African snail

Applied Biology

Research Group

Studying a wide variety of organisms

Our research looks at some of the important issues affecting health, agriculture, marine biology and forensic biosciences.

The Applied Biology Research Group undertakes research into a diverse range of subjects addressing real world problems in health, forensics, marine industries and agriculture. We study a wide variety of organisms including plants, invertebrates and vertebrates.

We have collaborative links both to other research groups within the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology including the Research Centre for Brain and Behaviour, the Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology and the Evolutionary and Behavioural Biology Research Group, but also other departments and institutes within LJMU such as colleagues within the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.

Our expertise

Below you'll find information about each of our areas of expertise including research papers, collaborations and staff.

Forensic biosciences

We research the rate and pattern of colonisation of human remains by invertebrates, particularly muscid flies and blowflies, but also marine organisms. This research is relevant to the interpretation of the minimum time since death when used in a forensic context.

Papers:

Gunn A. and Pitt S.J., 2012. Microbes as forensic indicators Tropical Biomedicine 29 (3): 311–330 PMID: 23018494

Gunn A., B. Jerry, 2011. The ability of the blowflies Calliphora vomitoria (Linnaeus), Calliphora vicina (Rob-Desvoidy) and Lucilia sericata (Meigen) (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and the muscid flies Muscina stabulans (Fallén) and Muscina prolapsa (Harris) (Diptera: Muscidae) to colonise buried remains. Forensic Science International 207 (1–3), 198–204. doi>

Staff: Simone Dürr, Alan Gunn

Epigenetics

Epigenetics concerns the mechanisms that confer the organismal and cellular inheritance of gene expression patterns that do not involve a change in DNA sequence. Chemical modifications of DNA and DNA-associated proteins (histones and HP1 proteins) are key players in epigenetic inheritance. Our research uses state-of-the-art genetically-engineered mice, along with induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, to investigate three main themes: (i) the development of brown adipose tissue; (ii) the mechanisms of epigenetic rejuvenation; (iii) behavioural epigenetics: understanding how gene activity is influenced by experiences and the environment.

Collaborations:

  • University of Antwerp, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute (Professor Peter Ponsaerts): differentiation capacity of HP1 mutant ES cells
  • Forschungseinrichtung für Experimentelle Medizin (Germany) (Dr Geert Michaels): epigenetic rejuvenation
  • Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (Spain) (Professor Alejandro Vaquero): HP1 proteins and chromatin structure
  • Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Institute of Cell Biology and Neurobiology (Professor Victor Tarabykin): HP1 proteins and cerebral corticogenesis
  • University of Roma "Tor Vergata" (Professor Silvia Biocca): functional knock-out of HP1 proteins using intracellular antibodies
  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Professor Eran Meshorer): HP1 proteins and ES cell pluripotency

Papers:

Maria Manukyan M. and Singh P.B., 2014. Epigenome rejuvenation: HP1β mobility as a measure of pluripotent and senescent chromatin ground states. Scientific Reports 4 4789. doi>

Manukyan M. and Singh P.B., 2012. Epigenetic rejuvenation. Genes to Cells 17 (5), 337-343. doi>

Brown J.P., Bullwinkel J., Baron-Lühr B., Billur M., Schneider P., Winking H. and Singh P.B. 2010. HP1γ function is required for male germ cell survival and spermatogenesis. Epigenetics & Chromatin, 3 (9). doi>

Staff: Prim Singh, Will Swaney

Human biology

Research in human biology is in two main areas: firstly, studying the relationships between physiology and nutrition, with a special emphasis on the interactions of dietary and lifestyle habits with adipose tissue, obesity and the inflammatory response. Secondly, the study of interactions between non-cancer and cancer cells in the initiation and progression of solid tumours. In this tumour microenvironment we are particularly interested in the influence of hypoxia and nutrient deficiency, both of which are conditions that occur in the centre of solid tumours. These conditions are contributing factors in the resistance to chemo- and radiotherapy and therefore a better understanding in this area may help to identify potential therapeutic targets.

Papers:

Sharma S, Evans A, Hemers E. 2016. Mesenchymal-epithelial signalling in tumour microenvironment: role of high-mobility group Box 1 Cell and Tissue Research, 365, 357-366

Pérez-de-Heredia F., Gómez-Martínez S., Díaz L., Veses, A.M, Nova E., Wärnberg J., Huybrechts I., Vyncke K., Androutsos O., Ferrari M., Palacios G., Wastlund A., Kovács E., Gottrand F., González-Gross M., Castillo M.J., Sjöstrom M., Manios Y., Kafatos A., Molnár D., Widhalm K., Moreno L.A., Marcos A., on behalf of the HELENA Study Group, 2015. Influence of sex, age, pubertal maturation and body mass index on circulating white blood cell counts in healthy European adolescents—the HELENA study. European Journal of Pediatrics. doi>

