Research Round-up – October 2019

Welcome to the latest instalment of our new monthly feature series throwing the spotlight on our research success stories.

Introducing fungi to wheat could lead to new, ‘climate smart’ varieties of crops

The strength of our research is in making a real and telling difference to the world around us, by working across traditional boundaries to find innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing society today.

Here we highlight some of latest projects being pioneered by the expertise and efforts of the highly talented research community at Leeds.

From grant awards to examples of outstanding interdisciplinary work and best practice, we’re keen to showcase your research achievements. See the foot of this article for details of how you can get involved.

Featured in this month’s round-up:

Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands. October 2018Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, will chair a panel in Brussels discussing sustainable food

VC to chair sustainable food panel

Leeds’ Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands will chair a top-level event in Brussels next month discussing global issues around sustainable food.

The White Rose Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York have key expertise in the benefits of creating sustainable food systems, and the event on Tuesday 19 November will present their policy recommendations from a UK and EU perspective.

The EU is predicted to remain a net food importer for the next 30 years and creating a secure and sustainable system for the production of safe, nutritious and affordable food is both a critical European and global challenge.

Our current food system is beset by multiple problems, including unacceptable levels of food waste, significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, chronic soil depletion and recurrent food scares.

At this event, academics from the White Rose Universities will examine the need for a systems approach to EU food policy, including

  • tensions between agro-ecological approaches and advocates of ‘sustainable intensification’
  • the need for enhanced biodiversity and steady crop yields
  • new systems for environmental land management; and
  • public engagement in this process.

The wider picture will consider how EU agricultural trade policy and trade governance will need to be reconsidered in order to play a positive role in creating an EU-wide sustainable food system.

The expert panel, chaired by Sir Alan, will hear contributions from:

  • Fiona Smith, Professor in International Economic Law at Leeds and invited expert for the DG DSANCO Working Group on EU Food Safety in Nutrition in 2050;
  • Professor Sue Hartley OBE, Director of the University of York Environmental Sustainability Institute and former advisor to the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission on the ecological effects of genetically modified crops;
  • Professor Peter Jackson, Co-Director of the University of Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food and chair of the current SAPEA Expert Working Group for the Evidence Review ‘Towards an EU Sustainable Food System’; and
  • Nick Jacobs, Director at The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).

Contact Catriona Rawsthorne for further information.

Global Food and Environment Institute membership call. October 2019Working to create a radically different global food system is the main driving force behind the Global Food and Environment Institute at Leeds 

Global Food and Environment Institute membership call

Academic staff and postgraduate students are invited to join the Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI) at Leeds.

An interdisciplinary research community bringing together a diverse membership from across academia, industry and public policy, the GFEI is working to create a radically different global food system – one that works in harmony with nature and provides everybody with access to safe and nutritious food.

It connects University staff and students conducting research across the entire food system with a large network of global partners. It also further demonstrates our commitment to supporting interdisciplinary research.

Now, the GFEI is encouraging academic staff and postgraduate students to become members of the Institute, to further enhance the impact of its research.

Director of the GFEI, Professor Steve Banwart, said: “The Institute harnesses research partnerships around the world to tackle one of the 21st century’s greatest challenges – meeting the urgent demand of people everywhere for healthy, nutritious food while improving environmental resources to sustain future generations.

“Through its research, education, networking, advocacy and event programmes, the Institute will develop enduring solutions that facilitate transformative change.

“We want to help create a global food system that is socially-just, climate-smart and goes far beyond sustainability; a food system that can adapt vigorously to enhance the future habitability of Earth.”

Read the full story

Fungi spores germinating. Image: Professor Katie Field  

Fungi could reduce reliance on fertilisers

Introducing fungi to wheat boosted their uptake of key nutrients and could lead to new, ‘climate smart’ varieties of crops, according to a new study.

Researchers at Leeds have demonstrated a partnership between wheat and soil fungi that could be utilised to develop new food crops and farming systems that are less reliant on fertilisers, reducing their contribution to the escalating climate crisis.

It is the first time the fungi, which form partnerships with plant roots, have been shown to provide significant amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen to a cereal crop. The fungi continued to provide nutrients under higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) predicted for 2100, which has important implications for future food security.

