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AgriBiosciences - Structured

The PABC MSc by Research (AgriBiosciences) program will provide relevant, hands-on training to graduates who wish to specialise in agri-related research. The purpose of the programme is to provide these graduates with a broad theoretical understanding of the agricultural sector in its broader scientific, economic and environmental context, on which key research skills and practical experiences will be built.

The Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre MSc by Research (AgriBiosciences) program will provide relevant, hands-on training to graduates who wish to specialise in agri-related research. The purpose of the programme is to provide these graduates with a broad theoretical understanding of the agricultural sector in its broader scientific, economic and environmental context, on which key research skills and practical experiences will be built.

Integral to this Level 9 MSc is development of the student’s ability to work within a research setting by performing a research project based in one of the research groups or partner organisations in the PABC. The taught component will make use of 20 ECTS of discipline-specific modules have been developed within the PABC.

Specific aims of the MSc (AgriBiosciences) programme are:

1.To provide Level 8 students from different backgrounds with a broad and in-depth understanding of agribiosciences innovation relevant to agrifood systems and challenges.

2.To provide multi-disciplinary knowledge in classical and state-of-the-art research technologies and techniques applied in the agri-biosciences areas.

3.To provide multi-disciplinary training in research skills at basic and advanced levels by introducing students to a research environment.

4.To foster technical competencies and critical thinking abilities, and the ability to work towards research outputs.

5.To prepare graduates for more effective implementation of subsequent PhD research programmes leading to completion times less than 4 years.

6.To equip students for entry into the workplace, especially in the growing agribiosciences or agrifood sectors.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have an honours grade degree qualification in an area of relevance to PABC research activities. Where an applicant has a lower than honours grade BSc degree qualification (i.e., a level 7 BSc), but at least 3 years’ relevant work experience within the agricultural/biosciences area, a special case for admission on the grounds of Experiential Prior Learning will be considered in accordance with the University policies on Recognition of Prior Learning. This will be based on the applicant’s CV and an interview with the course coordinators. It is expected that the students will have applied through the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) prior to engaging industry on their specific application.

International students with suitable qualifications are encouraged to participate in the programme. Students from EU and partner states are able to participate in the full programme. Students can also participate in part of the proposed MSc programme using Erasmus+ mobility awards. Students from outside the EU are particularly welcome to participate and gain an important insight into an Irish perspective on the European agrifood industry and sector.

Applicants whose first language is not English must provide evidence of English language proficiency of IELTS 6.5 (no band less than 5.5 in each element) or equivalent.


Structured Masters by Research
Full-time: 1 year duration
Part-time: 2 years duration

Further enquiries

Prof. Charles Spillane & Dr. Peter McKeown,
Head of Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC)
Office ADB-2006,
Áras de Brún,
National University of Ireland Galway,
University Road,
Galway H91 REW4
T: +353 86 796 3624

Subjects taught

This will be a modular course and is a blend of 30 ECTS taught elements that provides a broad foundation of advanced knowledge of agribiosciences (Semester 1) and a 60 ECTS research project (Semester 2 & 3) to allow time for students to gain in-depth research exposure. It will run from September 2016 on a September-August (12 month) timescale.

Taught component (30 ECTS): The core modules of the MSc (AgriBiosciences) are all weighted at 5 ECTS and consist of:

1.AgriFood Career, Communication & Impact Pathway Skills

2.AgriFood Sustainability & Agri-Resilience Challenges

3.Understanding AgriBusiness & AgriFood Market Trends

4.Understanding Ireland’s Agriculture & AgriFood Sector

The course material will be delivered using a blended learning format (combination of face-to-face/traditional-format lectures, tutorials, self-directed learning and assignments) that not only delivers the information the students have to master, but also train them to perform independent research which can be placed in the broader context of its scientific, environmental and economic impacts. Site visits will form an important element of the training (see module descriptor forms). The 20 ECTS of PAB-specific modules are supplemented by a further 10 ECTS of GS modules currently available, chosen in consultation with the programme coordinators.

Research component (60 ECTS): The research project will be performed in a research group/lab of a PABC member or partner institution. Each Research Masters thesis will be examined by an internal and external examiner, as per the University Guidelines for Research Degree Programmes. It will provide research skills ranging from state-of-the-art technologies through data interpretation to experimental design and data presentation. Available research project titles in participating laboratories and field-sites of the PABC member groups, Teagasc and other programme-associated Institutes will be provided to students from which they choose their project options. Opportunities for multi-disciplinary projects with co-supervision, including with industry, will be encouraged. An assessment of the progress of each student will be performed by the their respective GRC at the end of Semester 2. Progression to Semester 3 will depend upon satisfactory completion of this assessment although we emphasise that students wishes to exit after partial completion of the course (e.g., as a Diploma) will be facilitated to do so.

