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Understanding the Rules of Life

Across the partner institutions lies a breadth in internationally recognised talent that addresses fundamental questions in bioscience ranging from molecular, cellular, tissue, whole organism and environmental and have the strongest BBSRC support. 17 studentships will be funded in these areas each year.



  • Immunological research, from molecular, cellular, tissue and organ levels through to systems level and specific forms of the immune response.

  • Animal immunology and normal human immunology in terms of the immune system as a body system

  • Fundamental immunology (lymphocyte function and signalling) and immune responses against infection.

  • Applying new knowledge and technologies to develop effective means of inducing protective or therapeutic immunity developing models for studies of novel vaccines.

  • Developing new formulations to allow delivery of antigens to the immune system.

  • Investigations into cellular and humoral immune responses, including mucosal immunity, interactions with other physiological systems, effects of ageing, and immune mechanisms leading to allergy and inflammation.

  • Immune responses in response to infection.

  • Intracellular and transmembrane signal transduction mechanisms, cell-cell signalling processes, and specialised cell function, including molecular immunology and lymphocyte functioning and signalling.

  • Immunity and host resistance relating to foodborne zoonoses, including development of vaccine strategies for zoonoses.

  • Interaction of diet and nutrition with the immune system.

  • Immunological research at the biochemical level examining protein structure and interactions; substrate specificity, protein folding and protein-protein interactions of the immune system.

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Our microbial research ranges from understanding the fundamental biology of bacterial gene regulation to interactions between microorganism communities and their environment. Our diverse portfolio of microbial research is undertaken by around 50 BBSRC-remit research groups.


  • Research involving significant use of any types of microorganisms e.g. bacteria; fungi; viruses; archaea; protista, and other microorganisms.

  • Research where unidentified microorganisms or complex mixtures of microorganisms are studied (e.g. metagenomics).

  • Research on interactions of microbes with animals or plants. This includes:

  1. Interactions, pathogenicity and host immune response (where this is to understand the microbe);
  2. Processes of the rhizosphere and rhizological interactions with plants; and
  3. Interactions with the gut or rumen (including pathogenic and commensal interactions).o Interactions of microbes with each other.
  4. Cellular processes of microbes, including: microbial physiology, metabolism, genetics, protein studies, differentiation, reproduction, persistence, antimicrobial resistance or sensitivity, quorum sensing.

  • Studies with pharmaceutical or industrial biotechnology applications, including:
  1. Virus-based gene therapy vectors
  2. Research into the development of novel or improved antimicrobials or vaccines
  3. Bioenergy, bioremediation and degradation using microbes
  4. Use of microbes for ‘omics’ scale studies; and
  5. Other industrial applications including the development of new laboratory tools utilising microbes.
  • Ecology and evolution of microbes (noting interface with NERC remit here).

  • Studies involving research into microbial aspects of food production, safety or standards.

  • Use of microbes for the provision of resources, including: development or maintenance of microbial cultures or libraries; significant development of microbes for general lab use e.g. culture facilities.

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Neuroscience and behaviour:

Neuroscience is vibrant across many departments at each institution with internationally competitive experimental and theoretical research ranging from the subcellular to the cognitive level. The power of developing novel biosensors is realized by spin-out company successes (Sarissa Ltd) as well as by their application to purine communication in CO2 sensing in animals and hormones in plants. Neuro-glial interactions, synaptic plasticity in learning and stress and neural control of blood flow underpin organism level research on cognition, behavior and communication, motor learning and coordination, imaging and mapping neural processes, conscious perception, and information processing during adaptive behaviour of locusts. These are complemented by the work on circadian clock systems (above) and neuronal circuitry development in zebra-fish.


  • The study of the structure and function of the nervous system, the entire nerve apparatus, composed of a central part, the brain and spinal cord, and a peripheral part, the cranial and spinal nerves, autonomic nervous system, ganglia, nerve endings and peripheral nerves in humans and animals including invertebrates.

  • Cell biology and genetics (neuro-transmission, synapses, development, hypothalamic/pituitary effects)

  • Mental processes including cognition, behaviour, learning, memory and psychology

  • Transmission (impulse, sensitivity, pain)

  • Neurodegeneration (degeneration resulting from the normal ageing process, or other neurodegenerative diseases including encephalopathies)

  • Stem cell / tissue engineering (regeneration, plasticity).

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Plant Science:

Research in this area closely aligns with our ‘Crop Science’ topic but utilises non-crop models to study fundamental questions about plant development, growth, pathogen responses and environmental interactions. Over 30 research groups across MIBTP use combined genetic, genomic, biochemical, computational modelling and pathology approaches, and work across the DTP encompasses plant genetic diversity, plant signalling, plant-microbe interactions, flowering, molecular and cellular complexity, plant meiosis and evolution.


