Tuesday, December 1, 2020

virtual graduation ceremony for the BSc. Food Science and Health Class of 2020


On 5th November 2020 the Department of Biological Sciences held its first virtual graduation ceremony for the BSc. Food Science and Health Class of 2020. The event was well attended and supported, as always, by our dedicated industry partners.

Forty graduates logged on see their classmates, grateful to have marked the occasion in some way albeit far from traditional but through a computer screen. Following a welcome and congratulatory opening by the Course Director (and MC for the evening) Dr Eibhlís O’Connor, the Head of Department Dr Ioannis Zabetakis extended his well wishes to the group. Prof Dick FitzGerald followed with words of wisdom and congratulations and called the fifty-one student names on the graduation list for the Class of 2020.

Next Prof Martin Wilkinson lauded the graduates for adapting to the challenges of 2020 in the face of the global pandemic. He outlined the important role of the food sector in Ireland and highlighted the fact that despite the challenges of 2020, opportunities would still present for graduates. He then announced the Kerry Group Final Year Project award winners; receiving the bronze award was Maria Durkin, Donal Moran and Hayley Pleskach for their project entitled "The effects of fermentation on the anti-thrombotic properties and lipid profile of Irish Cider". Their supervisor was Dr Tsoupras. In second place, receiving the silver metal was Jack Comerford, Shauna Dowling and Ciara Sweeney for their project on the ‘Functional Properties of Plant and Milk Protein Blends’ supervised by Prof FitzGerald and Dr Khalesi. Finally the gold award went to Grainne Curran, Jane Fitzgerald and Rachel McCarthy for a project focusing on "An Evaluation of the Bioactivity of Selected Dietary Cereals" supervised by Dr O’Connor. Words of encouragement and advice from Research & Development Representative from Kerry Group Mr Cal Flynn followed where he outlined the very different environment graduates will now find themselves in when entering the workforce but how the food industry is adapting and responding to the changing face of the food industry during the current pandemic. 

Dr Alexandros Tsoupras congratulated the class and spoke of the journey of the graduate, reflecting on where they have come from since beginning their degree and now sailing on to pastures new. He introduced the new Dairygold Academic Achievement Award for 2020 and announced the winner as Ms Rachel McCarthy. He then introduced the Dairygold representative, Mr George MacLeod (Head of Innovation & New Product Development) who offered words of support to the graduates and wished them well in their future careers.

Finally, the 2020 Class Representative, Ms Alison Hurley said a few words on behalf of her class where she recounted fond memories from their time in UL and thanked the course team, lecturers, support staff for their help and guidance during the last four years.

With all the formalities compete, Eibhlís thanked those who attended with their families, industry representatives, dept staff especially Ms Ber Norris for her help with organising the event. A recording of the event was sent to all those who could not attend on the evening. Lastly, with a ‘cheese’ and a grin, a virtual class photo was taken (and again….and again! see below). And with the words of Green Day echoing in the background we waved our Class of 2020 farewell and hoped they had the time of their lives!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Can Vitamin D Help Fight COVID-19?


                                    Vitamin D tablets and pills (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) 


During President Trump’s bout with coronavirus, along with the treatment he was given – notably the antiviral drug Remdesivir and the experimental Regeneron antibody cocktail – he also took a handful of over the counter supplements, including Vitamin D.

There has been growing interest in the sunshine vitamin and mounting evidence that it could potentially play a role in protecting against COVID-19. 

University of Pennsylvania Nutrition Researcher (and UL graduate) Ronan Lordan recently helped pen a COVID-19 review, on the link between inflammation and how good nutrition may help to reduce it. He says the nutrients we do or don’t get, could play a role in how the immune system responds to COVID-19. But Lordan cautions that more research is still needed. Confirming that link, he says, is not the priority at the moment.

“The main scientists that are out there, like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, they're not giving a whole lot of credence to this right now. And the reason is because we need to focus on vaccines and the preventatives that we know work, like washing your hands, social distancing and so on,” said Lordan. “For scientists of course, this is a really interesting rabbit hole to go down because it's cheap and could be effective.”

There is burgeoning research out of the University of Chicago on a potential link between Vitamin D deficiency and worse COVID-19 outcomes.

