Latest News

Latest News

Queen’s and NASA join forces in major international investigation into ‘solar flares’

A major new collaboration between the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) at Queen’s University Belfast and American space agency NASA is set to investigate ‘solar flares’ and their potential to cause disruption here on Earth. Essentially explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere, solar flares result in significant increases in ultra-violet radiation. While the physics behind this phenomenon is still unknown, the increased UV radiation and the associated solar storms can disrupt radio communication and GPS, with potentially dangerous knock-on effects for a range of activities including air-traffic control and search-and-rescue missions. Solar storms can also be associated with the visual spectacle known as the Northern Lights which is caused by charged particles streaming from the Sun. NASA, in conjunction with the Catholic University of America, has awarded $330,000 to the project which will be headed up by internationally renowned Queen’s researcher, Dr Ryan Milligan, and straddle Queen’s and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington DC. Dr Milligan said: “Solar flares can have significant effects on modern life. For example, they can throw GPS off by quite significant distances – tens of metres – so considering how many services now rely on GPS, that’s a lot of potential for chaos. As a society, we are starting to come to terms with the significance of all of this. The UK Met Office has recently begun research into ‘space weather’ while the insurance brokers Lloyds of London have classified solar flares as a major insurance risk. My job is to understand the physics behind these explosions. The more we can understand how and why they happen, the more we can try to predict them and hence, to mitigate their effects.” Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s, Professor Stephen Smartt said: “Over the last few years, Ryan’s work has had major international impact and the NASA grant he was awarded shows his growing reputation as a renowned scientist. It is a pleasure to have him at Queen's as a visiting fellow and for us to collaborate with him on this project. Ryan is an excellent student mentor and we hope to offer opportunities for local students to travel to the Goddard Space Flight Center to experience research in a NASA institute.” Dr Milligan’s research is based on data from the ‘Solar Dynamics Observatory’ spacecraft, NASA’s flagship Living With A Star Program mission, which was launched into space almost five years ago to analyse the interaction of the Sun with the Earth’s atmosphere. A former HGV driver from Co Down, Dr Milligan worked as a research associate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for five years after completing his undergraduate degree and PhD as a mature student at Queen’s. To find out more about ARC, see http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/ Ends  For more information please contact Una Bradley on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy on 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) at Queen’s Communications Office or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s scientists in hospital superbugs breakthrough

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have made a breakthrough in the fight against the most resistant hospital superbugs. The team from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s have developed the first innovative antibacterial gel that acts to kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa, staphylococci and E.coli using natural proteins. The gels have the ability to break down the thick jelly-like coating, known as biofilms, which cover bacteria making them highly resistant to current therapies, while leaving healthy cells unaffected. Dr Garry Laverty, from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University, and lead researcher, said: “When bacteria attach to surfaces, including medical implants such as hip replacements and catheters, they produce a jelly-like substance called the biofilm. This protective layer is almost impossible for current antibiotics to penetrate through. Therefore bacteria deep within this protective layer are resistant as they remain unexposed to the therapy. They grow and thrive on surfaces to cause infections that are very difficult to treat. The only option is often to remove the medical implant leading to further pain and discomfort for the patient. Our gels would prevent this. “Our gels are unique as they target and kill the most resistant forms of hospital superbugs. It involves the use of gels composed of the building blocks of natural proteins, called peptides. The same ingredients that form human tissue. These molecules are modified slightly in the laboratory to allow them to form gels that will rapidly kill bacteria. This is further evidence of Queen’s research advancing knowledge and changing lives.” The new approach, which was developed as part of an international collaboration between the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s and the School of Chemistry at Brandeis University, Waltham, USA, is published in the journal Biomacromolecules next month. The results will form part of a presentation delivered by Dr Laverty at the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UK PharmSci: The Science of Medicines conference at the University of Hertfordshire on the 8th September 2014. The full paper can be viewed online at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bm500981y Ends Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3087 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s University offers advice for A-level results students