  • Most research classified as Crop Science, including: crop breeding; study of crop diseases and invertebrate pests (including in isolation from the plant); influences of the environment on crop plants; soil-crop interactions; rhizosphere studies directly involving crop plants; pharming – use of plants to produce biopharmaceuticals; studies on pollinators directly interacting with crop plants.

  • All research involving plants or plant cells, including non-crop plants such as model organisms (e.g. Arabidopsis thaliana, Brachypodium distachyon, Medicago truncatulum) and non-food crops such as willow.

  • Other (non-plant) photosynthetic organisms, including unicellular (e.g. Chlorella) and multi- cellular green algae (e.g. seaweeds), mosses and ferns.

  • Studies on chloroplasts.

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Soil Science

Soil science includes research on soil processes whether agricultural, biological, biophysiochemical or geochemical and includes water and gas fluxes, plant-soil interactions and bioremediation.

Research of primary relevance includes:

  • Research on soil structural composition (including soil microbiology)• Soil fertilit
  • Interactions with liquid/gas system
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Peat and compost
  • Biogeochemical cycles
  • Modelling of soil systems
  • Nutrient availability from perspective of soil (i.e. not specifically looking at a particular plant system)
  • Sequestration when looking at the effect on the soil
  • Tilling
  • Soil sub-structure
  • Effects of roots on soil structure
  • Effects of fertiliser on soil (and not primarily the plant)
  • Plant-soil interactions where >50% of the research is focused on the soil system

Other relevant research includes:

  • Research involving some soil systems (at least 10-20%) but where another system is the primary focus of the research:
  • Research primarily on plant science which contains some elements of soil interactions

    (including rhizosphere research)

  • Bioremediation

  • Nutrient availability from perspective of plant (including fertiliser)

  • Root research

  • Soil ecology

  • Sequestration from the perspective of the plant

  • Effects of land use/ management on soil

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Stem Cells:

Stem cells are relatively undifferentiated cells that retain the ability to divide and proliferate throughout postnatal life to provide progenitor cells that can differentiate into specialized cells.


  • Research on model organisms and humans.

  • Research on the following stem cell types: adult; embryonic; foetal; haematopoietic; mesenchymal; multipotent, pluripotent, totipotent, epithelial; and neural stem cells.

  • Cell biology and genetic aspects, including the molecular signals and mechanisms controlling the balance between self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells; also analysi of transcriptional changes, protein expression and nuclear reprogramming.

  • Production of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from differentiated cells.

  • Engineering aspects, including the use of stem cells in cell-based therapies and tissue engineering applications; also the development of bioreactors and culture systems to maintain cell populations.

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Structural Biology:

Structural Biology is a branch of molecular biology concerned with the architecture and shape of biological macromolecules, especially proteins and nucleic acids

Our community of over 40 research teams use structural and chemical biology approaches to understand the structure and function of molecular macromolecular complexes, identify novel biological and chemical compounds that can be used for therapeutic development, apply single molecule techniques to understand biological processes such as gene expression and use modern chemistry to investigate macromolecular function.


  • Studies into how the primary structure of a protein molecule defines its tertiary structure, including the requirement for additional factors for correct folding, (e.g. the involvement of chaperonin molecules and heat shock proteins);
  • Analysis of quaternary structure – assembly of multi-subunit molecules;
  • Databases of protein structure and structural motifs;
  • Structural bioinformatics – information deduced from patterns in the protein sequences of molecules from different organisms or protein family members that give rise to a particular molecular shape or fold;
  • Computer-based protein structure prediction and molecular dynamics;
  • Analysis of protein structural motifs, e.g. zinc finger proteins;
  • Prediction of membrane topology of integral membrane proteins through hydrophobicity analysis;
  • Macromolecular assemblies, e.g. studies on the structure of viruses, ribosomes or multienzyme complexes;
  • Re-folding of denatured proteins and other molecules;
  • Structural genomics – to determine the three dimensional structure of all proteins of a given organism, experimentally and/or using computational approaches;
  • Protein engineering informed by knowledge of structure, including the creation of novel activities in enzymes;
  • Structure / function studies, e.g. where structural properties are inferred by generation of mutations and analysis of effect on function;

  • Use of analytical methods for structural studies, including: X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, electron microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy, Dual Polarisation Interferometry, circular dichroism (CD), atomic force microscopy (AFM) and Synchrotron radiation.

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