Researchers in the School of Biological Sciences conduct cutting-edge research across a broad range of biological disciplines: genomics, biotechnology, cell biology, sensory biology, animal behaviour and evolution, population biology, host-disease interactions and ecosystem services, to name but a few.
In 2014 the school relocated to a new £54 million, state-of-the-art Life Sciences building. Our new laboratory facilities are among the best in the world, with critical '-omics' technologies and associated computing capacity (bioinformatics) a core component. The new building is designed to foster our already strong collaborative and convivial environment, and includes a world-leading centre for evolutionary biology research in collaboration with key researchers from earth sciences, biochemistry, social medicine, chemistry and computer sciences. The school has strong links with local industry, including BBC Bristol, Bristol Zoo and the Botanic Gardens. We have a lively, international postgraduate community of about 150 research students. Our stimulating environment and excellent graduate school training and support provide excellent opportunities to develop future careers.
The underlying theme of our research is the search for an understanding of the function, evolution, development and regulation of complex systems, pursued using the latest technologies, from '-omics' to nanoscience, and mathematical modelling tools. Our research is organised around four main themes that reflect our strengths and interests: evolutionary biology; animal behaviour and sensory biology; plant and agricultural sciences; and ecology and environmental change.
The theme of evolutionary biology runs through all our research in the School of Biological Sciences. Research in this theme seeks to understand organismal evolution and biodiversity using a range of approaches and study systems. We have particular strengths in evolutionary genomics, phylogenetics and phylogenomics, population genetics, and evolutionary theory and computer modelling.
Animal Behaviour and Sensory Biology
Research is aimed at understanding the adaptive significance of behaviour, from underlying neural mechanisms ('how', or proximate, questions) to evolutionary explanations of function ('why', or ultimate, questions). The approach is strongly interdisciplinary, using diverse physiological and biomechanical techniques, behavioural experiments, computer modelling and molecular biology to link from the genetic foundations through to the evolution of behaviour and sensory systems.
Plant and Agricultural Sciences
The global issue of food security unifies research in this theme, which ranges from molecular-based analysis of plant development, signal transduction and disease, to ecological studies of agricultural and livestock production systems. We have particular strengths in functional genomics, bioinformatics, plant developmental biology, plant pathology and parasite biology, livestock parasitology and agricultural systems biology. Our research is helped by the LESARS endowment, which funds research of agricultural relevance.
Ecology and Environmental Change
Research seeks to understand ecological relations between organisms (plant, animal or microbe) at individual, population and community levels, as well as between organisms and their environments. Assessing the effect of climate change on these ecological processes is also fundamental to our research. Key research areas within this theme include community ecology, restoration ecology, conservation, evolutionary responses to climate change and freshwater ecology. Our research has many applied angles, such as ecosystem management, wildlife conservation, environmental and biological control, agricultural practice and informing policy.
Many postgraduate students choose a higher degree because they enjoy their subject and subsequently go on to work in a related area. An Office of Science and Technology survey found that around three-quarters of BBSRC- and NERC-funded postgraduates went on to a job related to their study subject.
Postgraduate study is often a requirement for becoming a researcher, scientist, academic journal editor and for work in some public bodies or private companies. Around 60 per cent of biological sciences doctoral graduates continue in research. Academic research tends to be contract-based with few permanent posts, but the school has a strong track record in supporting the careers of young researchers by helping them to find postdoctoral positions or develop fellowship applications.