We study the integrative processes and functions of life at all levels of structural complexity from the molecular level through to whole organisms. We then frame functional diversity in evolutionary, enviornmental, ecological and behavioural contexts. Research areas where we have world-leading expertise include:
Fish Immunology and Physiology
Our world-class reputation for research in fish immunology and physiology is based on the activity of the Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre. The central focus of the SFIRC is to understand the functioning and evolution of the fish immune system with a view to development of vaccines, immunostimulants and antiviral/antimicrobial reagents against common fish diseases that can improve fish health in aquaculture.
Current areas of recognised research strength are:
- the isolation and characterisation of fish cytokine genes (e.g. interleukins, interferons and tumour necrosis factors), and elucidation of what influences their expression, structure and ligand interactions;
- the use of comparative analyses to understand the evolution of the adaptive immune response in cartilagenous fishes;
- the role(s) of lymphocyte subpopulations that mediate immune responses and to identify the immune factors that regulate leucocyte activation and traffiking;
- the relationships between metabolism and immune competence in salmonids;
- the evolution of function, physiological processes and developmental systems across fish taxa
Environmental Physiology and Behaviour
Animal physiology and behaviour have been moulded by natural selection so that animals can meet the challenges of living in the natural world. Changes in their environment places stress on animals creating challenges for their physiological functions that can be mitigated or worsened by their behavioural reactions. How animals individually respond to these stressors can then mediates changes on a population level (e.g., offspring numbers and survival). Our work addresses fundamental aspects of how animals respond to their environments, including exposure to environmental stressors, reproduction and overcrowding. A characteristic feature of our approach is its multidisciplinary nature stretching from molecules to populations, taking in comparative genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, physiology and behaviour.
Quantifying energy expenditure by using isotope based techniques like the doubly-labelled water method, helps us understand how animals balance their energy budgets and the factors limiting energy expenditure. The implications for their fat storage and lifespan forms the main focus of the world-leading energetics group.
Host, pathogen and parasite interactions
Many invertebrate species are vectors for commercially important diseases that have profound effects on human health or livestock production. Understanding the interrelationships between parasites, pathogens and hosts can provide fundamental insight into novel mechanisms for disease control. This is well illustrated by ongoing research within the School that is focussed on interactions between salmon and sea lice, varroa mites and honey bees, ticks and their various hosts, freshwater snails and Schistosoma blood flukes, trypanosome protozoans and humans and livestock, leptospirosis and rodents, and the various vectors of plague and humans.
We work within a multidisciplinary framework that includes examining immunomodulation by parasites, the proteomic and transcriptomic responses of hosts to infection, genetic and genomic basis of parasite resistance, and genetic and environmental factors that affect pathogen prevalence. From such research we can identify multiple routes to control that includes development of dietary protection in hosts, utilisation of semiochemicals, gene knockdowns and interrupting disease transmission pathways.