Queen’s University has issued advice to students who received their A-level results last week. Jennifer Dwyer, Head of Queen’s Admissions and Access Service, said: “This can be an anxious time for A-level students and their families and it is important that they have as much information as possible at this time so they can make informed decisions. "The University receives A-level and AS-level results directly from UCAS and candidates do not need to communicate their results to the University. Students will be contacted if any results appear to be missing. Those who did not take an examination listed on their application should let the University know without delay.” Decisions made by Queen's, the University of Ulster, and Stranmillis University College are posted on a website hosted by Queen's and are updated twice each day. The address is www.qub.ac.uk/ucas. This also carries the most comprehensive details and is the simplest way to find out about the status of an application and Clearing vacancies. Details are also published on the UCAS website at www.ucas.com. Applicants who achieve the exact grades or points specified in their conditional offer should have their place confirmed through UCAS following the publication of results. These applicants do not need to telephone the university or college. The only official notification is through UCAS which will advise applicants by email that there has been an update on Track. Successful applicants must log into Track to read their AS12 letter to find out what action they need to take. This varies depending on the preferences of individual universities. Students who do better than expected can, through the Adjustment process, hold their offer while they look for an alternative course. It may be difficult, however, to find a vacancy on a high demand course. Full details are available on the UCAS website http://www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/undergraduate/results/better-than-expected. Students who average out or narrowly miss the grades required may still be accepted for their original choice and this has been more common in recent years because of the changes to Student Number Controls, which have resulted in additional places becoming available at a number of universities. However, it may be a few days before this can be confirmed because of the fluidity of the situation. Please be assured that the priority of universities is to communicate decisions as quickly as possible and that every effort is made to accommodate as many applicants as possible on the course of their choice or a suitable alternative. Queen’s has provided all students holding offers with an Enquiry Form. This should be returned to the University as soon as possible if they want to be considered for an alternative course, in the event that they are unsuccessful for their original choice. Assuming Queen’s can help, a changed course offer would be made. This is simpler than going through Clearing. Any student unable to gain admission to either their firm or insurance choice, and who is not offered an acceptable alternative course, will be eligible to participate in the Clearing process. Details of Clearing vacancies appear in the national press, on www.ucas.com and on university websites. Students must be pro-active, as Clearing vacancies usually disappear quickly. Alternatively, some students may decide to repeat one or more subjects and reapply for 2015 entry. Any student considering this option should check with the institution concerned about receiving an offer as a repeat candidate, and remember the entry requirements may be different. Jennifer Dwyer added: “It is crucial to make decisions sensibly at this time of year and not to accept alternative courses, or Adjustment or Clearing places without careful consideration. There are many people who can help. Students unsure about which option to pursue should discuss their situation carefully with their parents, their school or college or the Careers Service of the Department for Employment and Learning.” Advice Lines Queen’s will operate advice lines to ensure that students receive the guidance they need. The telephone number to use is 028 9097 3838 (multiple lines) lines will open from 9.30am to 6.00pm. Further information on opening times can be found online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/NewStudents/ On Monday, 18 August, a personal advice session will be held in the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm. On the same day, a short presentation for Medical/Dental applicants, followed by a question and answer session, will also take place in the Lecture Theatre South in the Medical Biology Centre on the Lisburn Road (adjacent to the Belfast City Hospital site), commencing at 2.30 pm sharp. Further details and FAQs are also available at http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/NewStudents/ Media inquiries to the Communications Office. Tel: 028 90 97 3091 or email comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Festival hits high note with new music sponsors

