UoA 5 Biological Sciences

Biosciences is a discipline based within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences on both the Streatham Campus in Exeter and the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Our activities at Streatham are centred on the newly refurbished Geoffrey Pope Building, which was the result of a £26million investment, while at Penryn they are focused on the Centre for Ecology and Conservation and the new £30million Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), which also houses the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH).

We are a focused research community concentrating on world-class activity in five inter-linked themes:

These themes are underpinned by research groups listed below.

Key results

  • 88 per cent of research was rated at world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*). This was a significant increase from the RAE 2008 when the amount of world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) research was 50 per cent.
  • This unit was ranked 10 out of 44 nationally. 

Impact case studies

NameSummary
Commercialisation of a novel diagnostic test for invasive pulmonary aspergillosis Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA) is a frequently fatal disease of haematological malignancy patients, caused by fungi from the genus Aspergillus. Dr Christopher Thornton has developed and commercialised a novel point-of-care test for the diagnosis of IPA with an Aspergillus-specific antibody. Using this, he has developed a lateral-flow device (LFD) for the rapid detection of Aspergillus antigen in humans that signifies active infection. Commercial exploitation of the patented technology has been met through the establishment of a spin-out company, Isca Diagnostics Limited.
Microbial production of fourth generation biofuels The Exeter Microbial Biofuels Group (EMBG) investigates the molecular and biochemical basis of hydrocarbon production in microbes and planktonic algae for the industrial production of innovative biofuels that can directly substitute for petrol. Through close collaboration with Shell, the EMBG has directly influenced the R&D strategy of the organisation. Research has provided impartial data that have guided crucial business decisions and patented a novel route for the production of synthetic biofuels in microbes.
Bisphenol A and it potential human health effects Professor Tamara Galloway’s research has identified for the first time associations between exposure to one of the world’s most widely used chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA), and an elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death globally. Specifically the 25 per cent of individuals with highest urinary BPA levels, compared to the 25 per cent with the lowest levels, have a 1.5 to two-fold increased risk of developing CVD. This finding has influenced international policy debate and resulted in restrictions on the use of BPA in food contact materials, and is stimulating industry investment into safer chemical alternatives. Furthermore it has raised public awareness of the associated health risks.
Legislating to protect the ecological function of coral reefs Professor Peter Mumby’s research on the impact of parrotfish grazing on the resilience of coral reefs has had a direct impact on the management of Caribbean reefs and fisheries. The results of his research have influenced conservation policy across the Caribbean and have led to the Governments of Belize and Bonaire enacting legislation to ban fishing of parrotfish. The work has also motivated the National Marine Fisheries Service (USA) and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands) to set annual catch and size limits for parrotfish caught in US Caribbean fisheries.
Ocean acidification research as a model for environmental education in secondary schools Dr Ceri Lewis’ research expeditions to the Canadian High Arctic to investigate impacts of ocean acidification have informed educational material, introducing oceans education to schools, both nationally and internationally. Dr Lewis worked with Digital Explorer, a non-profit organisation, to provide free lesson plans and multi-media resources on ocean acidification and Arctic climate change. The resulting education resources, are already being used by 1,225 UK secondary schools (30 per cent of secondary schools in the UK), reaching more than 658,000 pupils within the first year of being launched. These school resources are also being used in a training programme in Alaska and outreach examples across Europe.
Global sea turtle conservation Research on the status, distribution and ecology of sea turtles has driven national and international conservation policy, engaged millions of people worldwide and raised substantial funding for conservation. Governments including the UK, Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Gabon have used this research in making legislation and multi-million pound management decisions. Development of open-access animal tracking tools has facilitated a global network of over 135 countries, with more than 300 projects tracking thousands of animals from 118 species. The ability to adopt tracked animals online has attracted millions of visitors and raised funding for conservation projects world-wide.