Towards the end of Semester 3 (after concluding their experiments) the students will write their MSc (AgriBiosciences) thesis. In total, across Semesters 2 and 3 students will carry out a full time research project over 2x15 weeks (2x30 ECTS). The thesis will be evaluated by the research project-leading PI and a second PABC academic. An external examiner from a leading international agribiosciences institution will be responsible for oversight and guidance of the MSc (AgriBiosciences).

Each Research Masters thesis will be examined by an internal and external examiner, as per the University Guidelines for Research Degree Programmes.

Research areas

Areas of interest

The Plant and Agricultural Biosciences Centre comprises a range of inter-linked and synergistic research themes, where research projects and initiatives are currently underway. Students taking the Structured PhD in Plant & AgriBiosciences will be able to conduct their research with research groups of PABC and collaborating institutions.
Future Crop: Plants are the ultimate solar-powered biological systems selected by evolution. Humans are wholly dependent on plants for our survival, as plants are the basis of our food, feed (for animals & aquaculture), nutrition, fibre (for textiles), fuel, building materials, medicines, green chemicals and ecosystem services such as oxygen levels in the athmosphere and carbon management. Research in this theme focuses on plant/crop science and agronomy approaches to leverage plant and crop biosciences for "bio-based" sustainable development.
Algal Biosciences: Algae are predominantly photosynthetic organisms which occupy marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats and are involved in many biotic (e.g. symbiotic) interactions. Algae have wide and growing range of applications for provision of human food, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, industrial products including bioactives, and the provision of other bio-derived products including biofuels. For biotechnology, research on harnessing algae for useful products and services for humanity is in its infancy, with major opportunities for innovations.

Tree & Forestry: Forests directly support livelihoods through provision of fuelwood, sawtimber, paper, pulp. More than half of the wood biomass consumed globally, well over 80 percent in developing countries, is burned as fuel. Pulping waste can be used as a bio-derived source of industrial solvents, livestock feed, lubricants, consumer products (such as artificial vanillin) and medicines. Forests can be separated into planted and natural forest systems. While only 7 percent (271 million hectares) of the world’s forests are planted these forests are responsible for 66% of total global roundwood production.
AgriGlycosciences: Glycobiology involves the investigation of sugar chains (glycans) and their functional properties in biological organisms. Agri-glycobiology research underway in NUI Galway and with partner institutions involves increasing understanding of functional and biotechnological properties of sugar chains in livestock products (dairy, meat, eggs), in crops, algae and in plant-derived foods and products.
Food, Feed and Nutrition: Humans and livestock are in need of more nutritious, sustainable food and feed. The development of improved food and feed is critical to improving the health and nutritional status of ~1000 million people who are undernourished and the ~1000 million overweight. The doubling of demand for animal products (meat, dairy) between 2000 and 2030 is a key driver for more sustainable feed and protein supply systems, where feed conversion ratios are increased while reducing the environmental footprint associated with livestock (especially cattle) production.

PlantBioProducts, Agri-Microbial & Enzyme Biosciences: The global chemical manufacturing industry has a demand requirement for 400m tonnes of petrochemicals each year to generate feedstocks for manufacturing. In Ireland, the chemicals industry contributes 30,000 jobs, €35bn exports and ~35% of Irelands total exports. The PABC vision is to foster agrifood competitiveness while also advancing the plant-based bioeconomy. To generate the low-carbon bio-based economies of the future, there is a need to foster research and innovation to harness advances in chemical (e.g. thermochemistry, catalysis, green chemistry) and biological conversions (enzymology, metabolic engineering, metabolic compartmentalisation, synthetic biology) to generate different streams of value added products from plant/crop materials that can generate jobs and export earnings. Industrial biotechnology uses enzymes and microbes to make bio-based products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy (biofuels, biogas).

Closed-Loop AgriBio: Recent analyses of planetary boundary conditions highlight that agriculture is a major driver of environmental pollution (nitrogen, phosphorous, greenhouse gas). In the move to design circular sustainable economies to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, there is a need for agricultural production systems and value-chains to reduce their environmental footprint towards a more sustainable closed loop nutrient and energy recycling system. For example, phosphate reserves are finite and depleting towards a “peak phosphorous” scenario, yet are essential components of fertilisers. There is an urgent need to reduce nutrient loss from farming systems and value chains, while reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.

Smart Farm, AgriEngineering & AgriInformatics: Farmers and agrifood value chain stakeholders are poised to be empowered towards improved profitability and sustainability by the development of a suite of smart farm technologies that will emerge from a technological convergence that is underway. The development of smart-farm, precision-agriculture and smart-agriculture technologies and tools is already occurring through fast-paced advances and innovations. The PABC is working in partnership with others to develop the next generation of smart farm innovations.

Climate Change, Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS): The planet's climate is rapidly changing due to global warming, and will continue to do so for the decades and centuries ahead. This poses major challenges for future agricultural systems to provide food and other bioresources for the 9 billion people that will occupy the planet by 2050. The PABC is working in partnership with the global Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative, on research and training activities in Ireland and in Africa.

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