we know the immediate transcriptional changes following FGF receptor inhibition from our RNA-Seq analysis. By using a combination of pharmacological and molecular genetics approaches, this project aims at elucidating the gene regulatory network regulating the onset of neurogenesis.
Developmental biology of drug-associated autism
Supervisor: Dr Frank Schubert
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is estimated to affect more than 1% of the population in the UK. Possible causes of ASD include genetic predisposition and maternal infections, but also prenatal exposure to some teratogens. Reports in the literature suggest that a sensitive period is early in pregnancy, coinciding with the first neurone differentiation in the embryonic brain. Preliminary results in our lab indeed indicate changes in neurogenesis and patterning gene expression following treatment with thalidomide or valproic acid. This project aims to characterise the developmental changes caused by the drugs, and to expand the study to other drugs not currently associated with ASD, like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Cell polarity during vascular ingression
Supervisor: Dr Frank Schubert
The blood supply of the central nervous system is provided by mesoderm-derived endothelial cells. These initially aggregate around the neural tube to form the perineural vascular plexus (PNVP), but eventually penetrate the basal lamina and ingress radially into the neural tube. Each angiogenic sprout is led by a specialised tip cell, followed by stalk cells. Previous work in the lab has described the process anatomically and has characterised the activity of matrix metalloproteinases. In contrast, little is known about the polarity of the PNVP, tip cells and stalk cells. The aim of this project is to study the location of apical or basal marker proteins during vascular ingression by immunofluorescence.
Axon guidance signals that organise the early axon scaffold in the vertebrate brain
Supervisor: Dr Frank Schubert
The first neurons that differentiate in the embryonic vertebrate brain establish an evolutionary conserved array of longitudinal, transversal and commissural axon tracts, the early axon scaffold. Despite the stereotypical arrangement of these tracts, little is known about the signals that underlie the guidance of the axons. We have characterised the expression of the main axon guidance molecules in the early brain, providing candidate genes for analysis. The aim of the project is to test the function of these genes in the guidance of early axons by in-ovo electroporation and loss-of-function approaches.
Turning mats into money
Supervisor: Dr Gordon Watson
Protecting and enhancing transitional and coastal water (TAC) ecosystems are essential to growing a sustainable blue economy (e.g. fisheries, tourism), meeting conservation objectives (e.g. protecting habitats/birds) and improving public health (e.g. shellfish consumption). Despite this, all urbanised TAC waters have elevated nutrient levels leading to poor water quality caused by inputs of fertilizers, livestock and human waste. This results in the excessive growth of plant life (termed eutrophication). Coastal eutrophication results in the rapid growth of green seaweeds on intertidal mudflats forming mats 10 cms deep and covering thousands of hectares. These have significant ecological impacts (a key measure for not achieving GES [Good Ecological Status] via the WFD [Water Framework Directive]), as well as economic and human health issues. This project will develop and test innovative, sustainable and cost-effective methods that will rapidly reduce algal mat coverage of these habitats and contribute to reductions in nutrient levels. Feeding algal mats to polychaete worms and converting these to AC (aquaculture) feed will be tested under controlled conditions to maximise growth and assess the conversion of algal biomass to polychaete biomass.
Intersexuality and metal pollution in amphipods crustaceans
Supervisor: Prof Alex Ford
Some recent studies have linked reproductive abnormalities such as intersexuality in amphipods to pollution and parasites. This study aims to determine the metal concentrations and incidence of intersexuality in amphipods clean and polluted coastal locations.
Neuroendocrine disruption in crustaceans
Supervisors: Prof Alex Ford and Jerome Swinny
Studies in our labs have recently found that antidepressants (SSRIs) can impact the behaviour of crustaceans at environmentally relevant concentrations. The aim of the study is to define whether exposure to SSRIs alters the serotonergic and dopaminergic activity in shrimp using immunohistochemistry.
Phylogeny of Antarctic coralline algae
Supervisors: Dr Federica Ragazzola and Dr Jo Preston
The Corallinales, along with the Sporolithales (Corallinophycidae, Rhodophyta), is a red algal order characterized by the presence of Mg-calcite in their cell walls. This calcification capacity confers them a crucial ecological role by creating new habitats sand therefore increasing biodiversity.
However, coralline identification is complicated by phenotypic plasticity depending on environmental conditions as well as the need for decalcification prior to the observation of anatomical features.
The aim of this project is to create a phylogenetic tree of Antarctic coralline algae by combining morphological (histology, SEM) and genetic analysis.
Carbonate changes of different populations of Corallina officinalis under future climate change scenario
Supervisors: Dr Federica Ragazzola an Dr Gianluca Tozzi
Coralline algae are a significant component of the benthic ecosystem. Their ability to withstand physical stressed in high energy environments relies on their skeletal structure which is composed by high Mg calcite. The aim of this project is to determine the changes in the calcium carbonate composition of specimens cultured under future climate change scenario using ImageJ software (for the linear growth rates) and a non-destructive, high resolution quantitative volumetric investigation (microCT). This project will be mainly computer based.
