Alan Scarlett

Alan Scarlett

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science & Environment)


BSc Environmental Biology with Chemistry

My early career was within the horticultural industry, predominantly in managing my own landscape gardening business, but an interest in ecology led to my decision to return to full-time education in 1992 to read for a BSc in Environmental Biology with Chemistry at the University of Plymouth. Following graduating with 1st class honours in June 1996, I carried out marine ecotoxicological research at Plymouth Marine Laboratories investigating the impact of the 'booster biocide' compound Irgarol 1051, used in anti-fouling paints, upon the seagrass Zostera marina. Publications resulting from these early tests have now received over one hundred citations.

Following this, I joined an interdisciplinary project at the University of Plymouth, led by Professor Steve Rowland and Professor Tamara Galloway, concerned with the ecotoxicity of chemically dispersed and weathered crude oils. My main involvement within this multi-government agency-funded project was to develop and perform acute and chronic sediment bioassays using the marine amphipod Corophium volutator.

My PhD entitled "Effect-directed analysis of toxicants in unresolved complex mixtures (UCMs) of hydrocarbons from biodegraded crude oils" was completed at the end of 2007 (PhD abstract). The research involved state-of-the-art analysis of tissue extracts using comprehensive tandem gas chromatography coupled with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC-ToF-MS).

In 2008 I undertook nine months of collaborative research between the Epidemiology and Public Health Group at the Peninsular Medical School and the Environmental Toxicology Group at the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences, exploring the possible effects of environmental contaminants on human health. This led to a very high profile publication in JAMA-Journal of the American Medical Association, showing associations between the controversial endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A and increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults [doi: 10.1001/jama.300.11.1303].

Returning to the University of Plymouth's PEGG group in 2009, I have now joined Professor Steve Rowland's OUTREACH project to help investigate the toxicity of complex mixtures within the environment. Recently I was awarded a Japanese Society of the Promotion of Science (JSPS) short-term fellowship. This involved spending two months at the Institute for Each China Sea Research in Nagasaki, collecting bivalves and seagrasses and assessing their health. The Japanese samples will be analysed using OUTREACH project's state-of-the-art GC×GC-ToF-MS.

Professional membership

Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)

American Chemical Society
Marine Biological Association (MBA)
Associate member of the Higher Education Academy

Teaching interests

One of the joys of university life is the access to a wide variety of current research. My contribution to this has been to convey my recent research to a group of 3rd year SEOES students as part of their Ecotoxicology module (EOE3212). Hopefully, this provided an insight into how a real research project is planned and undertaken, as well as some of the problems and pitfalls that can arise. I have successfully completed the General Teaching Associates (GTA) course and LTHE300, resulting in achievement of Certificate of Continued Professional Development - Learning, Teaching and Assessment: Theory and Practice. These teaching courses contributed towards the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education and confirm associate membership of the Higher Education Academy.

Research interests

  • Nature of unresolved complex mixtures of hydrocarbons
  • Identification of compounds within complex mixtures by tandem gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GCxGC-Tof-MS)
  • Chronic effects of organic pollutants especially oil pollution
  • Population and community level effects of sublethal pollutants
  • Effects of pollutants on the behaviour of organisms
  • Effects of environmental contaminants on human health

Research groups

  • Biogeochemistry Research Centre (BGC)
  • Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry