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FoodBioSystems DTP - Improving nutrition efficiency and milk quality in dairy production


Project Description

Research Group: FOODBIOSYSTEMS BBSRC DTP

Milk is the most nutritious single food but also a major provider of saturated fatty acids (SFA) in the UK diets. Certain SFA may increase risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and health organisations have urgently recommended substitution of dietary SFA with cis-unsaturated FA (cis-UFA), to reduce CVDrelated illness. Producing milk, the main single source of fatty acids (FA) in human diets, with more cis-UFA and less SFA could contribute to this aim without requiring changes to consumer dietary habits. Additionally, the increasing global demand for milk and dairy products, and the competition for resources for food, feed and fuel require optimum use of resources in all aspects of dairy production. Improving feed use efficiency (FUE; more milk per given feed intake) and energy use efficiency (EUE; higher proportion of ingested energy retained in the body) increase farm profitability (lower feeding costs) and reduce environmental footprint (lower methane emissions) of milk production. Therefore, developing win-win management scenarios that simultaneously improve efficiency and milk nutritional quality are of paramount importance for future sustainability, and improving consumer perception, of the dairy sector. The aim of the proposed project is therefore to identify the animal, dietary, and management factors that improve FUE and EUE in dairy cows and enhance the nutritional quality of milk. This will be achieved via the following studies:

1. Investigate the effects, and the relative impact, of animal diet parameters on nutrition efficiency, methane emissions and milk quality; via a desktop study using existing data from animal studies at the University of Reading and Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

2. Investigate the relative impact of husbandry practices (breeding, feeding, management) on nutrition efficiency and milk quality at herd level; via analysis of data from existing farm questionnaires and analysis of milk samples for quality parameters that will take place during the project.


3. Reveal how rumen microbes influence metabolic pathways related to nutrition efficiency, methane emissions and milk quality under different dairy diets; via an animal trial that will take place at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, and metagenomics and metabolomics analyses that will take place at Queen’s University Belfast and University of Reading, respectively.

Training opportunities:


Training will be provided via all partners and will cover cross-disciplinary transferable skills to enhance student’s future career prospects. At the University of Reading, the student will be trained for statistical methods to analyse experimental data; gas chromatography techniques to analyse fatty acid profile of milk, feed and rumen fluid; and NMR-based metabolomics including chemometrics. At Queen’s University Belfast (during a 6-month visit) the student will be trained on metataxonomic and metagenomic sample processing, sequencing and downstream analysis. At Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (during a 6-month placement), the student will be trained on data and sample collection in animal metabolism trials and operation of calorimetric chambers. The development of other skills (e.g. research, writing, personal, work, presentation) will be monitored by the University of Reading, via Graduate School formal procedures, including a Learning Needs Appraisal (assessment of prior learning and identify/prioritise learning and development needs), and the Researcher Development Framework (personal development plan and implementation via a series of University workshops/courses).

Student profile:


This project is suitable for candidates who have a first-class or an upper second-class degree in a related science (e.g. animal science, veterinary, food science, biology), and a keen interest in animal nutrition/physiology, dairy science, laboratory analyses, -omics technologies and/or bioinformatics. Good skills on reviewing literature, attention to detail, time-management, organisation, teamwork and independent learning, are also required. An MSc in relevant science would be advantageous, but not essential.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the FoodBioSystems BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), it will be funded subject to a competition to identify the strongest applicants. Due to restrictions on the funding, this studentship is only open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years.

This project is a CASE studentship with AFBI (Hillsborough, UK). AFBI will provide approximately 6-month placement and provide additional financial support to the project consumables.

The FoodBioSystems DTP is a collaboration between the University of Reading, Cranfield University, Queen’s University Belfast, Aberystwyth University, Surrey University and Brunel University London. Our vision is to develop the next generation of highly skilled UK Agri-Food bioscientists with expertise spanning the entire food value chain. We have over 60 Associate and Affiliate partners. To find out more about us and the training programme we offer all our postgraduate researchers please visit View Website.

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