Department of Biology
Volatile metabolites and ecosystem function
In large, complicated systems sometimes small things can have outsized impacts. One of the best examples of this is the recent development of the Antarctic Ozone Hole, which is driven by compounds that only exist at the part-per-trillion (ppt) level in our atmosphere. People have described this concentration as being similar to a single drop of liquid mixed within an olympic sized swimming pool worth of water.
There are many more examples where very low concentration compounds strongly affect the systems in which they are found, and many of these processes are important to human health, sustainable development and climate change. The Redeker lab uses these low concentration compounds to explore a range of interests. We are currently engaged in research that:
i) examines production of trace gases in natural and human managed ecosystems and how differences in these compounds are affected by/affect plant and microbial communities, regional air quality and long term climate change,
ii) explores microbial impacts on climate in polar environments,
iii) enhances productivity in anearobic digestors by characterising metabolic pathways and identifying potential "choke-points" and ways to rectify them,
iv) identifies and utilizes plant-defense compounds as pesticide replacements to promote sustainable agriculture techniques,
v) using the variance in trace gases emitted from organisms, individually and as a species, to develop non-invasive "fingerprinting" technologies for soil microbial communities or human health diagnostics.
To research these various projects the Redeker lab is equipped with a rnage of HPLC and GC technology and has recently been awarded a NERC Strategic Capitol Funding award that has allowed us to purchase a state-of-the-art GC-MS-c-IRMS which allows us to examine, in natural systems at natural concentrations, isotopic signatures of volatile and semi-volatile compunds.
In addition to the research described above the Redeker lab is also engaged in projects that examine: i) quantifying the impact of wind on trace gas fluxes from soils and plant tissues, ii) modelling concentrations of plant-produced compounds around leaf and root tissues, and iii) utilizing recent advances in genetic technologies to identify homologues for biogenic compounds/unknown microbial species.
The research has field, laboratory and computational aspects and is pursued in a myriad of environments, from agricultural fields to anearobic digestors, across UK temperate forests, salt marshes, grasslands and peat bogs and from polar ice sheets to mangrove lagoons.
I strongly believe in experiential learning and multi-disciplinary approaches. As such I work to develop knowledge, the ability to tie together disparate pieces of information, and the ability to critically evaluate new information through a combination of lectures, workshops, practical laboratory work, in-field research.
My research background is in Earth System Science or biogeochemistry. My educational approaches, including lecture, workshop and field work, incorporates these concepts to describe how organisms are affected by their environment and how, in turn, organisms affect their environment. Interspecies interactions are also important, for instance microbe-to-microbe interactions, or microbe-plant interactions, can determine functional outcomes from regional ecosystems, including agri-ecosystems. These environment-species-species interactions require an appreciation of the biology and the local environment (chemical, physical and geological) in which the organism (plant, animal or microbe) resides. My teaching addresses these biogeochemical processes and interactions in both theoretical and practical terms.
Tutorials allow us to dive more deeply into a topic or an approach than individual modules. My tutorials address creativity in research and creating logical arguments. Currently I deliver tutorials that centre around astrobiology, examining the types of microbes that might be capable of surviving on exoplanets, and the environments in which they might live. Within these tutorials the students develop presentation skills, experimental design skills, constructive feedback skills, and the capacity to develop hypotheses on limited information.
Projects offered are aligned to on-going research within my lab group. Recently students have examined the influence of agriculture on soil microbes and diagnosing disease using volatile metabolites. There is, however, always flexibility within project topics and student interests, ideas and hypotheses on project direction are encouraged. Students develop strong lab-based analytical skills, combined with field, greenhouse or lab culturing techniques.