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Double prize success for Exeter students at international biology competition

A multidisciplinary team of undergraduate students have won two awards in the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition.

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Harmful fungal toxins in wheat: A growing threat across Europe

Harmful fungal toxins are on the rise in Europe’s wheat and affect almost half of crops, according to a new study.

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Academics unite to call for action on reducing pollution from pharmaceuticals

Academics from across the University of Exeter and other universities and industry sector call for action on reducing pharmaceutical pollution.

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Egyptian lagoon vital to Cyprus turtles

The number of green turtles breeding in Cyprus has risen in recent years – but this bounce-back depends heavily on an Egyptian lagoon where many turtles feed, new research shows.

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New technology maps movement of microscopic algae, crucial to ocean health

The movement patterns of microscopic algae can be mapped in greater detail than ever before, giving new insights into ocean health, thanks to new technology developed at the University of Exeter.

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Exeter lecturer wins Royal Society of Chemistry Education Prize

University of Exeter lecturer Dr Alison Hill has won the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Excellence in Higher Education Prize.

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Electric pulses save sharks from fishing hooks

Gadgets that emit small electrical pulses can drastically cut the number of sharks and stingrays caught accidentally on fishing lines, new research shows.

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Exeter researchers recognised in global rankings

Twenty-one researchers from the University of Exeter have been recognised as leading experts in Clarivate’s annual highly cited researchers list.

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500 million year-old fossils reveal answer to evolutionary riddle

An exceptionally well-preserved collection of fossils discovered in eastern Yunnan Province, China, has enabled scientists to solve a centuries-old riddle in the evolution of life on earth, revealing what the first animals to make skeletons looked like. The results have been published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Volvo Environment Prize 2022 awarded for world-leading microplastics research

Professor Tamara Galloway from the University of Exeter has been awarded the Volvo Environment Prize 2022, for her pioneering work to alert the world to the devastating impacts of plastic pollution in the environment. 

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Breakthrough in protecting bananas from Panama disease

Exeter scientists have provided hope in the fight to control Panama disease in bananas.

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Sustainable fishing plan for Caribbean spiny lobsters

A new project will help to ensure sustainable fishing and aquaculture (fish farming) of Caribbean spiny lobsters.

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Natural England and University of Exeter announce partnership

Natural England and the University of Exeter have announced a new strategic partnership to boost nature recovery.

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A study from the University of Exeter reveals a master regulator controlling fungal infection of wheat

The discovery of a "master regulator" for pathogenicity is crucial in the development of control strategies.

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New bid to 'outflank' antimicrobial resistance

A major new project will investigate the defence mechanisms of bacterial cells, to help stop the spread of drug-resistant genes.

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Fertilisers cause more than 2% of global emissions

Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers account for 2.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, new research shows.

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Scientists study tourists to protect great apes

Researchers are protecting great apes from diseases by studying the behaviour and expectations of tourists who visit them.

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Congo creates first Marine Protected Areas

The Republic of the Congo has created its first ever Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), supported by a research team including the University of Exeter and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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Algal expert awarded experimental biology medal

A leading microbiologist at the University of Exeter has been recognised for her outstanding research into algae.

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Scientists stunned by vast insect migration

Migratory insects cross at least 100km of open sea to reach Cyprus on the way to mainland Europe.

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Exeter academic awarded grant to research a new fungal lineage

A University of Exeter academic has won a Wellcome Trust Career Development Award to research an antifungal-resistant lineage of fungi.

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Study achieves longest continuous tracking of migrating insects

Insects are the world’s smallest flying migrants, but they can maintain perfectly straight flight paths even in unfavorable wind conditions, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPI-AB) and the University of Konstanz in Germany, and the University of Exeter in the UK.

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Safeguarding Indigenous Peoples’ lands could save primates

Safeguarding Indigenous Peoples' lands offers the best chance of preventing the extinction of the world's primates, researchers say.

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Scientists discover key genes behind insect migrations

Scientists have identified more than 1,500 genetic differences between migratory and non-migratory hoverflies.

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Exeter researcher wins Lister Prize

A University of Exeter researcher has won the prestigious Lister Prize to support her research into fungal pathogens.

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Numbers and experience count in mongoose warfare

Strength in numbers and experienced individuals are both vital in mongoose warfare, new research shows.

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New research gives insights into how organelles divide in cells

A pioneering study has shed new light on how subcellular organelles divide and multiply.

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Science Futures to make Glastonbury debut

Festivalgoers can learn about climate change, space travel, plant power and much more at Glastonbury's new Science Futures area.

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Otters learn from each other – but solve some puzzles alone

Otters learn skills from each other – but they also solve some mysteries alone, new research shows.

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Free Soapbox Science talks in Exeter

Fish on painkillers, the power of tiny shrimps and late-night snacking by bumblebees are just some of the subjects on offer at this year's Soapbox Science in Exeter.

