Background
TeagascAlberta

Edmonton, Canada…Teagasc, Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority, and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta in Canada have signed an agreement that will result in additional highly qualified personnel working in the agri-food sector.

This international agreement, signed in Edmonton, Canada on June 16, 2014, provides research funding to allow four PhD students to receive prestigious Walsh Fellowships and pursue their research to benefit the agri-food sector in both countries. Each Walsh Fellowship is valued at €22,000 per year (about $40,000 CAD) for four years. The funding is provided equally by Teagasc and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.  The students will be directed and supervised by professors of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) and co-supervised by Teagasc researchers.

Students will spend at least one year in Teagasc and one year in the University of Alberta in Canada, and will generally split their time equally between Canada and Ireland.

Dr. Frank O’Mara, Director of Research for Teagasc said, “Teagasc are continuously seeking collaborative arrangements with like-minded, leading research organisations around the world, to link with the foremost international scientists to deliver solid science for the future. Working with Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta is one such opportunity. I am confident this agreement will benefit the agri-food sectors in both Ireland and Canada. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m delighted we’re able to do it.”

Teagasc provides integrated research, advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industry and rural communities. It operates in partnership with all sectors of the agri-food industry and with rural development industries, employing approximately 1,100 staff at 52 locations throughout Ireland. It has developed close alliances with research, advisory and training agencies throughout the world and is continuously seeking to expand its international contacts.

Dr. Stan Blade, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions said, “Revenue from Alberta’s agri-food sector is an important component of the province’s economy but the sector has not grown significantly over the last decade. Teagasc has a superb record in creating new value-added opportunities in the food industry based on their expertise and facilities. Research and innovation supported through these inaugural Walsh Fellowships can help to accelerate growth in this sector, both in Alberta and Ireland.”

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, an Alberta government research funding agency, invests in science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta’s agriculture, food and forest sectors through new technologies, products, services or industry practices. It routinely seeks R&D partners in the areas of sustainable production, bioindustrial innovation, food innovation, ecosystem services and prion diseases.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to conduct their research in an international setting and leverage the expertise in both Alberta and Ireland,” said Dr. John Kennelly, Dean of the Faculty of ALES. “We live increasingly in an inter-connected world and it’s through partnerships like these that we’re able to provide excellent training to highly qualified students in an international setting so they may, in turn, provide solutions to global challenges in the agri-food industry.”

The Faculty of ALES provides solutions to global challenges in the fields of food and nutritional security, environmental sustainability, bioresource innovation, and individual and community well-being. An applied science faculty, ALES also draws on the social sciences, business and the arts and humanities to provide comprehensive solutions. We teach this approach to our students, providing them with well-rounded real-world skills as they enter the labour market.

Volcano

The Carlingford Igneous Centre, NE Ireland, erupted 60 million years ago, but a new study published in Nature Communications reveals it has much to teach us about currently active volcanoes.

Since the geological expedition of R.W. Bunsen to Iceland in the mid 19th century, scientists have been puzzled by the frequent co-occurrence of basalt and rhyolite at many volcanoes. Bunsen, who also invented of the Bunsen burner, was the first to describe this phenomenon of “bimodal volcanism”, but these fundamentally different lava types have by now been found together at sites across the planet. Crucially, the mixing of basalt and rhyolite in a volcano’s magma chamber is a major cause of violently explosive eruptions, but in the 160 years since Bunsen’s observations, no consensus has been reached on how bimodal volcanism actually originates. A new article in “Nature Communications” now re-ignites the debate and offers a fresh perspective on bimodal volcanism at continental volcanoes. Using detailed chemical analyses of rocks from the Carlingford Igneous Centre, the roots of a large, extinct volcano in northeast Ireland, an international team of scientists suggests that the key control on bimodal volcanism could, in fact, be the crustal rocks that lie below the erupting volcano.

Sixty million years ago, the North Atlantic Ocean was only beginning to form and America and Europe were slowly breaking apart. This process was exacerbated by an increased flow of molten rock from the Earth’s mantle, known as a mantle plume, which caused extensive volcanism throughout northeast Ireland, Greenland and western Scotland. Fissure-fed basaltic lava, as seen at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, was the most common type of activity, but a number of large volcanoes also formed. A key feature of these volcanoes was that they were short-lived and bimodal, producing significant amounts of light-coloured rhyolite and granite, as well as dark basalt. One such volcano was the Carlingford Igneous Centre, Co. Louth, Ireland. As the hot basaltic magma (>1200 °C) beneath Carlingford made its way from the mantle to the surface, it passed through the Earth’s continental crust, which is 30 km thick in this part of Ireland. “Luckily rocks from the crust and rocks from the mantle have characteristic chemical compositions, like geological DNA”, explains Dr Fiona Meade, the principal author of the article, “By using cutting-edge isotope analyses on the volcanic rocks from Carlingford, we can detect that the crust began to melt and that these melts were incorporated into the ascending magmas, transforming the basalt into rhyolite and granite”.

Significantly, the team’s work has shown that the continental crust was most strongly involved during the early stages of activity at Carlingford. It appears that while a first flush of crustal melt was easy to extract, melting became increasingly difficult and granite formation quickly stalled. This is because not all minerals in crustal rocks melt at the same temperature, and while some components are readily incorporated into the magma, others are left behind and will never melt. “This research suggests that crustal melts are vital for the formation of rhyolite/granite magmas in continental volcanic systems, and that once the crust can no longer produce such melts, the volcanoes rapidly return to producing basalt – forming a bimodal rock suite” added Prof Valentin Troll, the team leader and chair of petrology at Uppsala University (Sweden). “Evidence of basalt-rhyolite magma mixing is preserved at Carlingford, indicating that violent eruptions are likely to have been triggered early in the lifetime of the volcano, and while Carlingford has not posed any danger for 60 million years, it gives us a major insight into the processes that drive currently active volcanoes”, he concludes.

This project was initiated at Trinity College Dublin by Prof Valentin Troll and Dr Fiona Meade, who are now based at Uppsala University (Sweden), and was supported by an international team of co-workers from institutions in the UK, Italy and the Netherlands. The research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) and the TEKNAT faculty at Uppsala University.

For more information please contact Prof Valentin Troll (valentin.troll@geo.uu.se) or Dr Fiona Meade (meade.fiona@gmail.com).

FameLab

Pádraic Flood, a University College Dublin (UCD) science graduate, beat off nearly 2,000 scientists from 22 countries, to be crowned the 2014 FameLab International Champion, at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival, held last week.

Pádraic, who graduated from UCD in 2008 with a BSc (Hons), is currently completing a PhD in plant genetics at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.  Earlier this year he won the FameLab Benelux competition and represented the trio of countries at the FameLab International finals in Cheltenham.

Pádraic’s winning talk discussed improving photosynthesis to prevent food scarcity. He first took the audience into the leaf and told them about the mechanics of photosynthesis, leading to where light meets water, saying “it is at this point that light becomes life”. He then told the audience about food shortages in the future and how we might combat this through improving photosynthesis.

After winning the competition Pádraic said, “FameLab is fantastic, it opens a direct dialogue between scientists and the public, and I’m so glad to have been a part of it this year.”

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