The Earth and Life Systems Alliance (ELSA) is a strategic cornerstone of the Norwich Research Park (NRP) and is centred around the world-class concentration of Earth and Life Scientists on the NRP which includes researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), John Innes Centre (JIC), The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC). Together, they have internationally renowned expertise in:
• Genetics and molecular biology of plants, animals and microbes
• Biogeochemical cycles
• Marine and atmospheric sciences
• Population dynamics
• Genomics and evolutionary genetics
• Ecosystem services
• Computer modelling and climate change
The aim of ELSA is to integrate and enhance internationally-excellent research in the Earth and Life Sciences across the NRP and to provide opportunities for ELSA researchers to exchange knowledge and develop new ideas for integrative, multidisciplinary research through scientific meetings, workshops, pump-priming projects and cross-NRP studentships. We also seek to attract world class researchers and fellows to the NRP, engage with funding agencies and stakeholders in promoting ELSA science and identify new funding opportunities to ensure development and sustainability of multidisciplinary research across the NRP. Some of ELSA’s scientists are studying fundamental processes at the level of individual genes and molecules in animals, plants and microbes. Together with other ELSA colleagues who are investigating species adaptation and evolution, the aim is to understand how changes in biological processes can have larger scale impacts; for example, how single genetic mutations can trigger shifts in population numbers, species biodiversity and disrupt the balance of carbon and nitrogen in the oceans and atmosphere. Decisions around how land is used on the planet can alter entire landscapes and ecosystems, as well as affect societies and economies. These research outcomes are expected to directly inform policies around the use of resources and the environmental impact of various human activities. The research focus of ELSA is centred around three strategic themes:
Human activities leading to climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources are major factors leading to biodiversity loss. Researchers within ELSA are taking the unique approach of linking the genetic drivers of adaptive variation with large scale consequences to entire populations and ecosystems. ELSA researchers are using advanced genomic and molecular technologies to explore the genetic and molecular basis of adaptation across a wide range of species. This knowledge is being integrated with holistic analyses of population dynamics to better understand the ecological impacts of adaptation. Such information will enable researchers to predict and respond to the ecological and evolutionary consequences of changes to habitats.
Important decisions are being made about the most appropriate use of agricultural land and marine resources, bearing in mind the global pressures for food security and energy demand. It is likely that different crops will be cultivated on existing land as the local environment and climate changes and becomes more, or less hospitable for particular species. Similarly, new crop varieties able to tolerate extreme growing conditions (temperature, drought, high salinity etc.) are also being developed. This is likely to alter the appearance and functionality of local landscapes with potential socio-economic impacts across the globe. As well as pioneering research into crop plants, disease-causing pathogens, and agricultural and marine systems, researchers within ELSA are using computer modelling and predictive tools to support the necessary decision-making processes associated with proposed changes in ecosystem management.
Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur exist in finely balanced biogeochemical cycles that link molecular processes to the global elemental cycles. Harnessing our knowledge of the central importance of plants and microbes in these cycles is a key focus of work within ELSA. This, together with expertise in climate system analysis and global biogeochemical cycles, is enabling ELSA researchers to undertake integrated research into the biological systems involved in elemental cycling, from the molecular to the global scale. This research will help inform the development of mechanisms to mitigate the effects of human activities on these cycles.