Exploiting New       Ways of Working

This overarching theme of exploiting new ways of working capitalises on the strengths of the partners in complexity science and systems biology.

Photograph of two students with a projection of a molecule, on a screen, behind themStudents learn to apply mathematical modelling techniques across a range of problems, from the molecular to field scale. Such work incorporates into assisting their experimental and field studies, thus ensuring an iterative cycle of applied modelling and systems approaches is developed across the whole research portfolio. This approach to research is delivered through the study groups and problem workshops at the residential schools, and then applied to the students own research programmes.

The cross-cutting theme draws best practice from the highly successful EPSRC doctoral training centres in complexity science and web science run by Southampton. This is complimented by strong systems biology groups and expertise at Reading, Rothamsted and Surrey that bring together mathematicians and biological scientists.

The research priorities in this theme include:

Data-driven biology:

  • Development and use of tools and approaches for data-intensive research
  • Analysis and integration of next generation sequencing datasets;
  • Capturing variation and linking biological processes to phenotypic traits;
  • Extracting quantitative information from large or complex image sets;
  • New visualisation approaches and development of image analysis tools specifically designed for plant-soil problems.

Systems approaches to food security science:

  • Close integration of experimental biology with mathematical and computational modelling to address food security questions, enabling the properties of the system as a whole to be examined.

Technology development for biosciences:

  • Encouraging the use and development of novel biological tools, techniques and technologies to address gaps in the current food security research toolkit.
  • Development in ‘omics technologies, imaging (such as through the new Biophotonics Centre at Lancaster and muVIS at Southampton) and functional analysis.

Examples from current research of how new ways of working would be exploited within food security research include:


  • Modelling and forecasting of hydrological systems for integrated land management, using pioneering uncertainty estimation techniques in complex environmental models in ways that are not dependent on strong statistical assumptions (Lancaster) and the multi-scale image based modelling of wheat water uptake utilising muVIS and Iridis3 facility at Southampton (both BBSRC funded).
  • Novel modelling of nutrient-related (lipid and carbohydrate) cellular signalling networks that underpin healthy metabolism.
  • Assessing the impact of farming systems on diffuse pollution, through new techniques for estimating flow and solute transport pathways at a range of scales and environments.
  • Developing sustainable software for sustainable living in the digital world: crop management systems for farmers.
  • Using modelling in animal production science to understand the impacts on greenhouse gas production and guide the use of animal experiments, such that use of experimental animals is minimised.
  • Understanding the biological systems that underlie health and an individual’s response to nutrition and dietary components, leading to optimised lifestyle interventions to enhance well-being and healthy aging. At the interface of nutrition and systems biology and utilizing the latest in new technologies and new ways of working, these studies include generation of large-scale data sets with both in vitro and in vivo (animals and human) model systems.

5232Approaches include generation and analyses of high throughput epigenetic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic and use state of the art facilities (such as at Surrey) in bioimaging, flow cytometry and high throughput cell phenotyping (Biolog) for parallel molecular and cell biology characterization of model systems with validation of the whole mammalian physiology in animal and humans.