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Supporting Scottish communities for a healthy and sustainable, local food system: the role of vertical farming

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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  Prof A Johnstone, Prof D Stewart  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Rowett Institute has an international reputation for teaching and research in human nutrition and food science. As part of its funding through the Scottish government we are advertising a number of high-profile PhD studentships in nutrition, food science, microbiology and analytical chemistry.

The Scottish food and agriculture industry face challenges linked to shifts in eating habits, population growth and climate change. Food contributes significantly to climate change; it is currently estimated to account for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Vertical farming (VF) offers an opportunity to produce food by a method that offers environmentally sustainability and can contribute fresh produce for a local community. The policies and aspirations for Scotland to become a Good Food Nation, are driving environmentally sustainable, inclusive growth but also making sure everyone can afford a healthy diet. Vertical farming has direct relevance to support local food production. However, there is a paucity of data on Scottish consumer and stakeholder (general public, policy, food sector) views on this farming method. The project will collect empirical data (i) from Scottish consumers and stakeholders to assess the barriers and opportunities for vertical farming to be applied in Scotland as an environmentally sustainable food system, to produce healthy, local produce and (ii) develop an in-depth case study within a region in Scotland, (iii) assess the nutrition quality in produce grown in a VF system, (iv) communicate and share findings with stakeholders. This will develop a range of skills from plant biology and nutritional assessment laboratory techniques, to reviewing developing sustainable nutrition in a community setting.  

This project offers a novel opportunity to work with a leading and cutting-edge business partner, Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS). IGS has developed the most advanced vertical farm system in the world, financed by the world’s leading agritech investors. The IGS covenant for this market is that they never grow crops for commercial sale, only for R&D. Their role and impact is to enable local growers to serve regional markets and to work with the consumer about the quality, provenance, safety and positive environmental impact of the food systems. The PhD candidate will have two 3-month periods of training within IGS as part of their PhD studies, based at the James Hutton Institute (JHI). This is in addition to the training provided by the Rowett and JHI. 

Essential background of student

Applicants' should hold a relevant BSc (minimum 2:1 UK Honours), Masters or equivalent in Nutrition, Agriculture, Food Science, Biology, health or a related field.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion, Please contact the lead supervisor, Professor Alex Johnstone ([Email Address Removed]) for more information.


This project will be based within the Rowett Institute, part of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, at the University of Aberdeen. The Rowett Institute is located on the Foresterhill Health Campus, one of the largest clinical complexes in Europe, which also includes the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, a large teaching hospital and the the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS)



International applicants are eligible to apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum)

  • Formal applications can be completed online: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php
  • You should apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sciences to ensure your application is passed to the correct team
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and exact project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree at undergraduate level
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Project funded through the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) of the Scottish Government.
Funding covers tuition fees at the UK/Home rate, bench fees, and a stipend at the UKRI rate.
This is a four-year project and the expected start date is October 2022.
Full funding is available to UK candidates only. International candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum).


• Lonnie et al, Exploring Health-Promoting Attributes of Plant Proteins as a Functional Ingredient for the Food Sector: A Systematic Review of Human Interventional Studies. DOI: 10.3390/nu12082291
• SharathKumar et al, Vertical Farming: Moving from Genetic to Environmental Modification. DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2020.05.012
• Bjorkman et al, Phytochemicals of Brassicaceae in plant protection and human health--influences of climate, environment and agronomic practice. DOI: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2011.01.014
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