This highly active area within the Life and Environmental Sciences involves quantifying the dynamics and understanding the causes and environmental stressors, and sensitive molecular biological approaches to sense stressors and their impact on organisms including humans and ecosystems.
Assessing pollution and global climate change through genomics
The University of Birmingham has a major initiative in high-throughput, high content “omics” technologies and associated computational Systems Biology approaches to investigate and understand gene-environment interactions and hence the impacts of environmental stressors on ecosystems. This builds upon expertise in environmental genomics, molecular and cellular toxicology as well as evolutionary biology.
Our interests span several species, mostly aquatic, and a growing focus on Daphnia as a model organism. Our aim is to understand and ultimately predict how organisms and populations in the natural environment respond to stressors associated particularly with pollution and global climate change. We are identifying molecular pathways predictive of adverse outcome and are driving innovation for future novel strategies for environmental regulation worldwide.
To that end we are increasingly engaging with regulators and seeking to translate this basic research into environmental policy, both for chemical risk assessment and environmental monitoring. Overall we are rapidly expanding a world-leading profile in environmental genomics and metabolomics and wish to link this development to the Birmingham fellowship scheme.
The current work is funded largely through the NERC and EU with strong links to the Environment Agency, Defra and Cefas. There are strong international links with for example the USA, China and various countries within Europe. Genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic facilities are extensive and undergoing further major expansion.
Key researchers- School of Biosciences:
The research theme enjoys access to extensive genomics, proteomics and metabolomics NMR and mass spectrometry.
Important centres and facilities in this area include the following:
For more information please see our pages on
Some key recent references:
The genome of the green anole lizard and a comparative analysis with birds and mammals.
How do consumers deal with stoichiometric constraints? Lessons from functional genomics using Daphnia pulex.
The ecoresponsive genome of Daphnia pulex.
Functional and evolutionary insights from the genomes of three parasitoid Nasonia species.
Towards a system level understanding of non-model organisms sampled from the environment: a network biology approach.
Metabolomics reveals target and off-target toxicities of a model organophosphate pesticide to roach (Rutilus rutilus): implications for biomonitoring.
Discriminating between different acute chemical toxicities via changes in the daphnid metabolome.
DNA methylation in liver tumorigenesis in fish from the environment.
Comprehensive profiling of zebrafish hepatic proximal promoter CpG island methylation and its modification during chemical carcinogenesis.
Mapping drug physico-chemical features to pathway activity reveals molecular networks linked to toxicity outcome.
Identifying health impacts of exposure to copper using transcriptomics and metabolomics in a fish model.
New technologies to monitor stressors
One key theme at Birmingham is developing new technologies to monitor environmental chemical and physical environmental stressors.
At Birmingham the Environmental Health Sciences Group has world class technologies and expertise in quantification of chemical stressors and the processes which determine their concentrations in different environmental media.
Of particular interest is innovative work on urban heat islands (thermal stress) and on human intake of persistent organic pollutants and personal exposure to air pollutants. This work, in combination with the biological effects studies mentioned above identifies and utilises biomarkers in human and organisms in the environment.
There is active collaboration with those who design novel sensors including interaction with Computer Science on “intelligent” sensors and data management. Work on air pollution also studies the processes determining the chemical composition and size distribution of airborne particulate matter.
Funding for this work is extensive and comes from various sources including NERC and EU.
Key researchers-School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences:
Specialist equipment includes GC-MS (6), LC-MS/MS, Ion Chromatographs (2), Gas analysers,Air samplers,Cascade impactors,SMPS (2),nano-SMPS,APS, ATOFMS,Optical particle counters, Condensation particle counters, Nanoparticle characterisation, located within the Facility for Environmental Nanoscience Analysis and Characterisation (FENAC).
Some key recent references:
Increased oxidative burden associated with traffic component of ambient particulate matter at roadside and urban background schools sites in London.
Model development and validation of personal exposure to volatile organic compound concentrations.
Novel" brominated flame retardants in Belgian and UK indoor dust: implications for human exposure.
Tetrabromobisphenol-A, hexabromocyclododecane and its degradation products in UK human milk: relationship to external exposure.
Including the urban heat island in spatial heat health risk assessment strategies: a case study for Birmingham, UK.
Total radical yields from tropospheric ethene ozonolysis.
Processes, drivers and ecosystems' impact of environmental stress
A key theme in this area at Birmingham is understanding and predicting processes, drivers and ecosystems impact of environmental stress.
The School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Science is a world leader in understanding the causes and responses of water stress in biophysical and ecological systems. Our research focuses on: (1) developing new technology and methods to monitor (sense) and model environmental stressors and stress response, (2) improving process understanding of drivers of environmental extremes (e.g. floods and droughts) that induce stress, (3) projection of future stress, especially in the context of climate change and increasing anthropogenic impact on the environment, and (4) integrated assessment of stress impacts on biophysical systems at an individual, population and assemblage level.
Our research is made more visible through Birmingham researchers’ central roles in UNESCO International Hydrology Programme, International Association of Hydrological Sciences, European Geophysical Union’s Ecohydrology Steering Group.
The current work is funded by various sources including: EU, NERC, EPSRC, DFID, Royal Society, and EA.
Key researchers include
Some key recent references:
Ecohydrology on the edge: interactions across the interfaces of wetland, riparian and groundwater-based ecosystems Preface
Regional hydrological drought in north-western Europe: linking a new Regional Drought Area Index with weather types
Future changes in European winter storm losses and extreme wind speeds inferred from GCM and RCM multi-model simulations
Habitat composition and connectivity predicts bat presence and activity at foraging sites in a large UK conurbation.