Phosphorus (P) is essential to all living things. Every single cell in plants, animals and microbes, down to our very own DNA requires P to survive and grow. Modern agriculture is dependent on P fertilizer, especially in high yielding systems where the biomass (and therefore the P) is continually exported to local, or sometimes international markets. Since the UK does not have an internal supply for P fertilizers, it is dependent on outside sources and makes it vulnerable to political instability and potential price fluctuations. The recent seizure of a New Zealand bound phosphate shipment highlights this issue. On the other hand, over application of P-containing compounds to soil may lead to serious environmental issues, such as algal blooms in down-stream waters. Nutrient transport is becoming an increasing concern as extreme weather events and flooding occur more frequently. Our food supply and the state of our environment is at risk and we must identify solutions now.

One possibility for reducing fertilizer requirements and decreasing the concentration of P in runoff is to improve the efficiency of P uptake by plants. Soils contain an abundance of P in various forms, although only a very small percentage of P may be present as orthophosphate (PO4) that can be taken up by plants. To deal with low PO4 concentrations, plants and microbes have evolved with remarkable (but poorly understood) techniques to break down larger molecules into usable forms. For example, many bacteria contain a set of genes that “turn on” when they don’t have enough orthophosphate (PO4) in their environment. This triggers the production of enzymes to break a bond in larger organic P molecules, thus freeing the PO4 for uptake.

Phosphorus cycling in the soil-microbe-plant continuum of agri-ecosystems aims to identify how plants and microbes can work together to improve P utilisation from the soil. We are growing oilseed rape plants in field soils (pictured) under controlled conditions to evaluate the effects of P fertilizer application and bacterial inoculants on soil enzymes, changes in P forms and plant growth. The focus is on the rhizosphere, the soil closest to the root, since this can be a hotspot for microbial activity and biochemical reactions. Advanced techniques in genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics are being applied, in combination with 31P nuclear magnetic resonance and enzymology to characterise the microbes, plants and soils. Ultimately, we need to understand the basic mechanisms to be able to create more sustainable production systems.

Dr Tandra Fraser, post-doctoral researcher , Soil Security Programme

This post is one of several posts about our work as part of the Soil Security Programme for Global Soil Week. Find out more about our work here.

By Weizi Vicky Li, Informatics Research Centre, Henley Business School

With healthcare service scopes expanding, healthcare processes changing and technologies evolving over time, many systems need improvement or they become vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This is especially true in hospitals, where most legacy systems provide critical  information and essential support for business operations with a lot of sensitive data.

Information systems and intranet/internet have been implemented in NHS hospitals for more than 30 years. Early systems implemented in the NHS include Patient Administration System, GP systems, Pathology laboratory systems, radiology and PACS systems, nursing and care planning systems, theatre systems etc.

The threats lie in the fact that many of the legacy systems have long been integrated into the core business and healthcare service processes, and therefore cannot be simply scrapped. In short, those legacy systems are valuable as well as vulnerable.

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Professor Roberta Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology and Research Dean at the University of Reading, will present the prestigious Rhind Lectures 2017, at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, from 19-21 May. The Rhinds are the biggest archaeology lecture series in the world, comprising six lectures given over one weekend.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist at Glastonbury Abbey, the subject of one of her Rhind Lectures

The free annual lectures have been hosted by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland since 1874 to commemorate Alexander Henry Rhind, whose money bequeathed to the society first allowed them to take place, making the Rhinds the oldest and most renowned series of archaeology lectures internationally.

Professor Gilchrist has chosen the theme ‘Sacred Heritage: Archaeology, Identity and Medieval Beliefs’.  The six lectures will explore the value of sacred heritage today and in the past, examining the political and ideological use of monastic archaeology from the 12th century to the modern day.

The lectures outline a new research agenda for the archaeological study of medieval monasticism, focusing on critical approaches to heritage, the study of identity, healing, magic and memory.  They feature a strong emphasis on the archaeology of medieval Scotland, to coincide with the Scottish Government’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.

In the past year, Professor Gilchrist has also given prestigious named lectures in Sweden, Canada and the USA and was Current Archaeology’s Archaeologist of the Year 2016, based on a vote by members of the public.

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By Professor Mike Goodman, Professor of Environment and Development/Human Geography, University of Reading.

Professor Goodman appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today on Monday (8 May), to discuss the growth of Alternative Food Networks. Here he explains more about how they are evolving and why they face a cloudy future.

Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) in the UK—what we might think of as a loose confederation of actors working for a more ecologically, socially and economically friendly food system—are coming of age.

