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Research news from BBSRC

26 July 2006

The following stories appear in the July 2006 edition of Business, the quarterly magazine of research highlights from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Research offers new hope in helping elderly fight infections
Thousands of infections could be prevented each year in older people and hospital stays reduced following findings from two studies which show that imbalances in the immune systems of people aged over 65 make them more prone to illnesses like flu or bacterial infections as a result of cuts and falls.
(Page 6)

Professor Janet Lord, University of Birmingham, e-mail:
Professor Arne Akbar, University College London, e-mail:

Dynamic working offers practical solutions
Working across disciplines using a combination of experimentation, modelling and theory is revolutionising the way scientists think and work, making the outputs of biological research more useful and easier to use by industry and in policymaking. The success of this ‘systems biology’ approach is highlighted by research from BBSRC’s three new integrative systems biology centres. Scientists from the Centre for Systems Biology in Edinburgh are working together to develop a mathematical model of the circadian clock in plants to better understand why some plants thrive and others do not. Researchers from the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) at the University of Nottingham are developing a virtual plant root which could lead to the development of drought resistant crops, while the University of Oxford’s Integrative Systems Biology Centre is working across eight departments to gain a better understanding of bacteria.
(Page 8-9)

Professor Andrew Millar, University of Edinburgh,
Professor Charlie Hodgman, University of Nottingham,
Professor Judy Armitage, University of Oxford, e-mail:

How parachute spiders invade new territory
Researchers have developed a new model that explains how spiders are able to ‘fly’ or ‘parachute’ into new territory on single strands of silk – sometimes covering distances of hundreds of miles over open ocean. By casting a thread of silk into the breeze spiders are able to ride wind currents away from danger or to parachute into new areas. Often they travel a few metres but some spiders have been discovered hundreds of miles out to sea. Researchers have now found that in turbulent air the spiders’ silk moulds to the eddies of the airflow to carry them further.
(Page 14)

Dr David Bohan, Rothamsted Research, e-mail:
Dr Andy Reynolds, Rothamsted Research, e-mail:
Dr James Bell, Rothamsted Research, e-mail:

New model to save waterways
A new way of monitoring the hazardous leaking of phosphorus into lakes and rivers has been developed by researchers from Lancaster University, Cranfield University and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. While phosphorus is important to agricultural production, it can be very damaging if it leaks into aquatic ecosystems - decreasing biodiversity, changing species composition and increasing the growth of weeds which can be toxic to plants and animals. Until now it has been difficult to map where the phosphorus in our waterways has come from as small-scale site specific studies are too simple to explain landscape run-off patterns. However, the new model can scale-up site specific research and provide a more accurate picture of where phosphorus leakage may occur.
(Page 17)

Professor Phil Haygarth, e-mail:
Professor Keith Beven, e-mail:

Intelligent soil sampling saves time and money
A new computer program which can sample soil quickly and effectively could revolutionise land management by making the sampling process more cost effective and ensuring more sustainable use of our soils. Soil is a complex and irreplaceable natural resource which varies hugely locally and nationally. Farmers sample their soil to learn about its nutrient levels to help them manage their land, and soil quality must be monitored by sampling at national or regional scale, but current sampling methods can be time consuming, costly and produce insufficient results. However, the new ‘intelligent computer program’ looks set to change this by enabling soil sampling to be tailored to local conditions, allowing land managers to obtain high quality information without over or under sampling.
(Page 18-19)

Dr Murray Lark, Rothamsted Research, e-mail:



The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


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