Prof Daniel Bradley’s genetic research into disease susceptibility in cattle has helped to shape national breeding strategies. This research is also feeding into the Economic Breeding Index, a single figure profit index aimed at helping farmers identify the most profitable bulls and cows for breeding dairy herd replacements. Prof Bradley’s work examines genetic factors underpinning specific bovine diseases, using whole genome comparisons between susceptible and resistant animals. Results from the project have already been incorporated into Ireland's custom genotyping chip used for testing of a million cattle.
Liver fluke infection (fasciolosis) is a global disease of farm animals and causes great losses to the agricultural community. UCD based veterinary parasitologist Prof Grace Mulcahy and her team have been seeking to understand of how liver fluke parasites interact with their animal hosts - cattle and sheep. From the mechanism of infection to how the flukes regulate host immune responses, this data will help explain how the parasites persist in the host, make animals more susceptible to other infections, and cause disease. Results from Prof Mulcahy's work will feed into the development of new effective vaccines to counteract the parasite and to protect farm animals from this disease.
Green Farm, a programme headed up by Prof Xinmin Zhan from NUI Galway, is investigating the possibility of using brown bin waste and animal manure for the purposes of bioenergy production and resource recycling. The majority of Ireland’s brown bin waste is sent abroad for processing or production of biogas through anaerobic digestion. The capture of biogas from organic waste is a complicated process but the recent addition of manure has proven beneficial in making the process more stable. Prof Zhan is looking into the possibility of developing biogas production plants on Irish farms, using animal manure and organic waste to produce energy and organic fertilizer. This will involve examination of the optimum operation procedure, composition of brown bin waste, the cost benefits and the biological safety of the fertilizer, but could prove a valuable advantage to Irish farming.
The production of dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt involves the fermentation of milk. This is carried out through the addition of bacteria known as a starter culture. Unfortunately, these starter cultures can be attacked by viruses called bacteriophages, resulting in fermentation slowing or failure. UCC based microbiologist Dr Jennifer Mahony is investigating how these bacteriophages are attacking the starter cultures and looking to develop tools to accurately detect and identify them. Results from this study will enable the dairy industry to design starter strain blends that are less susceptible to attack and help prevent the negative economic impact of bacteriophages infection.
Soil biomass is a measure of the biological content of soil such as bacteria and fungi. These organisms are particularly important in agriculture as they are involved in controlling nutrient uptake from the soil. The application of fertilisers or the on-site treatment of septic tank effluent can alter the soil biomass leading to excessive biological growth resulting in environmental pollution. Prof Andrew Fowler at the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) in UL is working on modelling systems which will anticipate these situations. Comparing natural and agricultural fields allows for assessment of different fertiliser regimes, and combined with models of on-site domestic wastewater treatment the results from this project will feed into future farm design and regulations.
The effect of UV-B radiation from sunlight is well known in humans, causing sunburn and damaging cell DNA. The same is true in plants, as high doses of UV-B radiation stunt growth. However, by carefully studying the mechanism by which UV-B rays interact with plant cells Prof Marcel Jansen, at UCC, has been able to direct the UV rays to create useful plant characteristics without negatively affecting plant growth or structure. Prof Jansen discovered that UV can be exploited to generate plants with improved flavour, colour and nutritional or pharmaceutical value, as well as generating sturdier plants with improved tolerance to international transport and/or transplanting. This is commercially important in the winter, when horticultural produce can be straggly and lacking in quality.
Infertility in dairy cows is a significant problem worldwide. A predicted 50% increase in milk production by 2020 due to abolition of milk quotas means addressing this issue has never been more important to the dairy industry in Ireland. With a long history into the study of animal reproduction, Prof Patrick Lonergan and his team in UCD have spent the last number of years examining the biology of early embryo development and the mechanisms involved in embryo development, particularly in cattle. Looking to identify factors which drive embryo development this project will hopefully result in a greater understanding of bovine infertility and mechanisms to improve embryo survival.