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Scientists show how fast-growing bacteria can resist antibiotics

Scientists have demonstrated how some fast-growing bacteria can resist treatment with antibiotics, according to a study published today in eLife.

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Exeter doctoral student wins prestigious medal for "extraordinary" research

A prestigious medal for the UK’s best PhD thesis in biology has been awarded to Dr Timothy Lamont, for his PhD work at the University of Exeter.

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AI learns coral reef "song"

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can track the health of coral reefs by learning the "song of the reef", new research shows.

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British coral predicted to be resilient to climate change

An iconic coral species found in UK waters could expand its range due to climate change, new research shows.

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'Fuel of evolution' more abundant than previously thought in wild animals

The raw material for evolution is much more abundant in wild animals than we previously believed, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).

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Drug resistance molecule can spread though bacterial 'communities'

DNA molecules called plasmids – some of which protect bacteria from antibiotics – can spread rapidly through bacterial "communities" that are treated with antibiotics, new research shows.

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Pioneering study identifies global dynamics of Antibiotic Resistance

Scientists have used ideas from artificial intelligence to identify patterns of antibiotic resistance around the world.

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'Democracy' governs mass jackdaw take-offs

Jackdaws use a "democratic" process to decide when to leave their roosts en masse, new research shows.

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'Make or break' year for protecting nature

2022 is a "make or break" year for protecting nature and tackling climate change, a leading scientist says.

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'Traffic calming' boosts breeding on coral reefs

Coral reef fish breed more successfully if motorboat noise is reduced, new research shows.

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Satellites and drones can help save pollinators

Satellites and drones can provide key information to protect pollinators, researchers say.

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Scallops swim into illuminated fishing pots

Scallops are drawn to illuminated fishing pots like moths to a flame, new research shows.

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Sea turtle success stories along African east coast – but thousands still dying

Conservation of sea turtles along Africa's east coast has made good progress – but tens of thousands still die each year due to human activity, researchers say.

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Peru "pinger" trial deters dolphins but not whales

A trial of underwater sound devices called pingers reduced the number of dolphins caught in fishing nets – but did not deter humpback whales.

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Research ship delves into ocean history

A research ship is taking seabed samples from the North Sea and North Atlantic to find out what the oceans were like before major changes caused by humans.

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UK wildlife watchers welcome "ecological refugees"

Wildlife watchers generally welcome species that have arrived in the UK due to climate change, new research suggests.

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Protected areas don’t always boost biodiversity

Protected areas such as national parks have a "mixed impact" on wildlife, according to the largest ever global study of their effects.

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Multi-million funding for new 'terrestrial blue economy' research

A pioneering new research project, designed to unlock the true potential of sustainable shrimp production in the UK using renewable energy technology, has received a multi-million pound funding boost.

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'Whup' and 'grumble' calls reveal secrets of humpback whales

Sounds made by humpback whales – including a previously unknown call – have given researchers a glimpse of their lives in the high seas.

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Selective breeding sustainably protects honey bees from Varroa mite

A new breed of honey bees provides a major advance in the global fight against the parasitic Varroa mite, new research shows.

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African network protects key turtle sites

A network of West African Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covers key sites used by green turtles, new research shows.

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Remote Indian Ocean reefs bounce back quickly after bleaching

Coral reefs in remote or protected areas can recover quickly after mass coral bleaching events, new research shows.

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Modern animal life could have origins in delta

The ancestors of many animal species alive today may have lived in a delta in what is now China, new research suggests.

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Researchers aim to discover how viruses communicate

The different "languages" used by viruses will be investigated by a new research project at the University of Exeter.

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Voles cut grass to watch flying predators

A tiny rodent trims tall grasses so it can watch the skies for flying predators, new research shows.

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Half century of protection pays off for sea turtles

Green turtle numbers continue to rise on a group of islands where the species has now been protected for more than 50 years, new research shows.

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LEAF status for all Exeter labs

All eligible laboratories at the University of Exeter have now achieved Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) accreditation.

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Female chimpanzees avoid humans

Female chimpanzees are less likely than males to go near villages and farmland used by humans, new research shows.

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Whole-genome sequencing reveals new secrets about killer fungus

New research from the University of Exeter reports largest ever whole-genome sequencing project for the potentially fatal yeast infection Candida glabrata from hospitals across Scotland

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Plastic labelling needs 'sustainability scale'

Labelling of plastic products needs a drastic overhaul including a new "sustainability scale" to help consumers, researchers say.

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Racing looks through eyes of horses to help deliver improved safety at all British jump courses

Racing at Stratford Upon Avon on 14 March will mark the start of a new era over jumps in Britain as obstacles begin turning white as part of a welfare-driven project to develop new ways to help make hurdle and fence design safer.

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Bid to protect "blue food" revolution

Scientists have developed a new way to identify and reduce the impact of chemicals and diseases in global aquaculture (fish farming).

