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School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Research

School Research Structure

The structure of the school supports our research themes in 1) stress, signaling and environmental adaptation and 2) cell structure, function and development through activities coordinated internally through our five research discussion groups. In turn, the themes align with external science priorities in healthier ageing, climate change and food security and sustainability through internal and external collaborations with other academic institutions, agencies and industry. In key areas these links are formalised through Research Centres, Institutes and Initiatives which play a key role in engaging with government and private sector initiatives. Research in healthier ageing aligns with the North East Stem Cell Initiative, a project which has been jointly developed with biomedical scientists at Newcastle University. Work on food security and alleviating poverty is developed through Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology (DCCIT) which has strategic alliances with key academic, government and industrial agencies. Bioenergy research is conducted through the Durham Energy Institute. Multidisciplinary is a major research strength within the School with interests in climate change developed with colleagues in the Geography Department through the Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience and in cell biology, biochemistry and physiology through the Biophysical Sciences Institute, with 5 members of the School located in the Chemistry Department in the Wolfson Laboratories.

The 4 research discussion groups are:

Adaptation & Environment

Group Coordinator: Dr. Steve Willis

Our Research Discussion Group aims to understand the relationships between organisms and their changing environment, working at scales from global (range changes) to sub-cellular (genetic traits), whilst considering also behavioural and evolutionary plasticity.

The Adaptation & Environment Research Discussion Group is a forum for biologists interested in studying the relationships between organisms and their environment, whether these relationships apply to individual organisms, populations or species. The primary interests of the group are in the role of evolution in shaping species relationships with their environment, the role of behaviour in modifying individual variation, and the impact of environmental change, particularly global climatic change and anthropogenic habitat alteration, on species.

Studying the past provides one means of testing models that predict the future. As a result, there is a great deal of interest within the group in historical modelling of species ranges and population structure.

To inform the development of biodiversity conservation strategies resilient to climatic change (and the many other pressures causing biodiversity loss), we apply simulation models to predict the impacts of such changes on biodiversity. Statistical and mechanistic models, especially spatially and/or temporally explicit models of ecological and evolutionary processes, are being developed and applied to make robust predictions of the responses of species and ecosystems to environmental change. Studies of key ecosystem and land-surface processes are used to improve regional estimates of land-surface-atmosphere fluxes of gases, such as CO2, and relationships between genetic diversity, genetic drft, fitness and local adaptation are used to define evolutionarily significant units for conservation.

Biomolecular Interactions

Group Coordinator: Dr. Ehmke Pohl

The members of Biomolecular Interaction research group came together from diverse backgrounds ranging from plant biology and biochemistry, bacteriology, to parasitology and virology. Biomolecular interactions including contacts between biological macromolecules (protein/protein or protein/nucleic acids) and protein-ligand interactions play a central role in all our research interest. Biological questions concerning for example the interaction of a herbicide with plant enzymes, the recognition of DNA by bacterial proteins, or the composition of cytoskeletal proteins are address using a wide range of chemical, biochemical, and biophysical methods.

The aim of the group is to promote interdisciplinary high-quality research not only within the group but also reaching beyond the traditional boundaries of biological research. This goal is achieved by regular research meeting with members of the biological chemistry, the biophysical and biomathematics grouping across the faculty.

Cell Structure

Group Coordinator: Dr Akis Karakesisoglou

Our Research Discussion Group aims to identify and characterize the structural components that constitute the fundamental units of life on our planet, i.e. the cell.

The Cell Structure Research Discussion Group is a forum for scientists who elucidate the principle structural elements as well as the mechanisms that govern the architecture and behaviour of cells. This is broad theme that includes research on viruses, yeast, plants, and several vertebrate model systems. The members of the group consider the study of cell structure itself to be their primary research aim (or at least part of their research) in areas such as cytoskeletal, nuclear and cell membrane dynamics in normal or pathological conditions (e.g. viral infection, fungal infections, cancer, muscular dystrophies, premature ageing and other human degenerative diseases). Moreover, using sophisticated microscopical equipment we address cellular architecture at the ultra-structural level and examine fundamental processes such as cellular asymmetry, cell migration, cell division and cellular signalling.

Development

Group Coordinator: Dr. Carrie Ambler

Our Research Discussion Group studies how organisms develop from initial stem cells to early embryos to adulthood and how adult tissues are repaired and regenerated throughout an organism's life.

Embryo tissue development and adult tissue repair and regeneration are highly related processes; both rely on populations of stem cells or uncommitted precursor cells to undergo a highly-coordinated and step-wise programme of differentiation to produce the completed structure. The Development and Regeneration Research Discussion Group is an association of scientists with common interests in these two processes and how we can best apply our knowledge of normal, healthy development and regeneration to improve therapies for human diseases and pathologies. Although we are aligned to a common theme, the members of our group have varied research strengths in such areas as the regulation and differentiation of embryonic and tissue specific stem cells (e.g. epidermal, dermal, neural and cardiac stem cells), the genetic defects in familiar muscular dystrophy and the factors controlling skin and hair follicle development, maintenance and wound repair. Moreover, a core focus of this group is working to engineer new technologies need to provide improved solutions for regenerative therapy. Scientists in the Development and Regeneration Research Discussion Group are members of several University institutes and centres including the BSI, NESCI and Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine.