All Year 2010

NUI Galway Establishes Collaborative Research Programme on Africa's Staple Crops

Monday, 11 January 2010

Minister of State for Overseas Development, Mr Peter Power T.D. has announced details of funding for crop research involving collaborations between NUI Galway Botany and Plant Science and leading agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in the developing world. The research will facilitate efforts to increase agricultural productivity and improve nutrition and livelihoods of the rural poor in Africa. The Irish Aid support is directed towards the agricultural research institutes of the CGIAR, a coalition of fifteen international agricultural research centres located in developing countries. The mandate of the non-profit CGIAR research system is to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy, and environment. Irish plant scientist Professor Charles Spillane, who has previously worked for the CGIAR and is now Head of Botany and Plant Science at NUI Galway, indicated: "For strengthening of food and livelihood security in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is an urgent need for greater investment in such pro-poor research partnerships focussed specifically on the crops and varieties grown and consumed by the rural poor in Africa. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the CGIAR crop research centres, is now establishing such collaborations with Irish universities, including NUI Galway and University College Cork". Professor Spillane added: "There are a number of factors that are now rapidly converging to aggravate the state of food insecurity, including population increases, changing consumption patterns, growing demand for meat and dairy (especially grain-fed), growing demand for biofuels, scarcity of land and water, slowing of agricultural productivity, and adverse impacts of climate change. Britain s chief scientist Professor John Beddington warned at the Oxford Farming Conference of an emerging "perfect storm" of food, water and energy shortages by 2030, where food prices would rise, more people would go hungry, and people are likely to flee the worst-affected regions in their millions. To ensure food supplies at current consumption rates will require a doubling of food and animal feed production by 2050 through increases in productivity (yield per hectare) while using less energy, fertilisers and water. In this context, the research of the CGIAR and its partners worldwide is critical to generating the improvements in agricultural productivity and sustainability necessary to improve the food security situation for the world's poor". Professor Spillane indicated that the collaborative research projects with IITA will initially focus on approaches for improving productivity of East African Highland bananas, a major staple food crop grown by poor smallholder farmers and essential to the food security for over 20 million people in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa. This project will be conducted in collaboration with East African banana breeder Dr Jim Lorenzen based at IITA's research station in Kampala, Uganda. The second research project will pursue efforts to elevate vitamin A levels in varieties of yellow maize consumed by the poor across Africa, in order to provide valuable options for combating micronutrient deficiencies in malnourished children and adults. This project will be conducted in collaboration with maize breeder Dr Menkir Abebe, based at IITA's research headquarters in Ibadan, Nigeria. Minister Power said: "We know that over one billion people in the world are hungry today. We urgently need practical and sustainable solutions to reverse this unconscionable situation. Scientific research which is designed to improve agricultural productivity is critical to addressing the challenges of hunger and food security, particularly in the context of climate change and a growing world population. Ireland, because of our history and commitment to development, has played a pivotal role in the global fight against hunger. The eradication of hunger is a cornerstone of Irish Aid's overseas development programme". Professor Spillane also highlighted that the collaborative research with the CGIAR which Irish Aid is funding will contribute to the implementation of the Hunger Task Force recommendations. It will also play an important role in ongoing efforts to raise the profile of plant and agricultural research for international development within Irish universities, and developing a cadre of scientists in Ireland who are focused on research for development. Professor Spillane stressed that we have now entered an era where increases in food production and agricultural productivity will have to be achieved in combination with efforts to ensure more equitable access to food, if global food insecurity and malnutrition is to be reduced to meet the Millennium Development Goals. -Ends-

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Research Scientist to Deliver Lecture on Human Evolution at NUI Galway