Veses A. M., Gómez-Martínez S., Pérez de Heredia F., Esteban-Cornejo I., Castillo R., Estecha  S., García-Fuentes  M., Veiga O. L., Calle M. E., Marcos A. 2015. Cognition and the risk of eating disorders in Spanish adolescents: the AVENA and AFINOS studies European Journal of Pediatrics 174 (2), 229-236. doi>

Pérez de Heredia F., Garaulet M., Gómez-Martínez S., Díaz L.E., Wärnberg J., Androutsos O., Michels N., Breidenassel C., Cuenca-García M., Huybrechts I., Gottrand F., Ferrari M., Santaliestra-Pasías A.M., Kafatos A., Molnár D., Sjöstrom M., Widhalm K., Moreno L.A., Marcos A., on behalf of the HELENA Study Group. 2014. Self-reported sleep duration, white blood cell counts and cytokine profiles in European adolescents: the HELENA study. Sleep Medicine 15 (10), 1251–1258. doi>

Magrone T., Perez de Heredia F., Jirillo E., Morabito G., Marcos A., Serafinide M., 2013. Functional foods and nutraceuticals as therapeutic tools for the treatment of diet-related diseases. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2013, 91(6): 387-396. doi>

Gómez-Martínez S., Martínez-Gómez D., Perez de Heredia F., Romeo J., Cuenca-Garcia M., Martín-Matillas M., Castillo M., Rey-López J., Vicente-Rodriguez G., Moreno L., Marcos A., 2012. Eating Habits and Total and Abdominal Fat in Spanish Adolescents: Influence of Physical Activity. The AVENA Study. Journal of Adolescent Health 50 (4), 403–409. doi>

Pérez de Heredia F., Wood I.S., Trayhurn P., 2010. Hypoxia stimulates lactate release and modulates monocarboxylate transporter (MCT1, MCT2, and MCT4) expression in human adipocytes. Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology 459 (3), 509-518. doi>

Staff: Elaine Hemers, Fatima Perez de Heredia

Marine biology

Biofouling is the growth of organisms (plants, animals, microorganisms) on artificial surfaces in the marine environment. Biofouling control measures (antifouling) cost the maritime industry billions of pounds every year. We follow a holistic approach in our biofouling and antifouling research and have combined our research expertise in biology/chemistry (School of Natural Sciences and Psychology) and engineering (Faculty of Engineering and Technology) with focus on research in the field (Dr S. Dürr) and in the lab (Dr S. Conlan). Our research is orientated in the basics of biofouling in terms of larval behaviour, species interactions, community structure and dynamics as well as in applied antifouling research with antifouling testing (e.g. coatings), sensor and adhesive research. We work with and for marine industries (aquaculture, shipping, renewable energies) and have worked in the EU funded projects: Advanced Nanostructured Surfaces for the Control of Biofouling (AMBIO) and Collective Research on Aquaculture Biofouling (CRAB). Our facilities at LJMU include cold rooms, environmental chambers and specialised microscopes. We use the Liverpool Docks as our easily accessible biofouling model system. Our public outreach programme includes regular events such as ‘Dockwatch’ at Liverpool’s Albert Dock.

Collaborations:

  • City University London (Prof Ron Douglas and Prof Jim Bowmaker): vision research, biofouling species settlement behaviour
  • Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station, Ireland (Dr Julie Maguire): biofouling and antifouling in aquaculture
  • Duke University, USA (Prof Dan Rittschof): biofouling adhesive research
  • National University of Singapore (Dr Serena Teo): adhesive research
  • Newcastle University (Prof Tony Clare): biofouling adhesive research
  • Newcastle University (Prof Anya Hurlbert): colour perception in biofouling species
  • Tassal & Huon, Australia (Dr Belinda Yaxley and Dom O’Brian): biofouling and antifouling in aquaculture
  • University of Brest, France (Prof Claire Hellio): natural biocides for antifouling coatings
  • University of Gothenburg (Prof Per Sundberg): invasive species, ballast water
  • World Museum Liverpool (Dr Geraldine Reid): diatom identification, biofilm assessment

Public collaborators:

  • Canal & River Trust
  • Mersey Maritime
  • Wirral Country Park
  • Maritime Museum Liverpool

Papers:

Tasso, M., Conlan, S. L., Clare, A. S. and Werner, C., 2012. Active Enzyme Nanocoatings Affect Settlement of Balanus amphitrite Barnacle Cyprids. Adv. Funct. Mater., 22: 39–47. doi>

Maruzzo D., Conlan S., Aldred N., Clare A.S., Høeg J.T., 2011. Video observation of surface exploration in cyprids of Balanus amphitrite: the movements of antennular sensory setae Biofouling: The Journal of Bioadhesion and Biofilm Research 27 (2) 225-239. doi>

