New Publication: Diversity of selected toll-like receptor genes in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and African leopards (Panthera pardus pardus)

Leopards (Panthera pardus) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) face several threats including habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict, and infectious disease. Dr Desiré Lee Dalton (Lecturer, Teesside University) and collaborators investigated the diversity of genes involved in the initial detection and defence against infectious diseases in modern Southern African cheetahs and leopards as well as historic cheetah samples and samples of different cheetah subspecies. We found that diversity was lower in cheetah than in leopards. In addition, historic cheetahs from all subspecies exhibited greater genetic diversity than modern Southern African cheetahs. Thus, indicating that cheetah have further lost diversity recently as a result of a population declines within the last 150 years. These results have identified that Southern African cheetahs may not be able survive future infectious diseases.


Access the publication through the publisher’s website with this link (

Seminer update – Dr Oluseye Oludoye

On 8th February 2024 we had a fascinating internal seminar talk by Dr Oluseye Oludoye on Pro-Environmental Behaviour Towards Sustainable Food Systems.

Oluseye introduced us to his research including pesticide, cocoa flavours, and plastic chemistry. The talk introduced the team to how people consider use of pesticide, but more importantly the impact of usage on the environment, including soil health. The talk encouraged the group to think about economics, biodiversity and climate change, a really thought provoking and insightful lunchtime session.

New paper: Rapid deterioration in buried leather: archaeological implications

This recent paper was the accumulation of work by Helga Halldorsdottir, huge data sets and some really novel results. The experiment set up was amazing..

Non-destructive FTIR-ATR analysis was applied to experimentally buried vegetable-tanned leather and archaeological leather excavated at the Roman site of Vindolanda, UK. Analyses focused on observing and monitoring changes in functional groups related to leather tannin, collagen and lipid components following burial. FTIR spectra were also collected from the tannin material and untanned hide, capturing the major structural differences between four stages of the leather material life cycle: The raw material, the tanned leather, the decaying buried leather, and archaeological leather.

Results highlighted rapid changes following experimental burial in wet soil, tentatively associated with early onset microbial activity, targeting readily available lipids but not tightly bound collagen. Before burial, major differences were present in leather spectra based on manufacture, but early after burial in wet soil, FTIR-ATR spectra indicated de-tanning could occur rapidly, especially in waterlogged conditions, with archaeological leather becoming more uniform and similar to untanned leather. Thus, comparison of FTIR-ATR results from archaeological leather to experimentally buried leather samples of known pre-burial manufacture proved useful, while comparison to FTIR-ATR data from modern unburied leather did not. Despite de-tanning occurring soon after burial, the vegetable-tanning method does impact long-term preservation of leather in wet soil. The impact could not be directly associated with the proportion of condensed to hydrolysable tannin, suggesting alternate variables impacted the preservation. Furthermore, mineral components introduced into the leather through the animal skin, tannin material and/or tannin liquid are tentatively suggested to contribute to this impact. A high degree of heterogeneity in error results within the experimentally buried sample material underlined that any changes in collagen ratios cannot be overinterpreted and must be considered within the context of larger datasets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Revitalizing Cocoa Production: Insights from the International Cocoa and Chocolate Forum in Abuja

by Oluseye Oludoye

Oluseye recently attended the International Cocoa and Chocolate Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 9, 2024. and had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on “The Importance of the Classification and Denomination of Cocoa with Investment in Increased Production Output.”

Introduction: The intersection of sustainable agriculture and economic development took center stage at the recent International Cocoa and Chocolate Forum held in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 9, 2024. The conference, themed “Putting Value in Cocoa in Producing Regions,” gathered experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to delve into the critical issues surrounding cocoa production. This blog post captures the highlights of the conference, focusing on the policy session where Dr Oluseye Oludoye contributed to a panel discussion on “The Importance of the Classification and Denomination of Cocoa with Investment in Increased Production Output.”

Setting the Tone: The Policy session opened with a declaration by Chief Olawale Edun, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy and the Honourary Chairman of the Forum. He emphasized the commitment of the Nigerian government, as outlined in the Renewed Hope Agenda spearheaded by Mr. President. This set a positive tone for the discussions that followed, underlining the significance of cocoa in the nation’s economic transformation.

Key Figures in Attendance: The conference boasted esteemed personalities, including the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, who declared the Forum open. Their presence underscored the government’s recognition of cocoa as a key player in economic growth. Additionally, the Honourable Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, served as the Special Guest of Honour. In his remarks, he highlighted the government’s commitment to implementing strategic plans, with a special focus on agriculture value addition strategies.

