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Plant & AgriBiosciences - Structured

Course overview

The Structured PhD in Plant & AgriBiosciences trains the student to perform cutting-edge, internationally-competitive research and training in a field related to Plant & AgriBiosciences. The student produces a research Thesis and takes dedicated PABC modules, supplemented with modules chosen from those provided for general NUI Galway graduate training. The Structured PhD in Plant & AgriBiosciences is offered in collaboration with Teagasc and other partner organizations, and prepares the student for a career or future research opportunities in plant & agribioscience areas.

Further enquiries

Prof. Charles Spillane & Dr. Peter McKeown
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

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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