Dürr S., Thomason J.C., 2010. Biofouling Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi>

Dürr, S. and Watson, D. I., 2009. Biofouling and Antifouling in Aquaculture, in Biofouling (eds S. Dürr and J. C. Thomason), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. doi>

Butler, A. J., Canning-Clode, J., Coutts, A. D. M., Cowie, P. R., Dobretsov, S., Dürr, S., Faimali, M., Lewis, J. A., Page, H. M., Pratten, J., Ready, D., Rittschof, D., Spratt, D. A., Terlizzi, A. and Thomason, J. C., 2009. Techniques for the Quantification of Biofouling, in Biofouling (eds S. Dürr and J. C. Thomason), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. doi>

Beigbeder A., Degee P., Conlan S.L, Mutton R.J., Clare A.S., Pettitt M.E., Callow M.E., Callow J.C., Dubois P., 2008. Preparation and characterisation of silicone-based coatings filled with carbon nanotubes and natural sepiolite and their application as marine fouling-release coatings Biofouling: The Journal of Bioadhesion and Biofilm Research 24 (4) 291-302. doi>

Staff: Sheelagh Conlan, Simone Dürr

Parasitology

We study how parasitic organisms affect the health, behaviour and life history traits of their hosts at both the phenotypic and molecular level. Key study systems are entomopathogenic nematodes, molluscicidal nematodes, filarial nematodes, flatworms, snails, flies, blackflies and mosquitos.

Papers:

Williams A.J., Rae R., 2015 Susceptibility of the Giant African snail (Achatina fulica) exposed to the gastropod parasitic nematode Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 127:122-26. doi>

Colebunders R., Post R., O'Neill S., Haesaert G., Opar B., Lakwo T., Laudisoit A., and Hendy A., 2014. Nodding syndrome since 2012: recent progress, challenges and recommendations for future research. Tropical Medicine & International Health 20 (2): 194–200. doi>

Staff: Alan Gunn, Rory Post, Robbie Rae, Sally Williamson

Pharmacology and molecular biology

We study how drugs, toxins and pesticides interact with the nervous system. This incorporates a range of approaches, from the molecular to the whole organism level. Our research interests include using advanced molecular biology techniques to produce recombinant toxins for development as potential drugs or pesticides; studying the pharmacology of specific receptors in the nervous system; and conducting bioassays to assess how particular drugs and toxins affect the behaviour of invertebrate animals.

Collaborations:

Durham University: novel biopesticides based on venom toxins

Papers:

Nakasu E., Williamson S., Edwards M., Fitches E., Gatehouse J., Wright G., Gatehouse A., 2014. Novel biopesticide based on a spider venom peptide shows no adverse effects on honeybees. Proceedings B 281 (1787). doi>

Staff: Andrias O’Reilly, Sally Williamson

Translational plant biology

We are researching plant genome evolution, molecular adaptations and photosynthesis to secure global food supplies in a changing world climate and to better understand the evolution of plants.

Collaborations:

Australian National University and Lancaster University (UK): designing better RuBisCOs for crops to improve global yield

Papers:

Whitney S.M., Birch R., Kelso C., Beck J.L, and Kapralov M.V., 2015. Improving recombinant Rubisco biogenesis, plant photosynthesis and growth by coexpressing its ancillary RAF1 chaperone. PNAS 112 (11) 3564-3569.

Sharwood RE, Ghannoum O, Kapralov MV, Gunn LH, Whitney SM (2016) Temperature responses of Rubisco from Paniceae grasses provide opportunities for improving C3 photosynthesis. Nature Plants. 2:16186.

Staff: Maxim Kapralov

Vector biology and control

We study insect vectors of human disease – particularly the blackfly vectors of onchocerciasis and mosquito vectors of malaria and lymphatic filariasis. We undertake both operational and applied research e.g. into the success of the onchocerciasis control programme and into insecticide resistance in mosquito vectors of malaria and lymphatic filariasis. Insecticide resistance represents a major impediment to successful vector control and we study the molecular mechanisms of this using genomic, transcriptomic and molecular biological tools. Additionally, we are undertaking research on novel insecticides based upon spider venom and the use of novel strains of entomopathogenic nematodes for control of insect vectors.

