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GLOBAL RESEARCH INSTITUTES

New Postgraduate Research Studentships 2018/19

12/12/2017


Applications are now open for six new PhD programmes, funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). The deadline is Friday 26 January 2018 and details of each of the six studentships can be found below.

 

1. Promoting Food and Nutrition Security through Sustainable Value Chains in the Agri-food Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa

 

Supervisors:  Dr Martina Bozzola

                        Dr Alberto Longo

 

Background and significance of research: The second goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the global community to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Nowhere has this objective encountered more challenges than in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). SSA’s agricultural systems are under pressure to feed a growing population locally, while supplying agricultural commodities to global value chains. Despite this, SSA has fallen behind in the adoption of technologies essential to increase productivity, such as improved seed varieties. The development of sustainable value chains in the agri-food sector could be a challenging but powerful tool to devise trade mechanisms that are locally owned and sustainable. To date, researchers and policy makers alike still face gaps in understanding and addressing the main challenges and opportunities for smallholder farmers to participate in sustainable trade. More research is needed to understand how farmers’ participation in GVCs can be promoted in a manner that fosters decent economic growth, and enhances resilience to climate change, the effects of which are particularly severe in SSA countries. In turn, sustainable GVCs should promote sustainable local food systems while insuring that smallholder farmers become a reliable and sustainable part of global value.

Research aims: The project aims at enhancing understanding of how sustainable trade and inclusive participation of smallholder farmers in global value chains (GVCs) can be promoted, with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa countries. The project has two main goals: 1. Deliver high-level research outputs, outstanding from a methodological point of view, which could engage the research community and target leading academic journals (e.g. World Development, Food Policy). 2. Support and guide well-informed policy-making.

Academic requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Dr Martina Bozzola.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

2. Discovery and development of novel antimicrobials from microbiomes

 

SupervisorsDr Sharon Huws

                        Professor Brendan Gilmore (School of Pharmacy)

                        Dr Stephen Cochrane (School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering)

 

Background and significance of research: The global increase of multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria, combined with the decreasing number of novel and effective antibacterial agents being developed for the market, poses a serious global threat to human health. Urgency is required with respect to discovery and development of novel antibiotics, alongside antimicrobial stewardship and development of rapid tools to detect MDR bacteria. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), particularly cationic AMPs, are promising alternatives to currently available antibiotics, due to their broad spectrum activity against Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, and their rapid mode of action on the cytoplasmic membrane, which results in a decreased rate of resistance being developed by the targeted pathogens. However, synthetic generation of AMPs has produced very few if any viable AMPs for medical use, thus there is a need to further prospect from nature. Microbial communities offer a potential novel source of AMPs as although these microbes work symbiotically, they will also need to employ competitive behaviour on occasion for survival.

 

Research aims: The aims of this project are to discover, characterise and develop novel antimicrobial peptides from a range of gastrointestinal tract microbiomes for treatment of MDR bacteria, in particular Acinetobacter baumannii. Already available ‘omic data sets will be computationally prospected for potential AMP candidates initially and this will be followed by laboratory characterisation (Please see https://www.nature.com/articles/s41522-017-0042-1 for information on the pipelines commonly employed within the group)

 

Academic requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Dr Sharon Huws.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

3. Microbial eco-evolutionary adaptations and its implication on methane cycling

 

Supervisors:  Dr Deepak Kumaresan

                        Professor John McGrath

                       Dr Chris Allen

 

Background and significance of research: Methane (CH4) is an important greenhouse gas and has a global warming potential of 25 (by mass to CO2) over 100 years. After a brief downward trend, it has been shown that there is an increase in atmospheric CH4 concentration. It has been well established that microbes modulate CH4 flux that directly influences the global methane budget. Methanotrophs are organisms that can use methane as a sole carbon and energy source. These microbes play an important role in limiting methane emissions into the atmosphere and also have potential biotechnological applications e.g. producing single cell proteins using methane as a feedstock. Recently, we showed that long-term soil phosphorus deficiency could trigger functional response (lower emissions) within microbial functional guilds that modulate methane cycling. However, a detailed understanding of the eco-physiological mechanisms in methanotrophs, specifically in relation to nutrient stoichiometry, is scarce.

This project will study the eco-evolutionary adaptations of methanotrophic bacteria in different ecosystems, including rice paddies (China), Movile Cave (Romania) and hypersaline lakes (India). The PhD student will receive training in microbiology, molecular ecology tools (e.g. stable-isotope probing (SIP) enabled meta ‘Omics), bioinformatic tools and will experience working with international collaborators.

 

Research aims: The specific aims of the project are to:

i) determine the eco-physiological response of methanotrophs to different elemental stoichiometry status (using both in situ Multi - ‘Omics and isolate physiology) and

 

ii) assess the metabolic plasticity of methanotrophs and their ability to respond to changes in ecological niches.