The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Lead researcher, Professor Katie Field, from the School of Biology and Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI) at Leeds, said: “Fungi could be a valuable new tool to help ensure future food security in the face of the climate and ecological crises.

“These fungi are not a silver bullet for improving productivity of food crops, but they have the potential to help reduce our current overreliance on agricultural fertilisers.”

See the full story

Astrid Kause, who has been leading a team researching public perceptions of how to reduce carbon footprints of consumer food choices 

Carbon footprints create food for thought

Public perceptions of how to reduce carbon footprints of consumer food choices is the subject of a new study.

With an interdisciplinary team from Leeds University Business School (LUBS), the School of Earth and Environment (SEE) and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, Post-doctoral Research Fellow Astrid Kause has just published an article on the topic in Environmental Research Letters.

It is about perceptions of carbon footprints – the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumer food choices – and how simple rules can help individuals decrease them.

Astrid said: “What we eat directly relates to climate because about 24% of the global annual greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change come from agriculture.

“For making effective choices about what we eat for lunch, but also, maybe more importantly, about food policies, it is vital that individuals understand how food and climate relate to each other. Our research helps with designing communications that support them in making better informed choices.”

Lifecycle analyses from climate and environmental sciences identified effective rules for reducing food-related carbon footprints, including eating seasonal produce and replacing dairy and red meat with plant-based products.

Other Leeds-based team members involved in the research project were Professor Wändi Bruine de Bruin and Dr Joel Millward-Hopkins, from LUBS and SEE respectively.

See White Rose Research Online for the full story.

Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics membership call. October 2019Membership of Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics comes with a wide range of benefits 

Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics membership call

New members are being sought for a leading interdisciplinary research centre.

The Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics (LIFD) brings together the expertise of more than 200 members of staff, postdoctoral research associates and students at the University with teaching and research interests in fluids.

It acts as an organising centre for fluid dynamics, both nationally and internationally. LIFD brings this expertise together to empower research, enable excellence in research-led teaching and develop strong partnerships with academic, industry and non-profit user partners worldwide.

It is yet another example of the excellent interdisciplinary research being undertaken at Leeds.

The aim is to establish LIFD as a world-leading centre for fluid dynamics, being recognised internationally for research and training and thereby playing a substantial part in cementing Leeds in the top 100 universities worldwide.

Now, LIFD is seeking to recruit even more members to help further its objectives.

LIFD Director, Professor Steve Tobias, said: “UK Fluids is a strong community and Leeds is at the forefront of recent activities.

“LIFD will further cement the UK’s position internationally in fluids as it will help to consolidate critical mass in this area.

“It is imperative we continue and extend this collaborative research framework to secure Leeds’ high standing in fluid dynamics in the UK and internationally.”

Read the full story

Professor Hai-Sui Yu and Dr Chong Jai Kim (both front, centre) with fellow senior colleagues from both institutions. October 2019Pictured (front, centre) are Professor Hai-Sui Yu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: International at Leeds, and Dr Chong Jai Kim, Asan Institute for Life Sciences Chairman and Chief Research Officer, with fellow senior colleagues from both institutions 

Forging international research collaborations

Taking research to a higher level with global impact is the key aim of a raft of new international collaborations.

Leeds has signed six new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreements with high-profile institutions around the world and extended another.

Four of these were signed during the recent visit to India by Professor Hai-Sui Yu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: International. He led a delegation of 10 academics to the country, visiting 19 institutions in five cities.

His route home took him via China for an MoU signing with the country’s equivalent of the UK Food Standard Agency.

And the other two agreements were signed with institutions in South Korea and Pakistan, during their respective trips to the Leeds campus.

All the MoUs were signed to promote collaboration on a wide range of academic and research activities and initiatives.

Professor Yu said: “We are very happy to sign agreements with such prestigious institutions and organisations.

“These collaborations will enable the development of major projects that will take research to a higher level with global impact.

“All the agreements underscore the University’s commitment and continued focus on developing purposeful partnerships with overseas institutions.

“Working with such outstanding international partners helps ensure our research and education makes a difference across the world. No matter how Brexit unfolds, such successful partnerships will remain critically important to us.”

