A new multi-million euro research project to breed cattle with enhanced disease resistance is among a number of major research projects to receive funding distributed via Science Foundation Ireland’s Investigators Programme.

Nearly €40 million in research funding for 24 major research projects was awarded through a funding stream provided by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation.

With awards ranging from €500,000 to €2.7 million over four to five year periods, projects funded by the Investigators Programme will support over 200 researchers.

Among the projects selected was the development of biosensors for TB diagnosis in cattle and identification of ways to breed healthier, disease-resistant animals.

Bovine tuberculosis (BTB) is a disease of cattle that exacts a tremendous toll on Irish agriculture and is a threat to human health.

Control of BTB is hampered however by the lack of good diagnostics and significant gaps in our understanding of how the bacterial agent, Mycobacterium bovis, causes disease in cattle.

UCD Lecturer David MacHugh was awarded €1,849,519 to carry out the work.

He says the research will use a range of novel genomics approaches to reveal natural blood ‘biosensors’ that can provide the next generation of BTB diagnostics.

It will also establish how bacterial infection is established and identify host genetic variation for breeding healthier animals with enhanced disease resistance.

Fodder Crisis Research

Meanwhile, Jonathan Yearsley also of UCD received €568,131 of funding to examine the biodiversity of Irish grasslands.

He says agriculture and the environment are of great economic and cultural importance to the people of Ireland.

"In particular, sustained economic growth and food security both require agricultural production that is resilient to dramatic environmental changes.

"This project focuses on grassland productivity to investigate if the biodiversity surrounding farm-grasslands promote resilient agricultural productivity.

"We will use information from satellite images, unmanned aerial drones and experimental plots.

"We will then produce maps of Ireland that look into the near-future, showing areas where production is riskier when faced with extreme events, such as the conditions that created the fodder crisis of 2012-13," he said.