Dr Luisa Orsini is a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in Biosystems and Environmental Change at the University of Birmingham (UoB), and a time traveller. She studies the processes and mechanisms of evolutionary response to climate and other environmental factors with relevance to climate – pollution, anthropogenic land-use. To reconstruct long-term dynamics she applies high throughput technologies to sedimentary archives of inland waters, which have the unique advantage of preserving biological and environmental signals temporally. Moreover, she applies high throughput technologies to ‘resurrected’ specimens of the keystone species Daphnia magna (waterflea) to identify the molecular mechanisms that enable evolutionary changes through time and space. Dr Orsini strongly believes in bridging the science/policy divide. To this end, she works on biotechnology solutions for the removal of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other suspended materials from wastewater and surface water.
Human health and well-being are intimately linked to environmental quality. Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths. Detection and measures in the environment and health area are inadequate because the links between healthy environments and healthy humans are dynamic and complex. First, the variety of species and genes in a given habitat, called biodiversity, is the foundation of healthy ecosystems and of the services they provide, which underpin economic prosperity, social well-being and quality of life.
Biodiversity is declining at 1,000 times the natural rate, which is responsible for the decline of an estimated 60% of the Earth's ecosystem services (ES) over the last 50 years. Second, climate change significantly impacts biodiversity, causing habitat destruction and species loss, as well as shifts in community assembly and ecological structure. However, climate is only one of the factors impacting biodiversity. It is the synergistic action of climate and other environmental factors linked to human activities (e.g. land-use, pollution and species invasion) that ultimately impact biodiversity. Last but not least, biodiversity response to environmental change varies dramatically in space and time. Only by simultaneously investigating environmental change and biodiversity across space and time, the impact of such changes on ES directly linked to human health and wellbeing can be understood. Only by accurately forecasting the impact of loss of biodiversity on ES, can we begin to understand the long-term impact of polluted environments on human health.
As a Turing Fellow, Dr Orsini has the long term goal of improving human health and wellbeing by creating a novel evidence-based framework that enables the identification of actionable targets for ES conservation, and the prioritization of pollutants for mitigation interventions.