Knowledge for a sustainable world

For National Careers Week, NRI’s Teaching and Learning Leader Claire Coote, tracked down three former BSc students to ask what advice they would give to those considering a career in life sciences. She also asked them to reveal how studying with NRI at the University of Greenwich, helped them get where they are today.

PhD student Lydia O’Meara, was recently awarded a prestigious ECR – Early Career Researcher - development scholarship, from the Nutrition Society of Australia, for her BSc work helping rural Fijians grow, buy and consume healthy food. Now a first year PhD student at NRI, Lydia will use the funding to travel from her native Australia, to Tokyo - Covid-19 restrictions permitting - to present her early PhD results at the International Congress on Nutrition in September 2021. Lydia takes up the story.

If a researcher came to your house and asked you to list every ingredient of every meal eaten by members of your household the previous day, how readily could you provide this information? Perhaps you might forget some items, or feel uncomfortable about speaking openly, not knowing what an interviewer might think of your household’s diet or how they might use this information.

Former NRI staff member, Alan Mills, has been recognised and rewarded with an MBE in this year’s Overseas and International Honours List. Alan has been a MapAction volunteer since 2005, applying his knowledge of geospatial systems to help get aid as quickly as possible to people caught up in humanitarian emergencies.

NRI is heading up a new project which is working with women millet producers in Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in Odisha, India, and which has just been awarded a prestigious grant of one million dollars over the next three years. The funding, from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will enable the project to evaluate in detail, whether and how millet processing and value addition provide income and enhance livelihoods for women in the groups.

The Natural Resources Institute is part of a new European consortium investigating how rodents spread diseases on livestock farms and generating knowledge to develop future strategies to protect farm animals from rodent pest problems.

Dr Lora Forsythe is Associate Professor in Gender, Inequalities and Food Systems at NRI. In this article for International Women’s Day 2021, she explores the ‘seismic shifts’ that have occurred globally during the past 12 months, and how NRI’s Gender and Social Difference programme is recognising and reflecting on these changes.

NRI experience in improving cassava production and value addition in sub-Saharan Africa has focussed on many steps along the value chain, from farm to fork. As fresh cassava roots are highly perishable and must be consumed or processed within 72 hours after harvesting, much of the processing takes place in villages on a small scale.

Richard Lloyd Mills is an NRI PhD student who has just been awarded an £11,000 grant from the British Egg Marketing Board which will enable him to undertake further research into the genetic makeup of the Poultry Red Mite - a pest which affects chickens’ health and productivity. Richard took five minutes out of his day to Skype with Communications Officer Linden Kemkaran, about what inspired him to study this “tiny and annoyingly fast” little pest, and what the grant money means to his work.

NRI’s Dr Noushin Emami, Associate Professor of Bioinformatics, won a Stockholm Innovation award at the end of 2020, for her work on a novel and environmentally sustainable mosquito control product. The award, given by the City of Stockholm, is intended to stimulate creative people to move forward with their innovation.

NRI, together with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and their African partners, have made a significant scientific breakthrough in unlocking the genomes of whitefly species – tiny agricultural pests that causes enormous problems for farmers and horticulturalists. The scientists describe as “euphoric”, the moment they knew they’d solved the puzzle and effectively ‘unleashed the genie from the bottle’.

Every day, over two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide, with the popularity of the beverage continuing to rise. Consumers can choose the strength, roast, origin, blend, style and ‘notes’ of their brew, with many also choosing to buy coffee that is certified ‘sustainable’, or with a ‘carbon-neutral’ label. How can farmers increase production to meet demand and sustain their livelihoods, whilst ensuring their beans are produced in a sustainable way?