Panel Discussion: “The Importance of the Classification and Denomination of Cocoa with Investment in Increased Production Output”: Dr Oluseye Oludoye had the privilege of contributing to a panel discussion during the conference, specifically addressing the crucial topic of cocoa classification and denomination. Their discourse centered on the pivotal role accurate classification plays in attracting investment and fostering increased production output. They explored the potential impact of streamlined classification processes on the entire cocoa value chain, from farmers to consumers.

Commitment to Agriculture Value Addition Strategies: The Honourable Minister of Budget and Economic Planning emphasized the government’s dedication to creating a conducive environment for agricultural activities. This commitment extends beyond the mere production of cocoa to encompass comprehensive strategies for value addition within the agriculture sector. This approach aligns with the broader goal of empowering farmers and promoting sustainable practices.

Conclusion: The International Cocoa and Chocolate Forum in Abuja provided a platform for stakeholders to align their efforts towards advancing cocoa production in Nigeria. The commitment expressed by key government officials and the emphasis on value addition strategies signal a promising future for the cocoa industry. As researchers, it is crucial for us to delve deeper into the implications of these commitments and explore avenues for collaborative research that supports the sustainable growth of cocoa production in producing regions. By doing so, we contribute to the broader discourse on agricultural sustainability and economic development.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Dr Lauren Rawlins

On 24 January 2024, the Earth & Environment Research Group welcomed external speaker, Dr Lauren Rawlins, who recently completed her PhD at the Department of Environment & Geography at the University of York. Lauren presented her PhD research investigating the impacts of climate change on the glaciers of Greenland. Through remote sensing of the Humboldt Glacier in northwest Greenland, Lauren observed significant seasonal surface melting extending 80 kilometres inland from the coast. The formation of pooled water and drainage networks on the glacier’s surface lowers the surface ‘albedo’ (meaning its ability to reflect incoming solar radiation) and contributes to more melting. The surface meltwater can also infiltrate down to the base of the glacier where it can speed up the ice sheet’s advance toward the comparatively warmer coast, leading to further melting. Lauren’s talk also took us down to SW Greenland where she performed uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) surveys and some remarkable 3-D mapping of the smaller, Russell glacier, to study the distribution and interactions of surface meltwater with ‘cryoconite’ (dark patches containing algae, black carbon, and other dark coloured particulates that reduce surface albedo).

Lauren’s talk was riveting and, her research, scientifically rigorous. Understanding the sensitivity of the Greenland ice sheet to external factors is critical for predicting future change.

At the end of Lauren’s talk, our own Dr Adrian Dye asked her if she could offer any advice to our PhD and prospective PhD students. Amongst several words of wisdom, Lauren emphasised the importance of having a good rapport with your supervisor, ensuring that the University is a good fit, and, once the PhD project is underway, avoid biting off more than you can chew to avoid burnout.

Lauren’s recent publication can be found here For members of the research group who missed Lauren’s talk, you can find the recording on the Teams site.

Welcome New lecturer – Dr Sina Longman

I am a palaeoclimatologist with a special interest in micropalaeontology, using microfossils, such as dinoflagellates and pollen, to reconstruct past oceanographic, terrestrial and climatic changes. More recently, I have expanded my research into vegetation reconstructions using pollen in speleothems (e.g. stalagmites). I am particularly interested in time periods in Earth history that were warmer than present in order to gain insights into environmental changes under continued future warming.

New staff member – Welcome Dr Danai-Maria Kontou

Danai is a lecturer and a researcher in human geography, with special interests in Polar Geography, Cartography and Creative Methods. Danai graduated with a Geography B.Sc. from the University of the Aegean and later has been a full scholarship grantee for the Cartography MSc (T.U. Munich, T.U Vienna, T.U. Dresden, and University of Twente). For her master’s thesis, she developed innovative three-dimensional visuals in cylindrical form for the time and space illustration of the anomalies of ice and vegetation in the Arctic. Her thesis has been published in the Journal “Regional Studies Regional Science”. She continued her academic journey with a PhD in Durham University, fully funded under the DurhamArctic Research Centre for Training and Interdisciplinary Collaboration. For her PhD “Arctic Cartographic Uncertainties”, Danai experimented with creative methods and art-science practices. Her current research interests include spatiotemporal analysis of environmental phenomena, story-map-telling, art-based research, along with her great enthusiasm on polar geography, remote sensing, and data visualisation.

In Teesside she is teaching: “Human Geography and Globalisation” and “Interpreting Environments”.

Introducing Dr. Aboli Vavle (Finally)!

The team are wonderfully proud of Dr Aboli Vavle this week, on passing her viva.. here is her story..

