I am an MSc Research student working on the microbiology side of the NEWTRIENTS project under the supervision of Dr. Niall O’Leary. I completed my undergraduate degree in Microbiology in University College Cork, graduating in October 2016. When I began my BSc, my interests lay mainly in medical microbiology and immunology, with a particular focus on human-microbe interactions. However, as I continued through my degree, I became more interested in environmental and industrial microbiology.
Working as part of the NEWTRIENTS project is an interesting and exciting way to launch my career as a researcher. I look forward to the next two years as part of the team!
I was always interested in natural sciences and finished school with biology as one of my major subjects. To pursue this interest I started my bachelor’s degree in biology at the Philipps-Universität Marburg. After the general introduction I specialised with coursework in microbiology, cell biology and genetics. During that time I also joined the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition with a team of students from different research backgrounds. The competition was a great chance to develop our own research project from scratch to present at the final presentation in Boston along with more than 200 other teams from around the world (http://2014.igem.org/Team:Marburg).
My bachelor thesis comprised of the characterization of enzymes from anaerobic lactate fermenting bacteria. During that time I also came to the understanding that I am more interested in application driven research, therefore I started my master in biotechnology at the University of Münster. My coursework featured various aspects of biotechnology from protein characterization, bio-nanotechnology, bioinformatics, fermentation to project management and patent law. To underline the application driven focus of my studies I joined the Cilian AG (http://www.cilian.com/) for my master thesis. Throughout my master studies I actively participated in the btS (biotechnologische Studenteninitiative, https://gs.bts‑ev.de/muenster) student initiative, first as a member helping to organise various projects like panel discussions, industry excursions and lectures and later as a board member of the Münster branch.
In early 2017 I joined the NEWTRIENTS project as a PhD student. This project comprises key features I am interested in, like working in an interdisciplinary team of researchers on an application driven project to develop new sustainable solutions for the dairy industry.
I am particularly interested in the development of sustainable solutions for the industry. One way to transform the sector is to change from a linear approach towards circular systems and to use renewable sources compared to crude oil. My first contact with this field of research was during my master studies where I was working on the bacterial degradation of used rubber tires to create reusable platform molecules. These basic principles can also be applied to other industries like the dairy industry in the NEWTRIENTS project.
In order to realise this transformation process it is essential to gather expertise from different disciplines to tackle these problems from different angles. Ever since my first contact with interdisciplinary work during my time as part of the iGEM team Marburg 2014, I enjoy the benefits of working in these teams and expanding the horizon of my own research.
Another major responsibility of today’s research is the inclusion of the general public. In order to change towards a sustainable society it is key to inform people about the current progress and to raise awareness towards the problems we are facing in our modern world. In the case of the NEWTRIENTS project, we are trying to develop a circular economy approach for dairy processing wastewater. This approach could generate value added products like PHB bioplastic and protein rich duckweed as a feedstock, while cleaning the wastewater to a level it could enter a natural water body.
My interest in science grew steadily throughout my younger years and culminated in me studying science at university. It was there that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in scientific research. I studied Natural Science at Trinity College Dublin for my undergraduate degree, specialising in Biochemistry. On the completion of my undergraduate degree in 2014 I spent some time considering the area of scientific research that I would like to work in. I came to the conclusion that my main interest was in plant and environmental science, subjects which I had somewhat neglected in my undergraduate degree. So, I decided to do a M.Sc. in Plant Science and Biotechnology in University College Dublin (UCD) to catapult myself into the world of plants. It was during this year that my interest in sustainability, food security and the interaction of people with the environment really grew. I completed the Masters in September 2016. After the M.Sc. I spent three months in Seville in Spain on an Erasmus+ work placement in the Estación Biólogica de Doñana (EBD). There I looked at the phenotypic differences between Mediterranean oak trees of the same species. My time spent in Seville really solidified my interest in pursuing a PhD in the area of plant and environmental science. After my work placement, I spent some months looking for a position that suited my interests, eventually securing a PhD position in UCC on the NEWTRIENTS project under the supervision of Professors Marcel Jansen and Gavin Burnell, which started in April 2017.
My research interests include plants, the environment, sustainability and food security. I am very interested in concept of sustainability and how we can produce and process food in a more sustainable manner. In particular, my interest is in research that has practical applications for improving sustainability.
My current PhD research in UCC involves reusing the wastewater from dairy industry processes such as milk and cheese production. My project is part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded NEWTRIENTS project. NEWTRIENTS stands for Novel Eco-sensitive Wastewater Treatment Recovering dairy Industry Effluent NuTrientS. The purpose of this project is to reuse waste water from the dairy processing industry. We are looking at ways of improving the sustainability of the dairy industry using a circular economy approach. My aim is to grow the aquatic plant species Lemna minor (duckweed) on the wastewater. Once grown, the duckweed could then be used as an animal feed, as this species contains large amounts of high quality protein. This would create a nutrient cycle from cows to dairy production to duckweed and then back to farm animals. The wastewater is full of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous; in fact waste water has all the nutrients necessary for plant growth. Other facets of the project will look at making bioplastic material from the dairy industry wastewater using microbes. Over the next four years we aim to get a functioning treatment process set up in which dairy wastewater is sequentially treated first by bacteria, for bioplastic production, and second by Lemna minor, for feed production. So, two products will be created and the waste stream coming out at the end of the process will be cleaned of many of the compounds that make it harmful to the environment.