Can Chlorella algae be used as soil amendment to improve crop production?

Using the Ames test to test the effects of low frequency radiation on living systems

Recycling plastics using switchable solvents

Can people be screened for acute mountain sickness susceptibility?

Spatially controlling attachment of functional proteins to bacterial cellulose using optogenetics

Palaeontological field exploration in the South African Karoo

What is the context of this research?


Because of its relative abundance of fossils, the South African Karoo serves as a basis for dating rocks of Permian and Triassic age worldwide.

It is also the only place in the world that documents the ecological effects of three mass extinctions: the end-Guadalupian (260 ma), Permo-Triassic (252 ma) and end-Triassic (201 ma ) extinctions.

Also the Karoo documents one of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems and hosts the most distant ancestors of tortoises, dinosaurs and mammals. Indeed the Karoo is internationally famous for its superb record of therapsid fossils which chronicle, in remarkable detail, the ancient origins of mammals.

All these make Karoo palaeontology crucial for understanding the origin of modern biodiversity and the ongoing 6th mass extinction.


What is the significance of this project?


We will prospect the oldest terrestrial deposits of the Karoo to elucidate life on land during the middle Permian. While the most iconic Karoo fossil taxa (dicynodonts, gorgonopsians, dinocephalians) are well documented in more recent parts of the basin, the fauna in the lower stratigraphic levels remains unexplored.

Our project focuses on exploration of this ancient neglected fauna through fieldwork to collect fossils and describe new species, study the geology to understand environmental change, and discover volcanic ashes for zircon dating.

The project has the potential to re-write the early evolutionary history of many important animal groups, study the most ancient terrestrial ecosystem in the southern hemisphere, and understand the causes of the Guadalupian extinction.


What are the goals of the project?


We wish to bring a team of 8 researchers and students from around the world to the oldest rocks of the South African Karoo, in the districts of Merweville, Sutherland and Beaufort West, to prospect for fossils. The fieldtrip will take place at the beginning of 2020 and will run for 14 days. The aim is to find fossils from lower down in the stratigraphy, identify them, determine their exact stratigraphic position, and understand middle Permian biodiversity on land. Exact zircon dating on volcanic ashes will help constrain the age of these horizons and enable faunal comparison with similar-aged deposits around the globe. South African students will be trained to field techniques relating to Karoo palaeontology and its heritage to ensure the future of the discipline in the country.

Nutritional analysis of cold-climate perennial vegetables

Can we improve the quality of compostable, plant-based plastics?

Compostable plastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA) cannot withstand high temperatures compared to traditional plastics. As such, PLA is not used for things such as disposable coffee cups, straws, plates, etc. Combining inorganic compounds with PLA should improve its physical properties, possibly improving heat resistance and overall strength. With this experiment, I will more thoroughly test this new material to establish if it can be a new, greener plastic option for manufacturers.

Monitoring ocean health with a new, low-cost, real-time sensor suite

Human activities are causing unprecedented impacts on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems around the globe. Measuring ocean temperature, as well as other metrics, is an important way of monitoring ocean health. A number of oceanographic sensors exist, but they are expensive and rarely web-enabled. Scientists and the public need affordable tools to measure ocean parameters in real time.

Which marine mammal eats the most microplastics?

Marine mammals, like dolphins, eat food contaminated by microplastic pollution, which could cause serious health effects. This project will evaluate samples from marine mammals stranded on beaches to determine whether microplastics or additives are present in their tissues. We will evaluate which species are exposed to plastic pollution and where it is found in the body. This project is a critical step for understanding risks of microplastics to marine mammals.