I can’t believe I am writing this blog post. It still hasn’t sunk in to be very honest, but it gives me great pleasure to finally say that I’ve passed my PhD viva with some great comments from my examiners.  On 8th January 2023 at 1:30pm in the afternoon (not to forget in a freezing cold room), I was called in for my viva.  My examiners greeted me with a very warm smile and excitement. I walked in with confidence but was nervous at the same time. My external told me at the start of the viva that ‘Please relax and take your time to answer and if we’re asking follow up questions, we’re only asking them to understand a bit more from you’. That did calm me down a bit.

And so it began! I was asked so many chemistry questions regarding the structures and bonds and formulas. I tried to answer them to my best ability. Anything that I was not sure of, I was being 100% honest and was calmly letting them know and both my examiners were very kind and helpful in making me understand anything that I wasn’t sure of. By 3:30pm, we were only on 90/228 pages. I remember walking out to stretch my legs and thinking, we haven’t even got to my actual results yet and that got me a bit more nervous. But I calmed myself down and reassured myself that it is my work and all I need to do is answer to my best potential. I went back in and we started the viva again and this time I was a bit more confident in answering as the questions were more related to my actual samples. Funny thing is I didn’t get asked many questions about my actual work, because when reading the thesis the examiners said that they themselves could see how novel the work was. My external examiner asked me, ‘Do I like underselling my work?’. I nervously laughed and he continued ‘it’s done with such precision especially the chromatograms. You need to highlight it a bit more’ and that made me very happy. My internal examiner also said that they found the tables of all the case studies very helpful and that made me even happier. Around 5:20pm, the viva was concluded and I was asked to wait outside.

Those 10 minutes were the hardest 10 minutes of my entire life. I was called in by the chair and I sat down. The external examiner said ‘We have decided to pass you. Congratulations Doctor’. As soon as I heard that, I had tears rolling down my cheeks, I said ‘Thank you’ in a squeaky voice and I apologised and they said ‘you don’t need to because we understand what a PhD student goes through’. They said they enjoyed reading my work and that was the reason they kept asking me questions for 4 hours! They also said that my thesis was very easy to read and follow. I thanked them for taking time to read my thesis and their valuable feedback. We showed the examiners around the NHC labs and I thanked them once again for the day. Also, just want to take a moment here to thank Dr. Gillian Taylor, my Director of Studies and Dr. Caroline Orr, my supervisor because I don’t think I would have been able to do any of this without their help and support.

Back to Newcastle around 7:30pm, all I wanted to do was to hug my husband (who now has to call me Dr. Wife), have a glass of chilled Cuba Libre, eat some Poutine and go to bed. It was a very tiring but a wonderful day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

3rd Annual Tees Valley Youth Climate Conference

On 15 November 2023, Teesside University’s School of Health and Life Sciences, spearheaded by its Geoscience cluster, hosted the 3rd Annual Tees Valley Youth Climate Conference. In total, 70 sixth-form students from across the region and their teachers spent the day reviewing the evidence for anthropogenic forcing of climate change and exploring a wealth of options for building sustainable societies in the future.

At the start of the day, Keynote Speaker, Rachel Murtagh, Nature Partnership Manager of the Tees Valley Nature Partnership reflected on significant recent progress in restoring the Tees Valley’s natural environment from the ravages of the industrial era but underscored the need for ongoing and concerted positive action.

“Engaging in nature-based solutions offers numerous opportunities to collaborate with the planet in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Simultaneously, these approaches promote greater biodiversity and enhance human well-being by providing increased access to green spaces.”

Our own TU Earth & Environment Researchers spent the rest of the morning providing the evidence and varied solutions for climate change and, in the afternoon, led sustainability workshops on topics including food systems, renewable energy, and climate change communication.

We welcomed local industry (e.g., Northern Gas Networks, Biffa Waste Management) and charitable trust (e.g., Tees Rivers Trust, Durham Wildlife Trust, Middlesbrough Environment City) representatives who shared their climate-positive agendas with students over lunch. Several TU Environmental Management MSc students presented climate science posters.

The 3rd Annual Tees Valley Youth Climate Conference was highly successful and we look forward to hosting another one next year. If you are interested in booking a place for your students, please contact Kathryn Howard at

Archaeological Institute of America – Best Poster Award

At the annual general meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which is the largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world.

We had a the pleasure of presenting some recent research work as a poster, the team comprised of Dr Elizabeth Green, University of Western Ontario, Dr Rhiannon Stevens, University College London, Barbara Birley, Vindolanda Trust and Dr Gillian Taylor, Teesside university.

The poster title was Species analysis of leather objects and manufacturing offcuts from Vindolanda, UK. the poster was awarded ‘best poster’ which the team are delighted about, they are currently working on more results, using proteomics and looking forward to sharing more data soon..