 

Academic requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Dr Deepak Kumaresan.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

4. Clostridium difficile: an emerging zoonotic threat?

 

SupervisorsProfessor Geoff McMullan

                        Professor John McGrath

                        Dr Derek Fairley (Belfast Health and Social Care Trust)

 

Background and significance of research: Clostridia, a diverse group of anaerobic organisms, can be found as commensals in the GI Tract of humans and various other animals. Clostridium difficile, however, is an important human and animal pathogen. As the most common cause of infectious antibiotic-associated bacterial diarrhoea in healthcare settings worldwide infection (CDI) brings with it a concomitant impact upon human health and health care economics. C. difficile also poses a risk to animal welfare with the potential to negatively impact on animal production system economics. There are now widespread concerns of the role that pigs, and other animals, may play as reservoirs for potential zoonotic transmission of C. difficile. Whilst extensive characterisation of the organism’s pathogenesis, epidemiology and global spread have been carried out, the survival strategy of C. difficile in the challenging gut environment, of humans and animals, is still not fully understood.

Research aims: To provide a clearer understanding of the relationship between C. difficile strains circulating within human and animal populations; to characterize C. difficile strains and variants within diverse environmental niches; to develop a gut model system to investigate the impact of C. difficile strains upon other microorganisms. There will be an expectation that C. difficile strains of specific interest will undergo extensive genomic and phenotypic dissection to understand more the microbiology of this important organism.

Academic Requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Professor Geoff McMullan.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

5. Combining methods for sustainable control of nematodes in ruminants: epidemiology and evolution

 

Supervisors:  Professor Eric Morgan

                        Dr Nikki Marks

 

Background and significance of research: Resistance of nematodes to anthelmintic drugs threatens the sustainability of ruminant production worldwide. New tools at various stages of development include bioactive forages, nematocidal fungi, vaccines, and breeding for enhanced host immunity. These are likely to be used alongside anthelmintics in a ‘basket of options’ approach. So far, little attention has been paid to how these various options can best be combined in the control strategies of the future. It is widely assumed, for instance, that their action will be independent, leading to additive impacts on parasite populations, but this is not necessarily the case. In fact, effects will depend on both efficacy and epidemiology. For example, bioactive forages could be used following anthelmintic treatment to reduce the survival of resistant worms, but this depends on how well they work against resistant versus susceptible genotypes, whether such sequential grazing suits farm management, and climatic effects on subsequent larval development and survival. By comparing the efficacy of different control methods on worms surviving other treatments, and mapping the most powerful combinations onto farm management, we can refine control strategies to manage parasite evolution as well as levels of infection. Results will support sustainable agriculture in Northern Ireland and globally.

Research aims: The project aims to determine how the effects of different control methods for gastrointestinal nematodes in ruminants are correlated, using in vitro (laboratory) and in vivo (on-farm) approaches. The potential of alternative control methods to reduce onward transmission of resistant worms surviving drug treatment will be evaluated. Plans to apply the results will be co-produced with farmers, using epidemiological models to assess impacts under current and future climates.

Academic requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Professor Eric Morgan.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

6. Historical Biogeography of Agricultural systems: from the Holocene to the Anthropocene

 

Supervisor:  Dr Alejandro Ordonez Gloria

 

Background and significance of research: Food production economies independently emerged more than once over the last 8,000 years in what has been called the “Neolithic Revolution”. Factors such as warmer climates, emergence of seasonality, and physical geography shaped the differences in threatened food security at the turn of the Pleistocene- Holocene. As a result, hunter-gatherer societies turned to crop domestication during the “Neolithic Revolution” in order to control their food supplies in a variety of ways. Changes in plant communities and changes in human behaviour perhaps are a result of unpredictable climactic shifts. These changes coupled with regional differences in physical geography, soil fertility and local climate variations are the most likely drivers to explain the emergence of different origins around the globe. An unintended consequence of the newly created agro-ecosystems is the proliferation of unwanted specie (i.e. “weeds” and other “pests”), presumably at the expense of other wild species. These changes would in time result in the emergence of novel species assemblies (i.e. novel communities) with no historical analogue, a change that in time could result in new ecosystem functions and services emerging (i.e. novel ecosystems).

 

Research aims: The goal of this project is to evaluate: Where and when did plant domestication occur? What sorts of evolution and dispersal of domesticates took place during the last 8,000 years? And how did this change result in the emergence of novel ecosystems?

 

Academic requirements: A 2.1 UK Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject is required.

 

Funding: This project is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Full information on eligibility criteria is available from the DfE website.

 

Contact: For further information, please contact Dr Alejandro Ordonez Gloria.

 

How to apply: All applications must be submitted via the University’s Direct Applications Portal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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