The 2014 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, Ireland’s leading international contemporary arts Festival, has announced two new sponsors for key music strands of this year’s programme.   Leading telecoms provider O2 International Sim and Belfast Harbour have added their support as sponsors of the Music Club and the Classical Music elements respectively – both of which will showcase a diverse spectrum of the world’s leading musical talent in venues across the city from 16th October- 1st November as part of this year’s Festival. Richard Wakely, Director, Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, commented “For 17 days the city of Belfast will be buzzing to the beat of music from all over the world and this would not be possible without the support of our sponsors and public sector funders. We are delighted to be welcoming two new sponsors, O2 International Sim and Belfast Harbour and look forward to working closely with them over the coming months and alongside our Title Sponsor, Ulster Bank, Principal Funder, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Queen’s University, Belfast City Council, British Council, Arts & Business NI and Department for Social Development – as together we celebrate the positive and transforming role of the arts to our city.” Belfast Harbour will align their sponsorship to the classical programming of the festival, which features a range of high quality performances from award-winning acts from Sweden, Switzerland, UK and Ireland, which will be revealed on the Festival’s 4th September launch.  Highlight events which are currently on sale include three performances from our very own Ulster Orchestra featuring visiting artists of international repute, including a thrilling opening concert of ‘Four Distinct Moods in Music’ with outstanding young Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov, an evening of ‘Classics Though The Ages’ with works by Haydn, Brahms, Strauss and Stravinsky and ‘Fanfare to Fate’ which celebrates the work of local composer Simon Mawhinney alongside those pf Beethoven andTchaikovsky and featuring world-renowned pianist Barry Douglas On launching the partnership, Roy Adair, Chief Executive, Belfast Harbour said: "Belfast Harbour is strongly committed to the people and communities we reach and believe that engaging with arts will help build a sustainable society. Facilitating access to the arts is a key dimension of our community engagement strategy and we are delighted to form this partnership with the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. The Festival is a major highlight of the local arts calendar and we look forward to seeing the international talent showcased during the classical music programme." The Festival’s Music Club returns for 2014 and is presented in association with O2 International Sim. Sponsorship of the festival and Music Club in particular, offers O2 the potential to reach a high number of festival goers, of which there were 45,000 in 2013, to promote their latest offers including the O2 international sim brand incorporating an international sim card for calls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  The Music Club features a number of unmissable Irish and Northern Ireland premieres from soul, folk and blues legends, all to be revealed at the Festival’s launch on 4th September.     ? "O2 International Sim is really excited to be partnering with the Music Club and the wider festivities of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. As a brand, it has a strong legacy of supporting the arts, especially live music so the opportunity to work with the Festival was too good to miss. O2 International Sim can bring great benefits to festival goers and the the people of Northern Ireland, they can call Ireland from just 1p. They only have to top up €15 to enjoy free O2 to O2 calls, as well as 100mb of data. O2 International Sim is looking forward to interacting with the Irish community and the famous Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's atmosphere to promote its great calling rates, data top up offers and coverage it has to Ireland and the rest of the World."  The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s presents great and diverse works of art from home and abroad and brings audiences something very special that they cannot see elsewhere all combining to deliver one unique festival which runs throughout the city from 16 October – 1 November.  The 2014 festival features performers from 18 different countries covering classical and contemporary music, film, dance, theatre, talks and visual arts, many of which are EU, UK and Ireland premieres.  First shows are now on sale with further booking information to be announced in the coming weeks. For more information, Check-in to www.belfastfestival.com? Further information from: Angela Warren /07849561919/ festivalpress@qub.ac.uk  

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Boost for cancer prevention research

Queen’s University scientists are helping to spearhead a new £6 million initiative to find better ways to prevent cancer. The new initiative, led by Cancer Research UK with matching investment from the BUPA Foundation, aims to support cutting-edge research to find better ways to prevent cancer. It is estimated that more than four in ten cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, keeping a healthy body weight, cutting back on alcohol, eating a healthy diet, keeping active and staying safe in the sun. Professor Frank Kee, who directs the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research in Northern Ireland at Queen’s University, has been invited to join the International Advisory Board (IAB) of the new Cancer Prevention Science Initiative. Professor Kee, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Advancing knowledge and changing lives is at the core of what we do at Queen’s University. I am honoured to be part of this initiative which aims to do just that. It is a tribute to the CRUK and BUPA that a bold new initiative like this has been developed. It shows how major research funders want to support prevention science and the value they place in the sort of collaborations across disciplines that are required to fight cancer. Building capacity in this area is vital if new discoveries are ever to be translated into better outcomes for patients and the population.” “I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with Professor Linda Bauld, the new Cancer Research UK Prevention Champion and with the IAB, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of this initiative in years to come.” Professor Kee also spoke on Creativity in Science at last week’s inaugural ‘Sandpit’ event for of the new Cancer Prevention Science Initiative in Oxford. The sandpit provided an opportunity for early career researchers across the country from a wide variety of backgrounds to work with research users and stakeholders to generate novel ideas that could lead to new interventions for cancer prevention. Dr Helen Coleman, Cancer Research UK Fellow and Lecturer in the UKCRC Centre of Excellence at Queen’s joined the ‘Sandpit’ as one of the mentors and facilitators for the participating early career researchers and was able to share her experience of working at the boundaries of different disciplines to drive new forward insights in prevention science. Cancer Research UK research strategies are placing an increasing focus on prevention science in the battle against cancer and the new initiative will build upon their commitment to the UKCRC Centres of Excellence for Public Health Research. For further information on the initiative visit: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for-researchers/how-we-deliver-research/our-research-partnerships/bupa-foundation-cancer-prevention-initiative Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3091 email: comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s University awarded £500,000 to tackle global food fraud