 Research groups

GroupAbout the Group
Cellular and Chemical Biology Research in the Cellular and Chemical Biology group aims to explain how the properties of living cells emerge from the functions and interactions of their constituent molecules. Our research spans many scales from molecular structure through to cells and their interactions. Using a broad range of methods, including microscopy, biochemistry, molecular genetics, x-ray crystallography and mathematical modelling we investigate key cellular processes including the cell-cycle, cell and organelle motility, and metabolism.
Microbes and Disease The Microbes and Disease group is focused around bacterial and fungal infections of plants, animals and humans. It has a strong focus on understanding the molecular basis of infection, the molecular basis of the host response to infection and the interactions of antimicrobial drugs with pathogens. Our overall goal is to deliver science which has a real impact on disease control including identifying new approaches to disease control and new approaches to the use of antimicrobial drugs. We use a broad range of technologies including next generation sequencing, mass spectrometry and high resolution and non-invasive imaging. The group includes microbiologists, molecular biologists, mathematicians, plant biologists and immunologists. We work extensively with other groups in Universities, Government and Industry in the UK and across the world.
Behaviour The Behaviour group at our Cornwall Campus focuses on understanding social, sexual and competitive behaviour, studying how behaviour evolved and its mechanistic basis. Research is both empirical and theoretical, utilising recent molecular and biochemical techniques, experimental evolution studies in the lab and long-term field studies. We work on a wide range of species including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, and run field research projects across the globe. Current research includes studies of cooperation, predator-prey interactions, information use and transmission, the ecology and biochemical basis of ageing, parental care, selfish genes, life-history and developmental trade-offs, maternal effects, sexual selection and sexual conflict.
Ecology and Conservation The Ecology and Conservation group at our Cornwall Campus focuses on pressing issues in animal ecology, including: the impacts of renewable energy generation; interactions between wildlife, fisheries and agriculture (particularly in relation to TB in badgers and cattle); new techniques in monitoring movement in wild animals; over-harvesting; and the impacts of climate change. They combine field, laboratory, and modelling studies, carried out globally in ecosystems ranging from farmland to coral reefs.
Evolution The Evolution Group at our Cornwall Campus has particular strengths in the evolutionary ecology of host-pathogen interactions, sexual selection and studying selection in the wild. They use experimental evolution to investigate how changes in environment or mating patterns drive rapid evolutionary adaptation in microbes and insects and high throughput sequencing to dissect evolution at the level of the gene. Current projects include studies of ageing, host-parasite coevolution, the genetic basis of mimicry, parental care, selfish genes, speciation and life-history and developmental trade-offs.

UoA 5 Biological Sciences

Biosciences is a discipline based within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences on both the Streatham Campus in Exeter and the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Our activities at Streatham are centred on the newly refurbished Geoffrey Pope Building, which was the result of a £26million investment, while at Penryn they are focused on the Centre for Ecology and Conservation and the new £30million Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), which also houses the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH).

We are a focused research community concentrating on world-class activity in five inter-linked themes:

These themes are underpinned by research groups listed below.

Key results

  • 88 per cent of research was rated at world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*). This was a significant increase from the RAE 2008 when the amount of world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*) research was 50 per cent.
  • This unit was ranked 10 out of 44 nationally. 