Read the full story

Pictured at Nexus following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding are (from left) Dr Martin Stow, Nexus Director; Harry Barraza, Relationship Development Director at LGC (formerly the Laboratory of the Government Chemist); Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at Leeds; and Professor Julian Braybrook, Government Chemist and Director of Measurement Science at the National Measurement Laboratory 

A measure of success: new Nexus partnership

The National Measurement Laboratory (NML) is to establish a hub at Nexus and has signed a new strategic partnership agreement.

As the UK’s designated institute for chemical and bio-measurement, the NML plays a leading role in developing best practice and harmonising measurements across the world.

It spans a range of sectors, including advanced therapeutics, diagnostics, safety and security, for example, standardising measurements so that medical test results obtained in the UK can be compared directly with test results from hospitals all over the globe.

It is also home to the Government Chemist, responsible for resolving scientific disputes, mainly in the food and feed sectors, and giving advice to regulators and industry.

Visiting Nexusthe University’s innovation hub, the UK Government Chemist and Director of NML, Professor Julian Braybrook, signed a Memorandum of Understanding as part of a new, long-term strategic partnership with the University and Nexus.

As well as establishing a hub at Nexus, the agreement sets out plans to create a centre of excellence for metrology in clinical sciences for the North of England, based at the University.

Professor Braybrook said: “The new partnership will grow and develop opportunities for academics, students and industry across the Leeds City Region and promote the incorporation of high quality measurement science in research and innovation.”

Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, added: “I am very excited about partnering with the National Measurement Laboratory to strengthen and expand research potential within the wider region.

“The partnership will also provide an opportunity to develop the next generation of metrologists in the North, through establishing specialist training qualifications and increased connectivity to industry partners.”

Baroness Blackwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, speaking during an innovation event at Nexus 

Boost for cancer diagnosis health tech

A health minister visiting Nexus recently announced an additional £4m of funding to support the development of new health tech innovations.

One of the ten companies to benefit includes PinPoint Data Science, which is based at Nexus, the University’s innovation hub, enabling them to seamlessly connect with the research and expertise in Leeds.

Speaking during the innovation event at Nexus, Baroness Blackwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “As demand on the NHS continues to grow, it is vital we harness the power of technology to improve patient care and to help people live longer, healthier lives.”

The event welcomed innovators, investors and senior leaders from across the NHS for roundtable discussions, networking and a showcase of health tech innovation projects.

Dr Mike Messenger, Head of Leeds Centre for Personalised Medicine and Health, is part of the research team working with PinPoint Data Science.

He said: “Leeds really excels at bringing the right expertise together to address population health and care needs with scientific and medical advances.

“The better we can understand disease and ill health, the more we can make informed decisions for individuals, which means more effective and higher quality care.

“PinPoint is at the forefront of health data science, developing digital technologies in partnership with the NHS to transform our approaches to detecting and diagnosing cancer.

“By developing new ways to distil the vast and ever-increasing complexity of biomedical data and research into simple tools, they will help doctors make more informed decisions and give their patients the best possible care.”

Read the full story

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterial pathogen carried by 4.4 billion people worldwide 

New approach for tackling superbugs

Scientists have uncovered a novel antibiotic-free approach that could help prevent and treat one of the most widespread bacterial pathogens.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterial pathogen carried by 4.4 billion people worldwide, with the highest prevalence in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Although the majority of infections show no symptoms, if left untreated the pathogen can cause chronic inflammation of the stomach lining, ulcers and is associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer.

In 2017, the World Health Organisation included H. pylori on its list of antibiotic-resistant ‘priority pathogens’ – a catalogue of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health and that urgently need new treatments.

Current treatments involve multi-target therapy with a combination of antibiotics, but this has promoted the emergence of resistant strains.

Now, UK and German scientists have uncovered a novel antibiotic-free approach using only food- and pharmaceutical-grade ingredients, which are non-toxic and safe for consumption, to be used as a supplement to complement antibiotic current therapies.

The formulation is delivered through billions of bundled together nanocapsules, which are smaller than a human blood cell, and prevents the bacteria from attaching to and infecting the stomach cells.