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have received £500,000 to investigate global food fraud and help prevent criminal activity within the industry. The two year project will investigate vulnerabilities in food supply chains and evaluate effective ways to improve consumer trust in food and its producers. Queen’s was awarded one of only five grants from the ‘Understanding the Challenges of the Food System’ call by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency, under the Global Food Security programme. Professor Chris Elliott and Dr Moira Dean from the Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security and their colleagues from the School of Law & Institute for Study of Conflict Transformation, in collaboration with Dr John Spink from Michigan State University will undertake a high level analysis of vulnerabilities across a number of important food supply chains. The team will also look at potential business impacts from fraudulent practice and investigate the impact of food fraud on the consumer and test the effectiveness of fraud prevention strategies in enhancing consumer trust in food products and producers. Professor Chris Elliott said: “There are a growing number of reports of fraud and criminal activity in global food supply systems. These are causing huge concerns to governmental agencies and to the food industry. Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase. This Queen’s University led study will play a very important role in ascertaining where the major vulnerabilities are and how best to deal with them. Helping to restore consumer trust is a key objective of our work. “The current food protection systems are not designed to look for the never-ending number of potential adulterants that may show up in the food supply. As criminal activity by design is intended to elude detection, new tools and approaches to the supply chain management are called for. “This project will explore how other countries deal with issues of food safety and analyse legal law cases which relate to fraud. Based on an assumption that fraudsters will exploit any intelligence gathering system it will also examine current and potential models of data collection and intelligence sharing and test their vulnerabilities to future fraudulent attacks. This will help to develop a novel data collection sharing system that is more robust and secure.” Throughout this two year project Professor Elliott and his team will also combine theories and methods from psychology, political economy, sociology, anthropology, criminology and law, with natural science disciplines to help determine how fraud can happen and what measures could be put in place to prevent it from happening in the future. Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: “We’re delighted to come together with the Food Standards Agency to fund innovative research into important areas which underpin UK food security. The projects that are being funded will deal with priorities such as resilience, safety and security, food price volatility and supply chain management - all of which are recognised as yielding important social science research challenges to be addressed for the mutual benefit of the food industry and consumers alike.”

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Medical researcher’s work on respiratory illnesses reduces need for animal testing

A major research project into respiratory illness, which reduces the need for animal testing, has been recognised internationally. Leading the pioneering study, Rebecca Clarke from Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, was awarded a €50,000 grant from herbal-medicine producer Bionorica to continue her research into respiratory illness, using human stem cells rather than traditional testing on mice, rats and guinea pigs. The research grant will allow Rebecca to undertake further study of common ailments such as coughs and asthma within the Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. She explained: “My PhD project was about establishing an alternative model for drug screening rather than using animal testing. It’s the first in-vitro model of its kind and it will be very exciting to work alongside Bionorica in applying it to plant-based therapies. “What I did was to isolate cells from human dental pulp and differentiate them into neuronal cells. Using this model, I was able to demonstrate that they looked and behaved like nerves, particularly in their expression of channels that sense environmental irritants. That opened the door to me being able to explore the behaviour of sensory nerves in the airways of the human body – their response to stimuli such as cold air or cigarette smoke and whether these responses could be mitigated by plant-based medicines.” Ms Clarke is due to complete her PhD in September but will use her prize money to fund a year’s post-doctoral research, using her neuronal model, at Queen’s. Her PhD was funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. Although she acknowledges that animal testing has its place in medical research, she believes it’s important to develop models that will accurately predict human responses. She said: “In this particular area of research, it has been noted that there are marked differences between species, so I wanted to develop a human model that would deliver more representative results. Human airway nerves are extremely difficult to study, making it hard to come up with cures for common respiratory ailments, so that was another reason for wanting to develop a new model.” Ms Clarke was one of only 20 recipients worldwide of the Bionorica Global Research Initiative 2014 award and the only winner from the island of Ireland. Consultant Physician and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at Queen’s, Dr Lorcan McGarvey said: “Rebecca has worked extremely hard and we are delighted with her award. She has helped develop an important model that will help us better understand the role of sensory nerves in chronic pain and cough.” Pharmacist and CEO of Bionorica, Dr Michael Popp said: “Such a large and high-quality response to the first-time call for submissions proves that herbal medicine is gaining further relevance among the scientific community.” For more information on Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity see http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity For media inquiries please contact Michelle Cassidy on 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or Una Bradley on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) at Queen’s Communications Office or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s scientist to help find new options to treat aggressive breast cancers