Plasticity of Corallina officinalis in long term experiments
Supervisors: Dr Federica Ragazzola
Coralline algae are a significant component of the benthic ecosystem. Their ability to withstand physical stress in high energy environments relies on their skeletal structure which is composed by high Mg calcite.
The change in Mg alters the material properties of the calcite: increasing the solubility of the skeleton and altering the mechanical properties as a Mg-enriched matrix increases deformation resistance.The aim of the project is to analyse the phenotypic plasticity of coralline algae from a long term culturing experiment using Scanning electron microscopy and Energy dispersive spectroscopy.
Structural integrity of different population of Corallina officinalis
Supervisors: Dr Federica Ragazzola and Dr Jurgita Zekonyte
Coralline algae are a significant component of the benthic ecosystem. Their ability to withstand physical stressed in high energy environments relies on their skeletal structure which is composed by high Mg calcite. The change in Mg alters the material properties of the calcite: increase the solubility of the skeleton and altering the mechanical properties as a Mg-enriched matric increases deformation resistance. The aim of this project is to determine the changes in plasticity, elasticity and hardness of specimens cultured under future climate change scenario using nano-indentation.
This project will be mainly computer based.
The effects of antidepressants on embryonic development and adult behaviour in zebrafish
Supervisors: Prof Alex Ford and Dr Matt Parker
Antidepressants can be detected in aquatic ecosystems at concentrations believed to be causing harm to wildlife. This study aims to investigate the effects of fluoxetine on early embryonic development and adult behaviour using zebrafish as a model species.
Assessing the global marine ornamental trade
Supervisors: Dr Gordon Watson and Dr Harriet Wood
The global trade in marine organisms collected for aquariums is worth hundreds of millions of pounds per annum, yet very little is known about the species removed from coral reefs and their suitability for specific roles in an aquarium. Using gastropod species that are sold as ‘cleanup crew’ this project will assess the diversity of species collected; the accuracy of the identification of each and assess their function in a marine aquarium in the context of grazing and other processes.
Protein engineering of lignin-active enzymes
Supervisors: Prof John McGeehan and Prof Simon Cragg
Lignin is a heterogeneous, aromatic biopolymer found in abundance in plant cell walls where it is used for defence, structure, and nutrient and water transport. Given its prevalence in plant tissues, lignin is the largest reservoir of renewable, aromatic carbon found in nature.
This project is part of a collaborative UK-US project with the goal of identifying and characterising novel enzymes that are active on lignin monomers. The potential is for the development on new pathways for converting lignin waste into valuable fine chemicals and biofuels. While our US colleagues are providing extensive molecular biology support, the Portsmouth team will focus on the characterisation of potential lignin-degrading enzymes using X-ray crystallography as a platform for protein engineering. Using a combination of biophysics and structural biology approaches, the goal of this MRes will be to join our growing team in order to identify, characterise, and optimise key enzymes that can transform this important resource.
Genetic variation, local adaptation and climate change: how do wild crop relatives respond to drought?
Supervisors: Dr Gordon Watson and Beatrice Landoni
At global scale, one of the most important signs of climate change is the increasing drought resulting from raising temperatures. Changes in drought are not necessarily similar across a latitudinal gradient. For example, summer drought is the SW Europe is more intense than in the UK. Hence, species with wide geographic distributions are likely to respond differently at local scale. Wild flax is the wild crop relative of linseed. It is distributed in the Mediterranean and in the W Europe. In this project, we will investigate genetic variation and local adaptation to drought with the aim to identify if different populations have evolved different strategies to cope with climate change. With this project, we will also investigate the value of a wild crop relative to increase food security.
Predator-Prey interactions of the Oyster drill (Ocenebra erinacea) and assessment of implications for restoration of the native oyster Ostrea edulis
Supervisors: Dr Joanne Preston and Dr Luke Helmer (Blue Marine Foundation)
Ocenebra erinaceus is a predatory gastropod native to European waters that is known to feed on a variety of bivalves, including the European flat oyster Ostrea edulis. As populations of O. edulis have decline predation levels of O. erinacea have become more apparent. This is coupled with the ban of Tributyltin (TBT) antifoulant paints that severely depleted populations of O. erinacea. Key and Davidson (1981) estimated that 30 million individual tingles were present within the Solent during 1976/77 oyster fishing season and Lockwood (1985) estimated that 60% of O. edulis mortalities within the Solent during the 1980s occurred as a result of tingle drilling activity. Predation of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas has also recently been observed in the area. Alongside boat and intertidal work to conduct ecological surveys, a range of aquarium experiments will be performed. This MRes aims establish the preferred prey species to inform oyster restoration site selection based on predation pressure. This research will also determine the size preference for O. edulis prey to inform seabed deployment strategy as part of the wider Solent Oyster Restoration Project.
Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment
Supervisor Dr Joy Watts and Dr Michelle Hale
Extensive antibiotic resistant strains are now being detected in all environments; the spread of these strains could greatly reduce medical treatment options available and increase deaths from previously curable infections. By their nature, aquaculture systems contain high numbers of diverse bacteria, which exist in combination with the current and past use of antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, and other treatment regimens—singularly or in combination. These systems have been designated as “genetic hotspots” for gene transfer.
