AFBI PhD students help launch DAERA’s 2019 Postgraduate Research Competition

Date published: 07 June 2019

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) recently launched the annual Postgraduate Studentship competition for 2019. New PhD student, Kerry McIlwaine and former PhD student, Jonathan Blair, helped DAERA’s Permanent Secretary, Dr Denis McMahon, with the launch, which was attended by local news outlets including the Farming Life. DAERA currently fund 36 PhD students over 3 years and will fund 12 new studentships in 2019.

Kerry McIlwaine and Jonathan Blair pictured with DAERA Permanent Secretary Dr Denis McMahon at the launch of the DAERA 2019 PG Studentship Competition

Kerry, from Larne, graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in 2018 with a BSc in Biological Sciences with Professional Studies. She is currently carrying out her PhD in Virology Branch under the supervision of Dr Victoria Smyth & Dr Ken Lemon at Stormont and at Queen’s University.

She is investigating the vertical transmission from hens to eggs of a strain of chicken astrovirus that causes runting and high levels of mortality in embryos. The emerging hatchery disease is called “White Chicks” since affected hatched chicks are distinctly pale. The disease leaves chicks weak and sickly and they usually succumb within a few hours of hatching. The cause of the disease was discovered in 2011 by now-retired AFBI scientist, Dr Danny Todd, MBE.

Jonathan, from Ballyclare, attended the University of Edinburgh where he gained an honours degree in Ecological Science (with Environmental Science) and the University of Nottingham where he obtained a Master’s degree in Environmental management.

He undertook PhD research at AFBI Hillsborough under supervision of Dr Rodrigo Olave and Queen’s university under the supervision of Dr Neil Reid and Dr Beatrice Smyth. His PhD work looked at the impact that agricultural landscapes have on carbon cycles and how land management decisions can either emit or store carbon. Uptakes of carbon from the atmosphere can help in combatting climate change, while releases contribute to the problem. Agroecosystems can provide multiple uses by sequestering and storing carbon as well as providing food and fibre for human consumption. Decisions made by land managers can alter the carbon cycle in such a way so as to change the land from a carbon sink to a carbon source. This work focused on impacts from methods of grassland reseeding, land use change and on farm standing biomass (in the form of hedgerows) to either lessen carbon release rates or act as carbon stores, without compromising production.

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