A Queen’s University scientist has been awarded a grant worth around £100,000 by research charity Breast Cancer Campaign to investigate if the protein ‘PIN1’ could be used to provide new options to treat patients with more aggressive forms of breast cancer. 50,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year on average and 12,000 women sadly die from the disease each year on average. Around 15 per cent of breast cancers are found to be ‘triple-negative’- a type of breast cancer that tends to be more aggressive and has limited treatment options.  In some cases of triple-negative breast cancer (and the related ‘basal-like’ breast cancer), a protein called BRCA1 does not work normally. Dr Niamh O’Brien, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast, says: “Currently, there are drugs in development which could treat breast cancers that lack a working BRCA1 protein, but it is difficult to identify which patients would benefit from these drugs. Identifying the right treatment for a particular patient will greatly improve their chances of survival and help stop more people dying from breast cancer.” “At Queen’s University we are committed to world leading research which advances knowledge and changes lives and thanks to the funding from Breast Cancer Campaign we are able to continue this.” Dr O’Brien has previously identified that the production of the PIN1 protein is increased in breast cancer cells which have faulty BRCA1 genes. She believes that PIN1 might therefore be used as the basis of a test to indicate which patients would benefit from these drugs. Using lab-grown breast cancer cells, Dr O’Brien will find the link between the faulty BRCA1 genes and the increase in PIN1 protein production. Using samples from breast tumours donated by patients, Dr O’Brien will also find out whether PIN1 could be used to predict the likelihood of a patient’s breast cancer spreading, and whether they will respond to existing treatments. Katherine Woods, Research Communication Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Triple-negative and basal-like breast cancer tend to be more aggressive types of the disease, but sadly there are currently no targeted treatments available. “Dr O’Brien’s research could greatly improve the chances of survival for people with more aggressive forms of the disease and bring us one step closer to our goal that by 2025 more improved and personalised treatments for breast cancer will reduce mortality from the disease by half.”

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Bats use polarised light to navigate

Queen’s University scientists have discovered that greater mouse-eared bats use polarisation patterns in the sky to navigate, making it the first mammal that is known to do this. The bats use the way the sun’s light is scattered in the atmosphere at sunset to calibrate their internal magnetic compass, which helps them to fly in the right direction, according to a study published in Nature Communications. Despite this breakthrough, researchers have no idea how they manage to detect polarised light. Dr Richard Holland, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, co-author of the study, said: “We know that other animals use polarisation patterns in the sky, and we have at least some idea how they do it: bees have specially-adapted photoreceptors in their eyes, and birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles all have cone cell structures in their eyes which may help them to detect polarisation.  But we don’t know which structure these bats might be using.” Polarisation patterns depend on where the sun is in the sky. They are clearest in a strip across the sky 90 degrees from the position of the sun at sunset or sunrise. But animals can still see the patterns long after sunset. This means they can orient themselves even when they cannot see the sun, including when it is cloudy. Scientists have even shown that dung beetles use the polarisation pattern of moonlight for orientation. A hugely diverse range of creatures – including bees, anchovies, birds, reptiles and amphibians – use the patterns as a compass to work out which way is north, south, east and west. Stefan Greif, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, lead author of the study, said: “Every night through the spring, summer and autumn, bats leave their roosts in caves, trees and buildings to search for insect prey. They might range hundreds of kilometres in a night, but return to their roosts before sunrise to avoid predators. But, until now, how they achieved such feats of navigation was not clear.” Even so, previous studies suggested that bats might detect polarisation patterns when they emerge from their caves at dusk. He said: “Most people are familiar with bats using echolocation to get around. But that only works up to about 50 metres, so we knew they had to be using another of their senses for longer range navigation.” In a bid to shed light on the matter the team at Queen’s University and colleagues from Tel Aviv University showed 70 adult, female mouse-eared bats one of two different types of polarisation patterns at sunset. They then took them to one of two release sites in Bulgaria about 20 to 25 kilometres from their home roost. They released the bats at 01:00am – when no polarisation is visible – and followed the direction they set off in using small radio transmitters attached to their backs. They found the bats that had been shown a shifted pattern of polarised light headed off in a direction shifted at right angles from the controls released at the same time. Bats probably use a suite of senses, including the position of the sun or the stars, the earth’s magnetic field, smells, sight, and of course, echolocation to navigate. Many bat species are declining across Europe, despite being protected. Ironically, wind turbines are seriously harming their populations. Dr Holland, said: “We know that bats must be ‘seeing’ the turbines, but it seems that the air pressure patterns around working turbines give the bats what’s akin to the bends.  It is most common in migratory species, with around 300,000 bats affected every year in Europe alone. You just find bats dead at the bottom of these turbines. One option is to reduce turbine activity during times of peak migration. Bats provide a vital service that tends to be overlooked – they are natural pest controllers. It is estimated that they save us millions of pounds in pesticides by eating insects.  Anything we can do to understand how they get about, how they move and navigate will be a step forward in helping to protect them.” The study was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council grant to Dr Richard Holland and by the Max Planck Society.Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Queen’s University Communications Office, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3087 email: c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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