The team, which includes researchers from the Universities of Leeds, Münster and Erlangen, hope the nanocapsules could be used as a preventative measure, as well as helping eradicate H. pylori and reduce antibiotic resistant strains.

Study co-author, Professor Francisco Goycoolea from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges facing the world and it is predicted to cause more deaths than cancer by the year 2050 unless urgent action is taken.

“New integral approaches are needed to tackle antimicrobial resistance and research into alternatives to antibiotics is vital. This novel formulation, consisting of small capsules made of natural ingredients, could offer a new means to deter a globally-spread ‘superbug’ pathogen.”

Read the full story

Scientists have developed a new technique opening the door for drugs that destroy bacteria’s cells 

'Tricked' bacteria open new pathways to treatments

Scientists have developed a new technique to trick bacteria into revealing hundreds of holes in their cell walls, opening the door for drugs that destroy bacteria’s cells.

Targeting these pores could make current antibiotics more effective or allow for the development of antibiotic-free drugs that can use these openings.

When subjected to certain stimuli, such as a dramatic increase of pressure inside the cell, pores in the cell membranes act like an emergency escape valve, opening up to allow liquid to flood out of the cell to prevent it from bursting. They act as the gateway to delivering treatments that destroy the bacteria’s cells.

Now, a team of scientists led by Dr Christos Pliotas from Leeds, have learnt how to trick the bacterial cell walls into opening these channels, making the bacteria much more vulnerable to drugs.

Dr Pliotas began this research while at the University of St Andrews, as a Royal Society of Edinburgh Fellow. He is now at the School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds and part of the University’s Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology.

Read the full story

Inside the new Wolfson Centre 

State-of-the-art health research centre opens

What has been billed as ‘one of the most exciting academic initiatives in the world’ has opened its doors.

A partnership between Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Universities of Leeds and Bradford has led to the development of the £3.1m Wolfson Centre for Applied Health Research at the Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI) site, which will improve health across the generations, from children to the elderly.

By combining the expertise of health researchers with doctors and nurses, the Centre will ensure its findings are put rapidly into practice – resulting in better health, education and social care for those who need it most. The centre will also help connect academics with charities and other organisations.

The project has been made possible thanks to a £1m award from the Wolfson Foundation, which gives grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, medicine, the arts and humanities, education and health and disability, together with £2m from the Universities of Leeds and Bradford.

Professor Mark Mon Williams, the University of Leeds’ Academic Lead for the Wolfson Centre, said: “This is one of the most exciting academic initiatives in the world.

“It is a great privilege to be part of a project that will create new and exciting opportunities for our researchers to contribute towards improving the physical and mental health of our communities.

“The ultimate goal of the Wolfson is to bring together researchers from across the region, encompassing a wide range of disciplines, in order to improve health outcomes for everyone.”

Read the full story

Fund launched to help share teaching innovation. October 2019Applications are open for a new LITE fund  

Fund launched to help share teaching innovation

A new fund has been launched to help share innovation in student education across the University.

The Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) Transferring Innovation Fund provides £500 to help implement a new system, or examples of effective practice, in another School, Faculty or service at Leeds.

The money can be spent by the ‘sharer’ and ‘adopter’ on equipment, consumables, catering, travel, student interns or research assistant time.

It is expected that successful bids will be collaborative projects and partners should not be from the same School or service.

Professor Tina Overton, Director at LITE, said: “The sharing of innovation in education is essential if we are not to continually reinvent the wheel and if we are going to achieve maximum impact.

“This new LITE fund has been created to support that important process. So, if you would like to share your innovation in education with other colleagues at the University, or if you have you seen something innovative in education at Leeds that you would like to adapt to your own context, please do consider applying for this new funding.”

Projects that include a contribution from the student body in an advisory or partnership role are particularly welcome.

Complete this form to apply for the LITE Transferring Innovation Fund or email the LITE team for further information.

LITE Fellowship open for applications. October 2019LITE Fellowship applications are now open 

LITE Fellowship open for applications

Applications are invited for the next cohort of leaders in teaching excellence.

Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) is recruiting for the LITE Fellowship.

