SENRGY staff are active in the following areas of research;
Plant and Soil Science
We work on processes at both molecular and physiological levels, and apply the resulting insights to sustaining production systems, particularly under climate change.
Our research is in the fields of:
Plant genomics, biochemistry and physiology. We are studying the function of single cell solute and water relations, integration of the transcriptome and metabolome, comparing expression levels of transcripts using the actin gene family, defence signalling pathways against virus pathogens, acetate transport into peroxisomes, activation of the glycoprotein extensin in response to mechanical stress, and have used electrophysiology to discover the overlapping functions of potassium channel sub-units in Arabidopsis. In root physiology we have studied the impacts of cadmium pollution, and whole-root signalling events involved in aluminium toxicity and tolerance responses. We are using micro-arrays and metabolite profiling to improve understanding of how plants respond to abiotic and biotic stresses, and the consequences for the quality of harvested products.
Plant-soil interactions. To improve understanding of terrestrial carbon and nitrogen cycling, we study the factors controlling their fluxes between root and rhizosphere, including competition between plants and microbes and the role of amino-acids in the soil nitrogen cycle. This involves work on Antarctic, agricultural and forest ecosystems and modelling system integration.
Soil microbiology. We are monitoring the human pathogen E. coli O157:H7 in the soil and other environments using novel marker techniques to assess its risk to human health. We have isolated and characterised novel bacteria and archaea, and studied the diversity, dynamics and value for remediation of the bacterial communities occurring in extreme environments such as acid-mine drainage and hydrocarbon pollutants. We are now applying novel microbial systems for bioremediation.
Climate change impacts. We have researched the impact of elevated CO2 and N, and the dominant role of mycorrhizal hyphal turnover, in the flux of carbon into soil. Our mycorrhizal research has also found the major role played by the fungal mycelium in soil mineral weathering and in plant phosphorus uptake, and we are now developing this using molecular approaches. Our work in peatlands has shown the importance of phenolic compounds in suppressing soil microbial metabolism, a phenomenon that is being reduced by climate change-induced increases in primary production, causing big increases in the loss of dissolved organic carbon from peatlands. However, while drought increases the capacity of peatland microbes to decompose organic matter through the enzyme phenol oxidase, plants may respond by increasing production of phenolics. We have also found that the acidity of peat soils influences microbial production of methane. We are now researching the role of below-ground biodiversity in ecosystem responses to environmental change.