SFI Investigator Programme Funding Awards

SFI Investigator Programme funds research into Deep Sea Canyons, Healthy Ageing & Sustainable Crop Production at UCC

The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Investigators Programme supports the development of world-class research in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with projects that question, imagine, collaborate, discover, answer and create.  SFI research demonstrably supports and underpins enterprise competitiveness and societal development in Ireland.  Three SFI Investigators Awards were made to researchers at UCC in 2017. 

We want to foster healthy ageing and help to beat cancer.

Insulin-like Growth Factors (IGF’s) are proteins essential for normal growth which play a crucial role in cell and tissue protection together with regulation in healthy ageing.  However, high levels of IGF activity as a result of genetics, lifestyle or environmental factors (especially obesity and inactivity) can exacerbate diseases of ageing and cancer in particular.  Maintenance of low levels of IGF throughout life appears to be the secret to optimal use of this vital protein.  Controlling IGF activity offers a way to prevent the diseases associated with ageing, even if the subject is obese or is genetically susceptible or is in the presence of dangerous environmental conditions.  Research by Professor Rosemary O’Connor and her team at the Cell Biology Research Group in UCC is focused on understanding the actions of IGFs at the most basic, molecular level.  Although the team also works on IGF protection (for example in heart attacks and neurodegenerative conditions), this SFI Investigators Programme Award will fund Professor O’Connor and her team’s work in understanding how IGF activity can be reduced to control or prevent cancer and to promote healthy ageing. 

We want to protect our delicate oceans and manage them more effectively.

Submarine canyons are dynamic environments that support diverse biological communities including fisheries. The largely unexplored Porcupine Bank Canyon is Ireland’s largest submarine canyon with a near vertical bedrock exposed cliff face approximately 700 metres high (approximately 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher) and a sediment-dominated gentle slope which extends into the canyon base.  Recent work on the canyon, reveals a wealth of cold water coral-dominated habitats in the form of individual colonies, coral gardens and mounds.  Professor Andy Wheeler and his team at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) UCC have been awarded an SFI Investigators Programme Award to examine this spectacular canyon so that they can further develop novel mapping techniques in difficult deep water habitats, study the geology of the coral canyon to determine how the canyon changes through time, develop recommendations for responsible industrial practice in the area, inspect environmental and habitat resilience as well as increasing the effectiveness of public policy with respect to knowledge based ecosystem management. This project is jointly funded by SFI, the Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute arising from activities in the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG). 

We want to produce high quality nutritious food for everyone. 

Until now, advances in LED-technologies within the global horticulture industry have been limited to the visible part of the light spectrum.  Via the SFI Investigators Programme, UCC researchers Prof Marcel Jansen, Dr Alan Morrison and Prof Nora O’Brien together with their collaborators in Ireland, Finland, Sweden, UK and Czech Republic have the opportunity to focus on the enormous potential application of UV-emitting LEDs in sustainable crop production.  They will exploit novel ultraviolet (UV)-emitting LEDs to pioneer a new form of precision horticulture.  Their project has enormous potential global impacts given that UV light can improve crop quality in terms of nutritional quality, plant architecture and resistance to pests.  Their work will have very positive impacts on the sustainability of food production, and human health and well-being.   The SFI-funded study will develop state-of-the-art LED technology that will enable manipulation of UV doses and spectra, and advance our understanding of how plants respond positively to UV-wavelengths which, until now, has not been possible due to the limitations of current UV-technologies. This pioneering combination of electronic engineering and plant biology will generate innovative technology enabling the horticultural industry to sustainably grow crops with enhanced quality.

Pictured above (from left to right): Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland; Professor Rosemary O’Connor, School of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, UCC; John Halligan T.D., Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development; Professor Andrew Wheeler, School of BEES, UCC; Professor Marcel Jansen, School of BEES, UCC

Research and Innovation

Taighde agus Nuálaíocht

Office of Vice President for Research & Innovation 4th Floor Block E, Food Science Building UCC