The role offers secondment at a level of 0.2 to 0.8 full-time equivalent (FTE), which can be spread over one to three years and shared between several colleagues.

Funding may be taken as secondment from current duties, or a portion can be used to buy in a research assistant, for example.

Professor Tina Overton, LITE Director, said: “The LITE Fellowship continues to focus on setting an aspirational standard of teaching excellence and pedagogic scholarship across the University.

“We had an excellent response to the launch of the new Fellowship and now we want to build on that and attract more high-calibre candidates to take up this great opportunity to boost student education at Leeds."

The closing date for applications for this latest round is Monday November 4.

See For Staff for further information, including a full job description and details of how to apply.

Funding to boost student education. October 2019Grants of up to £1,000 are available through the LITE Student Education Catalyst Fund 

Funding to boost student education

Funding bids are again being invited to support innovation in education across the University.

Staff and students can apply for grants of up to £1,000 in the second round of the LITE Student Education Catalyst Fund.

Available for autumn 2019, the money can be spent on travel, research assistant time or catering, for example.

Professor Tina Overton, Director at LITE, said: “After a successful response – both from staff and students – to the launch of this funding, we are delighted to be now inviting bids for a second round of money.

“Again, it’s exciting that this funding is being offered to not only staff but also students University-wide and, hopefully, it will allow us to tap into an valuable insight from a student’s perspective.

“If you have a good idea for an innovation or you have a project that would benefit from a modest amount of funding, then we welcome your application.”

Applications close at midnight on Monday 18 November. See For Staff for further information.

Call for Laidlaw Scholarship project proposals. October 2019Pictured are the 2019 Laidlaw Scholars cohort 

Call for Laidlaw Scholarship project proposals

Project proposals are now being sought from academic staff for the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship 2020.

The Laidlaw Scholarship is a two-year programme of leadership training and a research project, providing scholars with high-quality support to extend their subject knowledge and to develop and evidence both research and leadership skills, as preparation for further academic study or employment.

The scheme is now operating at six UK universities, including Leeds, where there are 25 scholarships available across all Faculties.

Colleagues wishing to submit an application should complete an academic project proposal form and return it to Kate Dunstone no later than Monday 18 November. Guidance notes are also available for completing the project proposal form.

Contact Kate Dunstone or your Laidlaw Scholarship Faculty representative for further information about the scheme or help to complete the project proposal form.

Read the full story

Abstracts call for prestigious conference. October 2019Abstracts are now being accepted for the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at Leeds 

Abstracts call for prestigious conference

Teaching colleagues are asked to encourage their students to submit abstracts for a prestigious conference being hosted by Leeds next year.

The British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR 20) is being held on campus from 6-7 April 2020. The annual event is the largest in the UK dedicated to promoting undergraduate research in all disciplines.

Leeds is honoured to host BCUR 20, which goes from strength to strength, with a record-breaking attendance for the 2019 conference, hosted by the University of South Wales.

Undergraduates of all levels are invited to submit papers, posters, workshops and performances to the conference. Abstracts are peer-reviewed and those accepted will be invited to attend.

Please could you encourage your students to take part by submitting an abstract of not more than 250 words.

The deadline is midnight on Sunday 5 January 2020. Visit our BCUR 20 webpage for further information.

Enjoy a sociable evening with others from the postgraduate community at the latest Research Nights event

Research Nights

Leeds Doctoral College presents the latest instalment of the hugely popular Research Nights on Tuesday 26 November.

Running from 6-8pm in the Pyramid Canteen in LUU, the lively, informal talks and discussion are led by PhD researchers from across the University.

The three speakers on this occasion will be Ioanna Moscholidou (Institute for Transport Studies), John Sutcliffe (School of History) and Ben Robra (School of Earth and Environment). Talk titles to follow.

Enjoy a sociable evening with others from the postgraduate community, with food and drinks available from the Pyramid Canteen and a pub quiz!

Follow Leeds Doctoral College on Twitter for all the latest updates.

Research Spotlight video

Learn more about some of the incredible work taking place at Leeds in our new Research Spotlight video, available on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

How to feature in future round-ups

Please contact Internal Communications if you or one of your colleagues would like to appear in this monthly feature.

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