Current projects

We are currently involved in a range of interdisciplinary research projects funded by UKRI, industry and charities

Harnessing and integrating disease suppressive microbes and synthetic soils for sustainable, low input horticulture

June 2020 – May 2023

£1.57 million – funded by BBSRC

With current pesticides rapidly becoming ineffective or facing constraints on their use, novel mechanisms for controlling bacterial diseases in covered horticultural systems are urgently required to safeguard future productivity. The overarching aim of this project is to develop a multi-intervention framework for the protection of fruit and vegetable crops against pests and diseases by exploiting the disease-suppressing capacity of the plant’s own immune system and its interaction with beneficial soil microbes while deploying sustainable, novel substrates that enhance populations of disease suppressive sol microbes for horticulture. The principal objective is to obtain a deep understanding of the microbial functions through which plant-beneficial microbes in the root microbiome promote growth and suppress disease, and to exploit this knowledge in innovative cropping systems to enhance production. We will focus on the tomato and Rhizobium radiobacter biovar 1 root mat disease pathosystem as a tractable and commercially applicable model. We will develop an integrated strategy that translates the latest evidence from basic research into effective crop protection methods. Principal investigator with co-investigators Tim Daniell, Tony Ryan, Jurriaan Ton, Jonathan Leake, Ellie Harrison, Helen Hipperson, Heather Walker & Steve Rolfe

Signals in the soil: Real-time and Continuous Monitoring of Phosphates in the Soil with Graphene-Based Printed Sensor Arrays

January 2020 – January 2023

£789K – funded by NERC and the NSF (USA)

Phosphorus, one of the major three nutrients for plants, is required for plant growth, and it serves as an indicator for global environmental sustainability. It is important to understand the variations of phosphate in soils and soil-water systems in order to address a number of global challenges such as food production and regulating fertilizer applications for crops grown in various soil conditions and climate regimes. The goal of this research project is to use the latest graphene-based technology to develop a low-cost sensor capable of real-time monitoring of the phosphorus content in soil. This collaborative project between researchers at the U.S. institutions of Kansas State University and the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and the U.K. institution of the University of Sheffield, will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in soil and water science, geology, electrical engineering, and the fundamental chemistry and physics of soil-graphene interactions. Development of such sensors will enable farmers to choose the right amount of fertiliser to apply to the fields. Co-investigator and work package lead with Adrien Chauvet (co-PI) and Suprem Das (co-PI, Kansas State University, USA).

PARAMO – Provisioning of ecosystem services And cultuRAl values in the MOntane tropics

July 2018 – July 2021

£1.24 million – funded by NERC (Newton Fund)

Project website and team

The tropics harbour more species than anywhere else on Earth. This biodiversity supports a number of ecosystem services — benefits that humankind derives from the natural environment, including water, nutrient-rich soils and pest-control by predatory birds and insects — that are essential for human well-being, and it also underpins many cultural attachments that people have with nature. However, the disturbance of natural habitats and their conversion for other uses, such as farming, are driving a global extinction crisis. This project takes an innovative approach to understand the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services and cultural provision using the Colombian Andes as a case study. The Colombian Andes are one of the most biodiversity rich places on Earth, their soils contain carbon-rich peats, ecosystem services are derived for the majority of Colombia’s human population, and these are rich in cultural values on both a personal and community level. In spite of this tremendous wealth, hostilities in Colombia have long hampered research to understand eco-cultural relationships. The reduction in hostilities creates a policy window to impact the development of a sustainable bioeconomy, i.e. the economic exploitation of its biological resources, underpinned by Colombia’s high biodiversity. There are inherent environmental and cultural risks of capitalising upon biodiversity, which could drive negative outcomes for conservation or society. Our multidisciplinary programme will answer the major, unanswered question of how best to incorporate and optimise the combination of biodiversity, ecosystem service, and cultural values within natural resource management. In doing so, we will transform the role of cultural heritage and human-environmental experiential knowledge within the design of conservation programmes. Co-investigator and work package lead with Dave Edwards (PI), Tim Daniell and Mailyn Gonzalez (Alexander Von Humboldt Institute, Bogotá)

Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India

November 2019 – October 2022

£166K – funded by AHRC (GCRF)

Based in the former princely capital of Rampur in north India, Tarana Khan is a local historian and novelist working to preserve her city’s unique heritage linked to food, literature and culture. A former teacher, her motivation is the city’s youth who retain a strong sense of their Rampuri heritage, even as it disappears around them. Recognizing the urgency, she began collecting oral histories from older residents known for their connections to the ‘old world’. She also began exploring the famed Rampur Raza Library, with its rich and sizeable collection of Urdu and Persian manuscripts, for historic cookbooks. One Rampuri speciality, yakhni pulao – now cooked only to a basic recipe – appeared in fifty or more styles. Seeking to recreate these historic recipes, she worked with a khansama, or cook, from an old cheffing family to translate measures, procedures and ingredients into modern equivalents. A particular problem was the disappearance of older varieties of rice that had become extinct with the spread of high-yielding hybrid types. Their distinct aroma and taste remained alive only in the culinary memories of the older generation, who still yearn for tilak chandan and other small-grained local varieties previously grown in the rice-belt around Rampur. Co-investigator with Siobhan Lambert-Hurley (PI)

Desert Garden – Jordan

2015 – ongoing

£80K per year to run and funded by charitable donations, if you would like to help us , please click here

Project Website

The Desert Garden project, is a unique project born out of innovative science and is giving families displaced by war the opportunity to grow fresh food in the desert using discarded mattresses.

In 2018, Sheffield scientists travelled more than 3,000 miles – to the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp – to put their pioneering research into solving the issue of food shortages for thousands of people, living in the desert in Jordan.

The technique used to grow food in the desert by these Sheffield Scientists, who are based in the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and at the University’s Institute of Sustainable Food, has been developed in their Sheffield labs for many years.

As world-leading experts in hydroponics systems, the team has been using foam from discarded mattresses found in the refugee camp, as a growing medium for the crops in a hydroponic system. In normal agricultural processes, soil supports a plant’s roots, but in a hydroponics system plants are supported artificially and suspended away from the ground. Collaboration with UNHCR Za’atari and Tony Ryan OBE (project leader)

The environmental impacts of linking marine and terrestrial food production

2015 – ongoing

~£150K – Funded by the Royal Society UK and the Universities of Tasmania and Sheffield

Aquaculture, the fastest growing food sector in the world, produces over half of the fish consumed by humans, and represents the largest source of animal protein compared to any single livestock sector. Fish are produced from both wild capture fisheries and aquaculture. Due to concerns about the reliance on wild fish stocks for consumption and feed, fish feed in aquaculture has been shifting towards crops. This project aims to assess the ecosystem effects of transitioning from fishmeal-based to plant-based aquaculture feed. More specifically, we will address the following key questions:
1 What are the food production and environmental consequences of diverting crops to fish?
2 What are the implications of this nutritional transition in terms of embedded energy and ultimately CO2 emissions?

A collaboration with Julia Blanchard (Institute of Marine and Antarctic Research, University of Tasmania, Australia)

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