No longer are shoppers only confronted by wilted, dirty organic lettuce picked by ‘back to the landers’ wanting to live alternative lifestyles off the grid. AFNs are now not just at the forefront of quality food revolution for the ‘worried well’ and that of the technological revolution about how we grow and eat food, but, more problematically, are also on the frontlines of feeding the so-called ‘JAMs’ (just-about-making it) and economically marginal populations who are not getting enough to eat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are you an Open Researcher? Do you support or promote Open Research? Did the conference convert you? If you’ve got an Open Research story to tell and would like to write a post for our blog, please drop me a line. We would love to hear your stories.

On 30th March we hosted the conference Open in Practice: Inspirations, Strategies and Methods for Open Research here at the University of Reading. Our aim was to stimulate conversation about Open Research, to showcase the benefits of an Open Research approach, and to enthuse researchers to adopt open methods in their own research practice.

The conference featured a number of guest speakers, including academics, publishers and data specialists, who came to talk about their experience of Open Research and what it means in practice. The audience included a broad representation of University researchers and research students, members of the University’s research support services, and academics from beyond Reading. Altogether 90 people, over two-thirds of them research-active, attended the conference, and took part in a day of stimulating discussions.

Slides from speakers’ presentations and a record of the concluding panel discussion can be found here, and you can relive all the drama of the day at our Storify timeline. In short video clips Marcus Munafo and Simon Tanner summarise the key messages of their plenary talks, and several of our delegates tell us about their Open Resolutions.

Why a conference on Open Research?

This is the first time the University has organised an event of this nature. Why did we do it? For two reasons.

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By Sally Stevens, Institute for Environmental Analytics, University of Reading

An important new skills gap survey highlighting the urgent need for in-career training in state-of-the-art data analytics was presented at this week’s European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Austria on Thursday [April 27].

The key findings are:

  • 53% of respondents said the research habit that needed most improvement was reluctance to share data or models.
  • 52% identified the most vital skill for global change research as data processing and analysis.
  • 42% said the digital skills needing most improvement were computational and numerical analysis.
  • The biggest data challenge was data complexity and the lack of data standards and exchange standards.

The survey was commissioned by the Belmont Forum, a highly influential global group of science funders dedicated to speeding up high quality environmental research around the world.

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By Professor Gavin Parker, Professor of Planning Studies, University of Reading

The passing of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill today took many by surprise, as the government pushed it through and the House of Lords backed amendments to the Bill just before Parliament was dissolved ahead of June’s snap General Election.

The new Neighbourhood Planning Act builds from the 2011 Localism Act and refines the ways in which members of the public can engage with and develop plans for their local areas. Myself and PhD Researcher Katherine Salter in the Department of Real Estate and Planning department at the University of Reading have  worked on several strands of research that have  influenced government in thinking about how neighbourhood planning has progressed and  could be altered.

Some of the amendments discussed in Parliament were aimed at altering the examination stage of neighbourhood plans, and we – along with Hannah Hickman at the University of the West of England – have recently carried out research looking into the examining of neighbourhood plans. This is where an independent inspector looks at the Plan to check it passes the tests set out for such documents by government.

We have informed the proposed legislative changes by preparing an extensive briefing document outlining our findings, after analysing feedback and comments from those who had examined the majority of neighbourhood plans over the past five years. See the full briefing document here.

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By Prof Jane Setter, Professor of Phonetics

Apologies for the huge understatement, but the English language has changed rather a lot since 1917.

As we approach English Language Day on 23rd April, I thought it would be a nice idea to write a short blog post about the English Pronouncing Dictionary (EPD), which I co-edit with Peter Roach (principal editor) and John Esling (American English, from the 18th edition). This is especially salient as it is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, being first published in 1917. We marked this at a special Pre-Conference Event of the IATEFL Pronunciation Special Interest Group and a Cambridge University Press event at the 2017 IATEFL Conference in Glasgow.

The EPD was created by British phonetician Daniel Jones, who was head of the Department of Phonetics at University College London. Jones is credited with coining the term ‘phoneme’ in 1917, too, so it was a bit of a special year all round for the subject area.

Jones had collaborated on a dictionary project prior to the EPD but, rather than listing headwords orthographically in alphabetical order, that version had listed the headwords in phonemic script first, with the spelling form following. It was not a best-seller.

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Three University of Reading scientists in the Department of Meteorology have been honoured with awards and prizes from the Royal Meteorological Society.

The awards, which will be presented on 17th May, celebrate excellence in meteorology are well regarded among weather and climate scientists across the world.

The prizewinners from Reading are

  • The Buchan Prize has been won by Professor Suzanne Gray
  • The Climate Science Communications Award goes to Dr Ed Hawkins
  • The Quarterly Journal Prize will be awarded to Prof Anthony Illingworth

Professor Dame Julia Slingo, and Professor Stephen Belcher – the former and current Chief Scientist of the Met Office respectively, both of whom previously worked full time at the Department of Meteorology,  are also honoured in the awards.

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