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Leading UK marine scientists welcome move towards global plastics pact ahead of major UN meeting

Plastic pollution is universally accepted as having dire effects on the world’s marine life and ecosystems, in addition to presenting risks to human health including through the leaching of chemical additives and consumption of microplastics contained in seafood

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'Freeze or flee' reactions run in fish families

Families of fish tend to share similar reactions to stressful situations, new research shows.

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UK biodiversity renewal project to revive nature and communities receives £10 million investment

Researchers at the University of Exeter have received £10 million to investigate and tackle biodiversity loss in the UK through partnerships and community action.

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Three Exeter researchers win Discovery Fellowships

Three University of Exeter researchers have been awarded prestigious Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Discovery Fellowships.

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Gabon provides blueprint for protecting oceans

Gabon's network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provides a blueprint that could be used in many other countries, experts say.

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How do pathogens learn to be pathogens: partnerships between microbes leading to human disease

New research discovered that the fungus Rhizopus fights back against soil predators and human immune cells by partnering with a bacteria called Ralstonia in a two way partnership.

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Exeter biologists investigate smallest propeller on earth

University of Exeter scientists have discovered new information about the tiny propellers used by single-cell organisms called archaea.

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Bid to discover how immune systems recognise fungal invaders

A new research programme aims to define the vital first step in how human immune systems recognise fungal invaders.

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English Channel stops new rockpool species reaching UK

The English Channel prevents many rockpool species "making the jump" from Europe to the UK, new research shows.

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Fish study shows role of oestrogens in sense of smell

Steroid oestrogens play an important role as embryos develop a sense of smell, new research shows.

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Bluefin tuna tagged for the first time in UK waters with acoustic ‘residency’ tags

Bluefin tuna have been tagged with state-of-the-art acoustic tracking tags for the first time in UK waters.

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Bid to understand how bacterial defences affect the spread of 'mobile genetic elements'

A major new project will investigate how bacterial defences influence the spread of segments of DNA called mobile genetic elements (MGEs) between bacteria.

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New discovery on regulation of organelle contact

A pioneering study has revealed how cellular compartments (organelles) are able to control how much they interact and cooperate.

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A fire salamander. Credit Jaime Bosch. 

‘Jumping genes’ help fungus kill salamanders

A fungus that infects salamanders contains multiple copies of the same “jumping genes”, scientists have discovered.

Jumping genes, called transposons, can “copy and paste” themselves and impact the organism.

Most organisms have some repeated parts of their DNA, some of which are jumping genes, but this can be harmful – and mechanisms exist to prevent or limit this.

However, the new study – led by the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Exeter – finds a possible evolutionary advantage of these jumping genes in a fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal).

Not only did they find different versions of these jumping genes repeated multiple times in Bsal’s genome – but the gene in question appears to have duplicated another group of genes that play a role in how severely it affects infected fire salamanders.

“Bsal and related fungal species infect amphibians worldwide, and have been responsible for more than 90 extinctions,” said first author Theresa Wacker.

“Bsal infects the skin of salamanders and newts and causes severe wounds.

“It emerged in Asia, where many newts and salamanders have some tolerance, but it has spread to Europe and is causing European salamander populations to decline.

“Using new sequencing technologies, we found that Bsal has undergone a genome expansion compared to related species – that is to say, it now has a bigger genome with more genes and also more of these ‘jumping gene’ transposons.”

The new study found the ability of jumping gene transposons to copy and paste themselves contributed significantly to this expansion.

“If you think of an organism’s genome as a blueprint, transposons are like having many identical pages,” Wacker explained.

“And sometimes, during the process of copying and pasting, other parts of the book are also copied.”

It appears that this copying and pasting caused by repetitive jumping gene transposons has also amplified some skin-destroying genes.

Having more of these skin-destruction genes allow the fungus to destroy the skin of salamanders more quickly, making it more deadly.”

Senior author Dr Rhys Farrer said repetitive DNA, including jumping genes, is sometimes referred to as “junk” DNA.

“Most organisms have a few jumping gene transposons,” he said.

“In humans, they typically make up less than 1% of the genome, and we have controlling mechanisms to prevent this from rising.

“In Bsal, repeated jumping genes make up about 19% of the genome.

“Transposon jumping genes can interfere with regular gene function and cause problems for the organism – but for Bsal this seems to be outweighed by the advantages.”

The team are now doing further research.

Dr Farrer said: “This kind of gene repetition is probably more widespread in nature than we currently realise.

“If, as appears to be the case, it confers an evolutionary advantage for the pathogen by making it more virulent, it’s not clear why this isn’t much more common.”

The study’s finding shed new light on the evolution of a major amphibian disease, and Dr Farrer called it a “paradigm shift” in terms of identifying repetitive genome content as a driving force behind its pathobiology.

The research team included scientists from Imperial College London, and the study was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is entitled: "Two-speed genome evolution drives pathogenicity in fungal pathogens of animals.”

Date: 4 January 2023

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