Impact case studies

NameSummary
Commercialisation of a novel diagnostic test for invasive pulmonary aspergillosis Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA) is a frequently fatal disease of haematological malignancy patients, caused by fungi from the genus Aspergillus. Dr Christopher Thornton has developed and commercialised a novel point-of-care test for the diagnosis of IPA with an Aspergillus-specific antibody. Using this, he has developed a lateral-flow device (LFD) for the rapid detection of Aspergillus antigen in humans that signifies active infection. Commercial exploitation of the patented technology has been met through the establishment of a spin-out company, Isca Diagnostics Limited.
Microbial production of fourth generation biofuels The Exeter Microbial Biofuels Group (EMBG) investigates the molecular and biochemical basis of hydrocarbon production in microbes and planktonic algae for the industrial production of innovative biofuels that can directly substitute for petrol. Through close collaboration with Shell, the EMBG has directly influenced the R&D strategy of the organisation. Research has provided impartial data that have guided crucial business decisions and patented a novel route for the production of synthetic biofuels in microbes.
Bisphenol A and it potential human health effects Professor Tamara Galloway’s research has identified for the first time associations between exposure to one of the world’s most widely used chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA), and an elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death globally. Specifically the 25 per cent of individuals with highest urinary BPA levels, compared to the 25 per cent with the lowest levels, have a 1.5 to two-fold increased risk of developing CVD. This finding has influenced international policy debate and resulted in restrictions on the use of BPA in food contact materials, and is stimulating industry investment into safer chemical alternatives. Furthermore it has raised public awareness of the associated health risks.
Legislating to protect the ecological function of coral reefs Professor Peter Mumby’s research on the impact of parrotfish grazing on the resilience of coral reefs has had a direct impact on the management of Caribbean reefs and fisheries. The results of his research have influenced conservation policy across the Caribbean and have led to the Governments of Belize and Bonaire enacting legislation to ban fishing of parrotfish. The work has also motivated the National Marine Fisheries Service (USA) and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands) to set annual catch and size limits for parrotfish caught in US Caribbean fisheries.
Ocean acidification research as a model for environmental education in secondary schools Dr Ceri Lewis’ research expeditions to the Canadian High Arctic to investigate impacts of ocean acidification have informed educational material, introducing oceans education to schools, both nationally and internationally. Dr Lewis worked with Digital Explorer, a non-profit organisation, to provide free lesson plans and multi-media resources on ocean acidification and Arctic climate change. The resulting education resources, are already being used by 1,225 UK secondary schools (30 per cent of secondary schools in the UK), reaching more than 658,000 pupils within the first year of being launched. These school resources are also being used in a training programme in Alaska and outreach examples across Europe.
Global sea turtle conservation Research on the status, distribution and ecology of sea turtles has driven national and international conservation policy, engaged millions of people worldwide and raised substantial funding for conservation. Governments including the UK, Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Gabon have used this research in making legislation and multi-million pound management decisions. Development of open-access animal tracking tools has facilitated a global network of over 135 countries, with more than 300 projects tracking thousands of animals from 118 species. The ability to adopt tracked animals online has attracted millions of visitors and raised funding for conservation projects world-wide.

 Research groups

GroupAbout the Group
Cellular and Chemical Biology Research in the Cellular and Chemical Biology group aims to explain how the properties of living cells emerge from the functions and interactions of their constituent molecules. Our research spans many scales from molecular structure through to cells and their interactions. Using a broad range of methods, including microscopy, biochemistry, molecular genetics, x-ray crystallography and mathematical modelling we investigate key cellular processes including the cell-cycle, cell and organelle motility, and metabolism.
Microbes and Disease The Microbes and Disease group is focused around bacterial and fungal infections of plants, animals and humans. It has a strong focus on understanding the molecular basis of infection, the molecular basis of the host response to infection and the interactions of antimicrobial drugs with pathogens. Our overall goal is to deliver science which has a real impact on disease control including identifying new approaches to disease control and new approaches to the use of antimicrobial drugs. We use a broad range of technologies including next generation sequencing, mass spectrometry and high resolution and non-invasive imaging. The group includes microbiologists, molecular biologists, mathematicians, plant biologists and immunologists. We work extensively with other groups in Universities, Government and Industry in the UK and across the world.
Behaviour The Behaviour group at our Cornwall Campus focuses on understanding social, sexual and competitive behaviour, studying how behaviour evolved and its mechanistic basis. Research is both empirical and theoretical, utilising recent molecular and biochemical techniques, experimental evolution studies in the lab and long-term field studies. We work on a wide range of species including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, and run field research projects across the globe. Current research includes studies of cooperation, predator-prey interactions, information use and transmission, the ecology and biochemical basis of ageing, parental care, selfish genes, life-history and developmental trade-offs, maternal effects, sexual selection and sexual conflict.
Ecology and Conservation The Ecology and Conservation group at our Cornwall Campus focuses on pressing issues in animal ecology, including: the impacts of renewable energy generation; interactions between wildlife, fisheries and agriculture (particularly in relation to TB in badgers and cattle); new techniques in monitoring movement in wild animals; over-harvesting; and the impacts of climate change. They combine field, laboratory, and modelling studies, carried out globally in ecosystems ranging from farmland to coral reefs.
Evolution The Evolution Group at our Cornwall Campus has particular strengths in the evolutionary ecology of host-pathogen interactions, sexual selection and studying selection in the wild. They use experimental evolution to investigate how changes in environment or mating patterns drive rapid evolutionary adaptation in microbes and insects and high throughput sequencing to dissect evolution at the level of the gene. Current projects include studies of ageing, host-parasite coevolution, the genetic basis of mimicry, parental care, selfish genes, speciation and life-history and developmental trade-offs.