Collaborations:

  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology: British Blackfly Barcoding
  • Creighton University: Simulium genome project
  • Imperial College London: onchocerciasis transmission in southern Ghana
  • Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute: genomic studies of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine: microfloristics of blackflies
  • Ministry of Health of Burkina Faso: recrudescence of onchocerciasis
  • University of Antwerp: nodding syndrome
  • WHO African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control: onchocerciasis vector taxonomy

Papers:

Gomes B, Wilding CS, Weetman D, Sousa CA, Novo MT, Savage HM, Almeida APG, Pinto J and Donnelly MJ (2015). Limited genomic divergence between intraspecific forms of Culex pipiens under different ecological pressures. BMC Evolutionary Biology 15:197

Weetman, D., Mitchell, S. N., Wilding, C. S., Birks, D. P., Yawson, A. E., Essandoh, J., Mawejje, H. D., Djogbenou, L. S., Steen, K., Rippon, E. J., Clarkson, C. S., Field, S. G., Rigden, D. J. and Donnelly, M. J., 2015. Contemporary evolution of resistance at the major insecticide target site gene Ace-1 by mutation and copy number variation in the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Molecular Ecology. doi>

Neafsey D., Waterhouse R., Abai M., Aganezov S., Alekseyev M., Allen J., Amon J., Arcà B., Arensburger P., Artemov G., Assour L., Basseri H., Berlin A. et al., 2015. Highly evolvable malaria vectors: The genomes of 16 Anopheles mosquitoes. Science 347 (6217) doi>

Wilding C. S., Weetman D., Rippon E. J., Steen K., Mawejje H. D., Barsukov I., Donnelly M. J., 2015.

Parallel evolution or purifying selection, not introgression, explains similarity in the pyrethroid detoxification linked GSTE4 of Anopheles gambiae and An. arabiensis. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 290 (1), 201-215 doi>

Garms R., Badu K., Owusu-Dabo E., Baffour-Awuah S., Adjei O., Debrah A. Y., Nagel M., Biritwum N. K., Gankpala L., Post R. J., Kruppa T. F., 2015. Assessments of the transmission of Onchocerca volvulus by Simulium sanctipauli in the Upper Denkyira District, Ghana, and the intermittent disappearance of the vector. Parasitology Research 114 (3), 1129-1137 doi>

Lamberton P.H.L., Cheke R.A., Winskill P., Tirados I., Walker M., Osei-Atweneboana M.Y., Biritwum N.,  Tetteh-Kumah A., Boakye D.A., Wilson M.D., Post R.J., Basañez M., 2015. Onchocerciasis Transmission in Ghana: Persistence under Different Control Strategies and the Role of the Simuliid Vectors. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9 (4): e0003688. doi>

Post R., Cheke R.A., Boakye D.A., Wilson M.D., Osei-Atweneboana M.Y., Tetteh-Kumah A., Lamberton P.H.L., Crainey J. L., Yaméogo L. and Basáñez M., 2013. Stability and change in the distribution of cytospecies of the Simulium damnosum complex (Diptera: Simuliidae) in southern Ghana from 1971 to 2011 Parasites & Vectors, 6 (205) doi>

Staff: Rory Post, Andrias O’Reilly, Craig Wilding, Sally Williamson

Teaching and learning

Staff in the Applied Biology Research Group teach on a wide variety of courses on the Animal Behaviour, Biology, Wildlife Conservation and Zoology Programmes.

We have a number of MPhil and PhD students within the group including:

  • Sandra Edmunds. PhD: “Genetic analysis of tritrophic interactions between symbiotic bacteria, entomopathogenic nematodes and blood sucking flies”. Supervisors Dr Robbie Rae, Dr Rory Post, Dr Craig Wilding
  • Alina Gheorghe. PhD. “Scientific research for the development of a new generation of food products for body weight control and obesity prevention”. Co-supervisor Dr Fatima Perez de Heredia. Registered jointly at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the University Complutense of Madrid
  • Mike Green. PhD: “The epigenetic inheritance of ecological information”. Supervisors Dr Will Swaney, Dr Prim Singh, Dr Craig Wilding
  • David Gomez Sanchez. PhD: “Disentangling three billion years of coevolution between Rubisco and its chaperones for crop biotechnology”. Supervisors Dr Maxim Kapralov (Director of Studies) and Professor Andy Young
  • Josh Wahlers. PhD: "Recombinant spider venom toxins as biopesticides and potential novel antiparasitics". Supervisors Dr Sally Williamson and Dr Andy O'Reilly
  • Jack Warburton, MPhil. “Anthropometric, metabolic and immunological factors in overweight/obesity and their influence on the responsiveness to a nutritional intervention for body weight management”. Supervisor Dr Fatima Perez de Heredia

If you are interested in studying for a PhD with any of the staff in this research group then please contact the member of staff directly. LJMU has a number of fully funded PhD opportunities.

Facilities

The newly refurbished Life Sciences Building in the Faculty of Science has received £8million of investment to provide state-of-the-art equipment and extensive laboratory facilities. The Life Sciences Laboratories provide all the appropriate facilities and equipment for performing biochemistry, cell culture, genetics, molecular biology and pharmacology and houses advanced imaging facilities including confocal and electron microscopy suites.

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Contact us

We can help you with your research requirements,
get in touch with Dr. Craig Wilding:

Call: +44 (0)151 231 2500
Email: c.s.wilding@ljmu.ac.uk