Friday, 8 January 2010

Dr Peter Andrews, retired head of the Human Origins Group at the Natural History Museum in London, will deliver a lecture on Human Evolution on Tuesday, 19 January, at NUI Galway. Dr Andrew's talk will be based on a survey of new hominid fossil finds and their significance to human evolution, with a slant towards Darwin and his contributions to the subject of evolution. The lecture will take place at 8pm in the MRI Annex Theatre, NUI Galway. Event organiser and NUI Galway Lecturer in Palaeontology with Earth and Ocean Sciences, John Murray, is currently working with Dr Andrews at a pre-neanderthal cavesite in Nagorno Karabagh, Southern Caucasus. During his visit, Dr Andrews will examine the Neanderthal skull-cap in the James Mitchell Geology Museum at NUI Galway. Speaking in advance of the lecture Mr Murray said: "This particular specimen is actually the 'plastotype' for neanderthal people. In 1864 William King, Professor of Geology at Galway, coined the term Homo neanderthalensis and he remains the first individual to ever successfully name a new species of human". Speaking about the upcoming lecture Dr Andrews said: "The past few years have seen exciting new discoveries at all stages of human evolution, and I will be reviewing recent evidence on six stages of human evolution. These include the divergence of the ape and hominin lineages, the development of upright bipedal walking, the origin of stone tool industries, the first emigration of hominin species out of Africa leading to the spread of hominins globally, including Flores, the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa and when and where human populations spread out of Africa into the rest of the world". Although now retired, Dr Andrews is still actively involved in research particularly in the areas of human and primate evolution, palaeoecology of Neogene environments, and taphonomy of vertebrate bones. Since his retirement from the Natural History Museum, London in 2000 he has been the curator of Blandford Museum, Dorset. He has also retained emeritus position at the Natural History Museum and his honorary position of professor at the University of London. He has written and edited ten books and more than 200 articles in the scientific and popular press. On Wednesday, 20 January, Dr Andrew will travel to Trinity College Dublin, where he will deliver the annual New Year address to the Irish Geological Association. -Ends-

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'Silent Epidemic' of Chronic Pain affects One in Three People

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

NUI Galway researchers have deemed chronic pain a 'silent epidemic' in Ireland, having found that one in three people suffer from the condition. The finding is part of the preliminary results of the PRIME Study (Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Pain in Ireland), being led by NUI Galway, which is the first large scale project to examine the problem of chronic pain in the country. To date, only one study on chronic pain using market research methods has been available, and that data suggested that chronic pain affected 13% of the Irish population. The PRIME team found that among 1,200 randomly selected adults, a significant 35.5% were suffering from chronic pain. Principal Investigator of the study, Co-Director of the Centre for Pain Research and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at NUI Galway, Dr Brian McGuire said: "Chronic pain is pain that lasts for at least three months. One in three people in our study reported having chronic pain for an average of seven years – many of these people reported significant suffering, disability and reduced quality of life. In some ways, it could be regarded as a 'silent epidemic". The research, funded by the Health Research Board and HSE, found that there was no significant difference among men and women in rates of pain. However, pain did increase with age, with 28.2% reporting pain in the 18-34 age group, increasing to 50% of those aged 65 and over. Dr McGuire also flagged the cost to society of chronic pain: "The high level of disability associated with chronic pain is costing the health system and society as a whole in Ireland. There is also a high level of psychological suffering, while some people cope very well and manage their pain, others really struggle to cope with it". As to the source of pain, the lower back (47.2%) was the most commonly cited. This was followed by the knee (30.4%), neck (29.7%) and shoulder (27.3%). However, many respondents had pain in multiple areas. The study has also gathered data regarding the cost of chronic pain and this report will be available shortly – preliminary analysis points to a very significant cost to individuals and to the health system. The research team is also following up with participants to determine how many people still have pain one year later. The PRIME research team includes Miriam Raftery, Researcher at the Centre for Pain and Research and School of Psychology, NUI Galway; Andrew Murphy, Professor of General Practice, NUI Galway; Professor Charles Normand, Health Economist, TCD; Dr Davida de la Harpe, Population Health, HSE; and Dr Kiran Sarma, School of Psychology, NUI Galway. PRIME is funded in partnership by the Health Research Board and Health Service Executive. -ends-

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Paddy Ryan Memorial Lecture 2010