It is essential that we identify the sources and sinks of antimicrobial resistance, and monitor and analyse the transfer of antimicrobial resistance between the microbial community, the environment, in order to better understand the implications to human and environmental health.
In this project different environments will be examined for the presence and transfer of clinically important antimicrobial resistance genes, using a number of molecular and traditional tools. To better understand the resistome laboratory based studies will be employed, to model the transfer frequencies and hot spots. Transfer of antimicrobial resistance provides a global threat to healthcare systems and human longevity, it is therefore critical that we better understand how AMR genes persist in the environment and spread - especially into clinically relevant pathogen species.
Supervisor: Dr. Carmelo Fruciano
Fish are extraordinary diverse, with more species than all other vertebrate groups combined (i.e., amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals). They are also extremely diverse in ecology, performing all sorts of roles in natural systems, as well as phenotypically, with an extraordinary diversity in colour, shape and behaviour. What makes bony fish so successful is still not entirely clear. While the potential of adapting to all sort of niches has been studied extensively, recent research suggests that the story is actually more complicated. The extraordinary success of fish is probably due to a complex combination of ability to adapt to new resources, genetic/genomic constraints, and paleoclimatic events. This project will use fish from highly diverse families to understand the relative contribution of these factors. It has a part of data acquisition (in the lab and at the computer) and a substantial component of data analysis. It would particularly fit a student who envisions continuing after the MRes by undertaking either a PhD or a career as life science data scientist/data analyst.
Why the kangaroo face? Understanding the reason for the diversity in skull shape among kangaroos and their relatives?
Supervisor: Dr. Carmelo Fruciano
Kangaroos are iconic Marsupial Mammals from Australia. In the vast Australian continent, kangaroos and their closest relatives have diversified to occupy many ecological niches and show remarkable variation in skull shape. For this reason, researchers have believed for a long time that the variation in the skulls of these marsupials was due to adaptation to the food they consume. However, very recent research challenges many of these assumptions and proves that there are broad developmental “rules” which produces large variation in the skulls of all Mammals. So how important have been adaptation to different food and how important have been these developmental “rules” to determine the variety of skulls we observe today in kangaroos and their relatives? This project will address this question, by analysing 3D skull shape while considering the phylogenetic relationships between species. The project is almost exclusively based on the analysis of existing data, and would ideally suit a student with a keen interest in kangaroos and their relatives and in 3D shape analysis, as well as a student who is interested in a future career in academia (PhD) or as life science data scientist/data analyst.
Teaching how to identify and avoid fake news: digital literacy in the era of post-truth
Supervisor: Dr Alessandro Siani
With the public trust in science being undermined by the uncontrolled spreading of anti-scientific and pseudo-scientific fake news, it is imperative that tomorrow’s citizens are taught from a young age how to discriminate between credible sources and unreliable ones.
The aim of the project is to develop a teaching instrument or intervention to foster critical thinking and awareness of what constitutes a reliable source in school-age pupils.
Prior to developing and carrying out an intervention, you will be tasked with researching current literature to understand the causes of the spreading of fake news and investigate strategies to teach students how to look for appropriate sources and identify fake news.
Using Virtual Reality to facilitate learning and engagement in school-age students with special educational needs
Supervisor: Dr Alessandro Siani
The aim of the project is to develop a VR-based teaching strategy to facilitate engagement and on-task behaviour in students with special educational needs.
Prior to developing and carrying out an intervention, you will be tasked with researching current literature to understand the nature and features of selected learning disabilities, how these affect students’ learning and daily life, and what pedagogical strategies are currently used to address them.
Antimicrobial Resistance in Biofilms found in Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP)
Supervisors: Maria Salta and Athanasios Rizoulis
This project will focus on understanding AMR found within bacterial biofilms in WWTP when compared to planktonic bacteria. In addition, we aim to investigate the possibility of microplastics found in WWTP serving as vectors for AMR. Several techniques will be used for this project such as molecular microbiology techniques, advanced microscopy (e.g. SEM) and traditional cultural methods.
The impact of biofilm formation on macrofauna found in coralline algae
Supervisors: Maria Salta and Federica Ragazzola
This project will focus on the importance of biofilms in the presence of macrofauna typically associated with coralline algae. Coralline algae perform essential ecological functions, and are known to support diverse macrofauna communities. Climate change (elevated temperature and ocean acidification) puts this group of algae into risk, therefore there is an increasing effort to artificially recreate this type of habitat. Biofilm community composition found on natural and artificially created coralline algae, along with their associated macrofauna, will be explored with the aim to determine if artificial coralline algae are a valuable substitute in a high CO2 world scenario. Techniques will include bacterial DNA sequencing, macrofuana identification, advanced microscopy and field work.
Other Research Projects
Discover the current research projects available in each of our schools and departments:
- Department of Psychology
- School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science
- School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences
- School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences
- School of Health and Care Professions
- School of Biological Sciences
- School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
- Dental Academy
Please note, this list is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.