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Seaweeds: A natural approach to improve ruminant productivity, quality of animal products and reduce environmental emissions


School of Biological Sciences

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Dr K Theodoridou , Prof S Huws No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Belfast United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Microbiology Food Sciences Zoology

About the Project

This PhD studentship is part of the Department for the Economy (DfE NI) Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CAST) PhD. The topic is: Seaweeds: A natural approach to improve ruminant productivity, quality of animal products and reduce environmental emissions. The position will be based primarily at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, although the successful candidate will also be expected to spend time at Morrisons, UK. Morrisons will provide a 3 month placement for the student to include managing trials in methane reduction on commercial partner farms, introducing the student to consumer insight and acceptability and training the student in manufacturing and marketing processes in the UK meat business. The expenses for the placement (additional travel, subsistence or accommodation costs) will be covered. 

There is a global recognition of the imperative need to address environmental impacts of contemporary agricultural systems and enhance food and feed security. At the same time it is critical to develop mitigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 'net-zero' by 2050. Seaweeds are the most potent aquatic source which can contribute to freeing up land to grow crops for direct consumption by humans. Their amino acid and fatty acid profile (omega 3 fatty acids), trace elements, vitamins, bioactive compounds (phlorotannins, bromoform) and antioxidant/antimicrobial properties make them a great animal feed. Seaweeds can also add value to the ruminant production systems by reducing emissions, improve animals' productivity and quality of animal products. Seaweed supplements in livestock are considered a way to increase iodine content of animal products, which is a good way to provide iodine to deficient human populations. 

The aim of this project is to assess the potential of different seaweed species to 1) improve animal performance, 2) mitigate methane emissions and 3) improve quality of animal products.

This will be achieved via the following studies:

1. Literature review on the current knowledge on seaweed in ruminant nutrition.

2. Assess in vitro the effect of seaweed on rumen fermentation. Seaweed species will be screened for their anti-methanogenic potential using the in vitro ANKOM RF Gas Production System and the Rumen Simulation Technique (Rusitec) fermenters. Measurements include: gas production and composition, fermentation end products, biochemical profile and quantification of bioactive compounds.

3. Access the effect of seaweed inclusion in the diet of dairy cattle. A dairy cow trial will be carried at the farm of our partner including the following assessments: (1) Determination of optimum replacement rates of grass silage. (2) Quantifying the effect of seaweed inclusion on feed intake, milk production/composition, nutrient digestibility and nitrogen utilisation efficiency. 

4. Access the effect of seaweed inclusion in the diet of beef cattle. A beef trial will be carried out at the farm of our partner including the following assessments: (1) Quantifying the effect of seaweed inclusion on daily dry matter intake, growth rate and feed efficiency, (2) Meat quality (chemical composition, fatty acid profiles).

5. Reveal how rumen microbes influence metabolic pathways and product quality. Milk/meat composition analysis, fatty acid profiling and metagenomics using samples from the animal trials will be used to identify rumen microbes, their genes, and relevant metabolic pathways, which promote nutrient use efficiency and product quality.

Specific skills required: This project would be suitable for candidates who have an upper second class degree in a related science (e.g. animal science, veterinary, food science, biology, microbiology), and a keen interest in animal nutrition/physiology, dairy science, laboratory analyses and metabolomics. 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.

Start date: 1 October 2021

Duration: 3 years

How to apply: All applications must be submitted online through the Queen's Direct Applications Portal: https://dap.qub.ac.uk/portal/user/u_login.php


Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is part of the Department for the Economy (DfE NI) Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CAST) PhD. The studentship will cover all tuition and bench costs. Morrisons will contribute direct funding of £27,000 (spread over 3 years), from which a stipend of £2,000 can be taken as required.
Candidates who are UK nationals must be ordinarily resident in the UK for 3 years prior to October 2021. Non-UK nationals must also meet this requirement and have settled status or indefinite leave to remain in the UK to be considered eligible.
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