Our research informs policy and has commercial reach Our research informs policy and has commercial reach

Research within the School of Biological Sciences has international influence on both public and NGO policy. At the same time, we are extremely proud of the commercial reach of our research, which encompasses every area of study within the school, from biomedicine to plant sciences.

One of the school's key strengths is its links with partner companies and research institutes, such as the John Innes Centre, and Plant Biosciences Ltd (PBL). The Sainsbury Laboratory, which carries out fundamental plant research, for example, is part of the school of Biological Sciences, but housed at the John Innes Centre, with two lecturers working there full time. The Laboratory's patent portfolio is managed by PBL, and a number of technologies have been exclusively licensed to the company.
Links such as these have certainly contributed to an entrepreneurial culture where enterprise is fostered through education initiatives and scientists are encouraged to access additional funding to fully exploit the impact of their research.
The school was also a founding partner of the InCrops Enterprise Hub, a partnership of 19 UK academic organisations, dedicated to promoting commercialisation of plant-derived products and technologies.

Take a look at some of the ways in which we are making a difference:

We've improved the prospects for migratory wading birds

Populations of many migratory wading birds have declined significantly in recent years. Addressing this decline is an international challenge that requires each nation within a bird's migration route to take action.

Our researchers, led by Dr. Jennifer Gill, have developed strong relationships with conservation NGOs such as the RSPB which facilitate the translation of research findings into conservation actions. In particular, research from this group has directly informed the development of International Species Action Plans for the Black-tailed Godwit, a rapidly declining species of migratory wader.

The Species Action Plans to which Jennifer's research has contributed includes targeted actions, such as a five-year moratorium on godwit hunting in France. These action plans have been adopted by the EU and African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and Jennifer is part of the working group set up to implement the AEWA plan.

In addition, this researcher team, in collaboration with the RSPB, have developed techniques for wet grassland restoration and management that are being implemented at relevant sites throughout England to benefit breeding wading birds.


Our fish fingerprinting has helped fish stock conservation

The over-fishing of cod in seas around the UK is a well-known environmental issue. But until recently, it was almost impossible to distinguish eggs laid by cod from those laid by haddock and whiting. This has made it difficult to assess fish stocks accurately and implement conservation plans.

A DNA ‘fingerprinting' test developed in the School of Biological Sciences allows fish egg samples to be identified rapidly and accurately. The test, developed by Martin Taylor and his team, was adopted by a number of international fisheries institute partners (from England, Scotland, Germany, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands) tasked to carry out fish surveys in the North Sea.

In the North Sea, the surveys revealed current cod spawning grounds – critical information for sustainable management of cod stocks.

In Britain, our test has now also been adopted by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in its annual assessment of cod and haddock stocks in the Irish Sea.

The surveys revealed that cod stocks in the Irish Sea had been considerably over-estimated, because haddock and whiting eggs had been included in the calculations.


Cataract surgery is more successful thanks to UEA research

Cataract causes blindness in millions, worldwide. It is treated surgically by replacing the clouded lens with an artificial lens and more than 30 million such operations per year are predicted by 2020.

Unfortunately, many of these patients are subsequently blighted by posterior capsule opacification (PCO) a wound-healing response to surgical trauma which causes cell regrowth of lens epithelial cells that block the light entering the lens and impair the patient's vision once more.

Using donor eyes, our researchers, led by Dr Michael Wormstone, developed a technique that simulated cataract operations and provided an ideal system to understand PCO biology.

This system is now being used by scientists and industrial manufacturers to test and develop new artificial lenses for implant during cataract surgery with the aim of improving patient care.

Already, this technology has served as an invaluable tool in the development of a novel commercially available artificial lens that has improved the lives of tens of thousands of cataract patients.