Dr. David Meltzer, chief of hospital medicine for the the University of Chicago who authored the study, said he and his colleagues looked at the records of patients coming into the hospital for COVID-19 tests to see if there was a correlation.

“What I discovered is that, controlling for race and body weight and comorbidities,” Meltzer said. “That patients who were Vitamin D deficient had a 77% increase in the likelihood of testing positive for COVID if they were Vitamin D deficient.”

Meltzer believes his work supports previous research done showing that Vitamin D can be protective against respiratory illnesses. He says Vitamin D can control genes that influence the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight against pathogens it has never seen before.  

“It also has been shown to play a role in adaptive immunity, which is your ability to mount an enhanced immune response when you're exposed again to something you have seen before then or in response to a pathogen. And then finally, Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in immunomodulation, which is preventing the immune system from becoming hyperactive,” said Meltzer.

Meltzer is referring to a hallmark of COVID-19 illnesses, the “cytokine storm,” or a similar type of overreaction of the immune system known to cause extensive inflammation, which can damage the lungs and other organs.


Source: Spectrum news

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

we are recruiting : Associate Professor in Food Science


The University of Limerick (UL) with over 16,300 students and 1, 700 staff is an energetic and enterprising institution with a proud record of innovation and excellence in education, research and scholarship. The dynamic, entrepreneurial and pioneering values which drive UL’s mission and strategy ensures that we capitalise on local, national and international engagement and connectivity. We are renowned for providing an outstanding student experience and employability and conducting leading edge research. Our commitment is to make a difference by shaping the future through educating and empowering our undergraduate and postgraduate students. UL is situated on a superb riverside campus of over 130 hectares with the River Shannon as a unifying focal point. Outstanding recreational, cultural and sporting facilities further enhance this exceptional learning and research environment.




Applications are invited for the following position:


Faculty of Science + Engineering


Department of Biological Sciences


Associate Professor in Food Science - Multiannual


Salary Scale: €87,842 - €116,519 p.a.


Further information for applicants and application material is available online from this link.


The closing date for receipt of applications is Wednesday, 25th November 2020.

Applications must be completed online before 12 noon, Irish Standard Time on the closing date.


Please email erecruitment@ul.ie if you experience any difficulties


Applications are welcome from suitably qualified candidates.

The University of Limerick holds a Bronze Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advancing equality in higher education. The University is an equal opportunities employer and is committed to selection on merit welcoming applicants from all sections of the community. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment, including flexible working.


“The University of Limerick has implemented a “Smoke and Vape Free Campus Policy”.  Smoking and vaping in all forms is prohibited.”




Wednesday, July 15, 2020

‘For the longest time, if a drug worked in men it was good enough for women!’

UL PhD researcher Andrew McGovern. Image: FameLab

PhD researcher Andrew McGovern of UL is looking at how women and men are different in the eyes of disease.

Andrew's interview is here.

What inspired you to become a researcher?
I was the child who asked why this happens or how that works. The child that burned the ears of their teachers with questions; I never really grew out of that. Growing up I was never grasping onto my curiosity, it was simply who I am.
Alongside this, I grew up with an autistic sister, Aíne. Trust me when I say my poor mother had an impossible task trying to answer my questions about why Aíne wasn’t coming to primary school with me, or why she’d burst into a room where my friends and I were relaxing and fling dragons at us.
A childhood like this, alongside my perpetual asking how and why, would lead you to wondering how the brain works. I never chose research, I just kept asking questions I wanted answers for and that lead me towards science and research.
Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?
I am looking at how women and men are different in the eyes of disease. Many diseases don’t treat men and women equally. For example, men are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease and women more likely to get multiple sclerosis or dementia.
We are looking at possible genetic differences or hormonal differences (testosterone versus oestrogen) in men and women for why a disease might favour a woman over a man, or vice versa.
My current question is to identify some mediator that is making a woman more susceptible to dementia compared to a man.
In your opinion, why do you think your research is important?
I don’t think we need to look back too far to realise there has been a political inequality between men and women. We are constantly surprised by how deeply that ideology has laid its roots.
For the longest time in research, if a drug worked in men it was good enough for women! If you weren’t working with women you didn’t have to take into account how a drug could interact with changing hormone levels through the menstrual cycle, for example, or pregnancy.
This went on for way too long and we have a massive amount of information about how diseases and drugs work in men, but much less so in women.

