Luisa Orsini

Turing Fellow Luisa Orsini is using AI to learn from past environmental change to help make future decisions on biodiversity management

What are you working on at the moment?

I apply big data science to the sedimentary geological records of inland waters, such as ponds and lakes. These have the unique advantage of preserving biological and environmental signals in time, allowing us to identify environmental factors that cause biodiversity decline.

In these records, I’m also looking at specimens of the small crustacean Daphnia magna (water flea). Water fleas have an exceptionally long dormancy and can be awoken by exposure to light stimuli. Awoken Daphnia from times predating major human impact are at the heart of a patented (WO/2021/116229) engineering biology technology for water bioremediation that I co-developed – this is the process of cleaning contaminated water using micro-organisms. Daphnia strains are used as microscopic 'vacuum cleaners' to remove, concentrate and retain contaminants from wastewater, with an efficiency up to 95%.

What is the impact of your research?

I work with the water industry and engineering consultancies to deliver green sustainable technologies that enable water and waste reuse and recycling.

I also work closely with regulators to translate cutting-edge scientific approaches and tools to prioritise the conservation of species that are especially critical for our ecosystems (e.g. green algae). I develop tools that guide regulators in the identification of pollutants that have the most severe adverse effects on biodiversity.

What advice would you give a researcher just starting out in your field?

New ideas are always met with scepticism. Believe in your ideas and pursue disruptive solutions to address environmental problems. As scientists, we have a duty to serve our society with progressive solutions.

What do you hope COP26 achieves?

A long-term strategy and clear milestones to reduce the impact of climate change and pollution, protecting the most vulnerable. Around nine million people die worldwide as a result of pollution every year, many in developing economies. COP26 is our last chance to action sustainable technologies and resource use. 

And finally, when not working, what can you be found doing?

Spending time with my family and friends, exploring new cultures by visiting new places, or relaxing with a good book.