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Innovative methods of identifying toxigenic fungi in Irish cereal grain, to protect human and animal food chains

   School of Biological Sciences

  , Dr Lisa Black  Sunday, July 31, 2022  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Project aims

The overarching aim is to develop new tools for improved monitoring and prediction of toxigenic fungal and mycotoxin contamination of cereals produced on the Island of Ireland.


Fungal contamination of agricultural commodities by mycotoxigenic fungi represents a huge concern for global food security in terms of feeding the world’s growing population with sufficient and safe food. Not only do these Fusarium fungi reduce crop yield and quality, but they also produce substantial numbers of mycotoxins, which have deleterious effects on human and animal health.  Due to a changing climate, mycotoxigenic fungi infestation of Irish cereal crops pose a greater threat to food safety and security than ever before.

Research plan

The successful student will compile a range of cereal grain samples (oats and barley) while conducting a survey of Irish crops and sampling a range of experimental field trials. They will optimise state-of-the-art ambient mass spectrometry, next generation sequencing and digital polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technologies for the high-throughput detection, identification, and quantification of toxigenic Fusarium species in cereal samples.  A validated liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) will also be used to quantify regulated, emerging, and masked mycotoxins in grain samples.  Data generated will be used to determine the influence of agronomic practises and climatic factors on the incidence of mycotoxin infestation of cereals, the prevalence of mycotoxigenic Fusarium strains and the development of Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) disease.

Student development

This studentship will provide training in a wide range of transferable skills. These include chemical and DNA extraction and analyses, cell culture, molecular biology, and the use of analytical techniques such as PCR, LC-MS/MS, ambient mass spectrometry, nanodrop spectrophotometer and sequencing methods, as well as gaining a good foundation in cereal agronomy and field research methods. The project also offers a unique opportunity for networking with leading scientists from other EU institutes, as part of a wider EU funded research group. The student will be based in Belfast at the School of Biological Sciences/Institute for Global Food Security, QUB, and at AFBI Crossnacreevy (close to Belfast), with training at University College Dublin.


A BSc 2.1 or better in biological sciences or a related subject.  Knowledge and undergraduate-level experience in molecular techniques is essential, with any experience in agronomy viewed as an advantage.  The successful applicant will register for a PhD in Queen’s University Belfast.

Further information

For informal discussions on the project and your suitability contact Professor Chris Elliott () or Dr Lisa Black ().

How to apply

All applications must be submitted via: https://dap.qub.ac.uk/portal/user/u_login.php

Funding Notes

Funding for this DAFM/DAERA studentship is confirmed for 3 years and an annual stipend is paid monthly.
Applicants must qualify for "Home" fees at Queen's University Belfast:
- UK national and ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to September 2022;
- Non-UK national ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to September 2022, with settled status or indefinite leave to remain in the UK;
- Irish national resident in the Republic of Ireland (provisional - subject to publication of Northern Ireland Assembly student fees regulations).
For further information, please see: View Website

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