Also, people exist beyond the gender binary. I believe that further research into this is most needed for many of those who don’t allocate themselves to their birth sex or those who are genetically neither XX or XY.
Those who undergo sex changes or hormonal replacement therapy are also included here. If we don’t know much about hormones in the female body with disease, imagine how little we know about disease in the body of someone who has pursued a hormonally driven transition, for example? We need to learn more about this to provide the best treatment for all people.
What commercial applications do you foresee for your research?
Medical research for less than half of the population has been prioritised over the rest. I think my research is an early stepping stone towards medicine becoming optimised for someone’s gender, age, family history and genetic build.
Eventually we will have medicine built for the needs of the individual with a disease, as opposed to a strategy that focuses on the disease in a male disease-carrying vessel.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?
The youth of my field and the changing of old ways to new. Many of the most successful biologists in the world achieved highly with this old doctrine of male-dominated animal and human research. There is stiffness in transition, as there always is, but the outlook is good. There are few biologists left fighting against the movement towards gendered medicine.
Another challenge is more political. Many tiptoe around sex differences to avoid insult, like claiming that men and women are different is unprogressive.
We all deserve to be treated by society and each other equally. Medically, it may be in your favour to sometimes receive a different treatment than another person, one that works best for you.
Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?
The misconception is that people don’t know just how many diseases affect men and women differently. I address it by telling as many people as I can!
FameLab is a great example of ways I can contribute to removing this misconception. Competitions teach you how to communicate and give you a medium to share your area and this area needs to be shared.
What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?
I would love to see diseases which affect millions of men and women differently have the root of its sex difference pulled to the surface and then see a sex-specific treatment strategy put in place. Whether it is in five years or 50, I would love to see that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Protein A-mediated binding of Staphylococcus to antibodies in flow cytometric assays and its reduction using FcR blocking reagent

Overlays of histograms for the Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus fluorescence of (A) Staphylococcus epidermis albus, (B) S. capitis, (C) S. aureus NCTC 8325, (D) S. hyicus (E) S.aureus pepper isolate and (F) S. xylosus stained with one of three primary anti-Bacillus  endospore commercial antibodies combined with Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus-conjugated anti-rabbit secondary antibody or Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus-conjugated anti-rabbit secondary antibody alone. The colour codes for each of the histograms are: black – Bacillus cereus ensdospores stained with Genway primary and secondary antibodies; red – test species stained with Genway primary and secondary antibodies; blue – test species stained with EastCoast Bio primary and secondary antibodies; purple – test species stained with ViroStat primary and secondary antibodies; green – B. cereus stained with secondary antibody only;yellow – test species stained with secondary antibody only.

Overlays of histograms for the Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus fluorescence of (A) Staphylococcus epidermis albus, (B) S. capitis, (C) S. aureus NCTC 8325, (D) S. hyicus (E) S.aureus pepper isolate and (F) S. xylosus stained with one of three primary anti-Bacillus  endospore commercial antibodies combined with Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus-conjugated anti-rabbit secondary antibody or Alexa Fluor® 647 Plus-conjugated anti-rabbit secondary antibody alone. The colour codes for each of the histograms are: black – Bacillus cereus ensdospores stained with Genway primary and secondary antibodies; red – test species stained with Genway primary and secondary antibodies; blue – test species stained with EastCoast Bio primary and secondary antibodies; purple – test species stained with ViroStat primary and secondary antibodies; green – B. cereus stained with secondary antibody only;yellow – test species stained with secondary antibody only. 

 =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =

This study was carried out by Dr Ultan Cronin and Dr Elaine O'Meara with the assistance of Ms Laura Girardeaux and supervised by Prof Martin Wilkinson. The project studied the factors influencing the binding of Staphylococcus protein A (SpA) of commercial antibodies raised against other microbial species. It was found that SpA-mediated antibody binding was strain-, growth-phase- and food matrix-dependent and influenced by simulated food processing treatments and cell adherence. After testing a number of ways to block protein A-mediated antibody binding, it was found that a product used for preventing the binding of antibodies to Fc receptors in mammalian cells also worked to block the SpA reaction.

This research points the way towards reducing an important source of false negatives in antibody-based assays for microbial detection.

 The full paper is available here.