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

'Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Policy Making in a Time of Economic Crisis' Galway Chamber, NUI Galway and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology have announced details of the third Paddy Ryan Memorial Lecture to honour the memory of the late Paddy Ryan, which will take place on Monday, 18 January at 8pm in Áras Moyola, NUI Galway. Dr Alan Ahearne, Special Advisor to Mr Brian Lenihan T.D., Minister for Finance, has been announced as the guest speaker and will be presented with a specially commissioned medal designed by the artist and sculpture Padraic Reaney following his lecture entitled 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Policy Making in a Time of Economic Crisis.' The lecture will be followed by an open questions and answers session. Economist and commentator, Dr Ahearne, currently on leave of absence from positions at NUI Galway and at Bruegel, the influential Brussels-based economics think tank, will give his view on the country's current economic situation. He said: "Ireland is beginning to emerge from the most severe recession in our history. Policymakers have been battling to stabilise the economy amid a perfect economic storm. My talk will look at how current economic policy is setting the seeds for recovery". President of NUI Galway, Dr James J. Browne commented: "NUI Galway is very proud to be associated with The Paddy Ryan Memorial Lecture, which honours Paddy Ryan's lifetime of public service. We are particularly pleased to welcome Dr Alan Ahearne back to campus for what promises to be a most insightful lecture on the current global economic situation". President of GMIT Marion Coy said: "The Institute is delighted to be part of this event at a time when business in the West of Ireland is facing significant challenges. The life and work of Paddy Ryan continues to inspire those who believe that we must take decisive action to shape our own destiny". The event alternates between GMIT and NUI Galway on an annual basis and the presentation medallion is kindly sponsored by Schneider Electric IT Logistics Europe (formerly APC). The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception. Please RSVP to or phone Elaine on 091 563536. -Ends-

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NUI Galway Researchers Find Disinfectants May Promote Growth of Superbugs

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Using disinfectants could cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics as well as the disinfectant itself, according to NUI Galway research published in the January issue of Microbiology. The findings could have important implications for how the spread of infection is managed in hospital settings. Research carried out by a team affiliated with the Immunity and Infectious Disease Research Cluster and the Discipline of Microbiology in the School of Natural Sciences, found that by adding increasing amounts of disinfectant to laboratory cultures of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the bacteria could adapt to survive not only the disinfectant but also ciprofloxacin - a commonly-prescribed antibiotic - even without being exposed to it. The researchers showed that the bacteria had adapted to more efficiently pump out antimicrobial agents (disinfectant and antibiotic) from the bacterial cell. The adapted bacteria also had a mutation in their DNA that allowed them to resist ciprofloxacin-type antibiotics specifically. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic bacterium that can cause a wide range of infections in people with weak immune systems and those with diseases such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and diabetes. P. aeruginosa is an important cause of hospital-acquired infections. Disinfectants are used to reduce the number of bacteria on surfaces to prevent their spread. If the bacteria manage to survive and go on to infect patients, antibiotics are used to treat them. Bacteria that can resist both these control points may be a serious threat to hospital patients. Importantly, the study showed that when very small non-lethal amounts of disinfectant were added to the bacteria in culture, the adapted bacteria were more likely to survive compared to the non-adapted bacteria. Dr Gerard Fleming, who led the study, said: "In principle this means that residue from incorrectly diluted disinfectants left on hospital surfaces could promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What is more worrying is that bacteria seem to be able to adapt to resist antibiotics without even being exposed to them". Dr Fleming also stressed the importance of studying the environmental factors that might promote antibiotic resistance. "We need to investigate the effects of using more than one type of disinfectant on promoting antibiotic-resistant strains. This will increase the effectiveness of both our first and second lines of defence against hospital-acquired infections," he said. The investigation was directed by NUI Galway's Dr Gerard Fleming and also involved Dr Paul McCay and Dr Alain Ocampo Soso. Dr McCay was funded by Science Foundation Ireland under a Research Frontiers Programme, and supported by an IRCSET Postgraduate Research Fellowship, and Dr Alain Ocampo Soso was until recently, a researcher with the EU Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge Programme (GAMIDI) at NUI Galway. For the full article, see online content from the Society for General Microbiology journal Microbiology (subscription required). -Ends-

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