WIT Ag science graduates win two undergraduate research awards

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Oral and Poster prize winners Katie O'Toole and James Walters from the BSc in Agricultural Science at WIT with the supervisors Dr Denise O'Meara and Dr Nabla Kennedy

Oral and Poster prize winners Katie O'Toole and James Walters from the BSc in Agricultural Science at WIT with the supervisors Dr Denise O'Meara and Dr Nabla Kennedy

The winning WIT projects which won under the best poster and oral presentation categories focused on reducing the environmental impact of agriculture

Students from WIT have won awards for their undergraduate research work at the annual Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Conferences.

The SURE Network hosted the Second Annual Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Conferences (SURE 2019) on 27 September 2019 in Institute of Technology, Carlow, Technological University Dublin and Institute of Technology, Sligo.

Four hundred undergraduate science students from across the Institutes of Technology presented their undergraduate research projects at this conference. 

Best of undergraduate science research

The 7 oral presentations and 10 poster presentations highlighted the very best of undergraduate science research in a broad range of topics, including improved environmentally friendly methods for the production of pharmaceuticals, investigation of anti-microbial resistance in aquatic environments and investigation of vitamin B12 deficiency in the population.

There were four oral presentations and six poster presentations on the day from WIT graduates from the School of Science and Computing.

Throughout the day, the audience were inspired by several guest speakers including Dr Mark Healy from NUIG, Marc Kelly R&D at Teva Pharmaceuticals and Dr Jennifer Brennan from THEA. The conference was thoroughly enjoyed by all who participated and attended.

Best oral presentation

The award of “Best Oral Presentation” went to Katie O’Toole from WIT whose project titled “Reducing nitrogen emissions from the Irish Dairy Sector via Genetic Improvement”. Katie was a final year student of the BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Science at WIT. Her supervisor was Dr Denise O’Meara.

Katie undertook her Agricultural Science work placement module in a progressive dairy farm in New Zealand. Katie observed that in New Zealand, farmers were making concentrated efforts to reduce nitrogen emissions, to lower the impact of the dairy sector on climate change. Katie was interested in combining genetics of cows and physiological data to find a relationship between the cow's genetic makeup and the amount of nitrogen they excrete. Katie found that cows with a particular variant of a gene excreted lower quantities of nitrogen. With further research, Katie's work could in the future be used to select more climate-friendly cows.

Best poster presentation

The judging panel award of “Best Poster presentation” went to James Walters. James was also a final year student of the BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Science at WIT and his project was supervised by Dr. Nabla Kennedy.  James's project looked at trying to reduce the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, produced by sheep.

He conducted a literature review and found that garlic, onions and seaweed had all been shown to have the potential to reduce methane production when fed to sheep, so he added these to the diet of his own herd and then looked to see how many methanogens (methane-producing microbes) were in their guts. Garlic was found to work the best and reduced the numbers of methanogens (methane-generating microbes) in their guts.

Both winning projects are important as we look for ways to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and therefore help to mitigate climate change. 

Fantastic opportunity

Speaking about the event, Dr. Peter McLoughlin, Head of the School of Science and Computing at WIT said, “The second SURE conference was a fantastic opportunity to showcase a snapshot of the creativity and innovative spirit of undergraduates in science. 90 recent graduates from 9 colleges in the network demonstrated enormous professionalism in presenting their research findings. The high-quality research presented offered potential solutions to societal challenges with the winning oral presentation looking at reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. WIT is delighted to be a supporting partner in the network which provides our graduates with an opportunity to present their work to industry as well as other academic partners.”

Three WIT publications in the first edition of the SURE-J publication

The SURE Network also launched the Science Undergraduate Research Experience Journal (SURE-J) at the conference.  As well as gaining valuable experience attending and presenting at the conference selected presenters are invited to submit a journal article to (SURE-J) which is a high-quality, international, open access, online, double blind reviewed publication which publishes all aspects of undergraduate research in the broad Sciences. The main emphasis of the journal is on primary research articles written by the undergraduate student detailing their final year research project.

The first edition of the journal features papers from students who presented work at the Inaugural SURE conferences held at TUDublin (DIT), AIT and WIT in September 2018. Three papers prepared by recent WIT graduates of the BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science, the BSc (Hons) in Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science and the BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Science and their WIT supervisors, have been published in the first issue featuring work in the areas studies on anti-microbial extracts from seaweed, the identification of genes and regulatory pathways for an aggressive form of breast cancer (HER2-positive) and the influence of different genetic types on economically important production traits in dairy herds. It is a significant achievement for an undergraduate to obtain a peer-reviewed paper from their project studies.

Next year’s SURE conference is due to take place in Cork IT, where a cohort of undergraduate students currently undertaking research for their 3 and 4 year projects across the three institutes will be selected to present their research at the event.

Related Courses

Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Science (Common Entry)
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Agricultural Science
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Molecular Biology with Biopharmaceutical Science
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Pharmaceutical Science

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