Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Book Published

A new research monologue has been published co-written by Professor Nick Gray, a member of the Botany Department.  Microbiology of Waterborne Diseases: Microbiological Aspects and Risks is published today by Academic Press, New York (ISBN: 9780124158467).  The book reviews  current knowledge on drinking water pathogens highlighting their microbiology, clinical features, survival in the environment, risk assessment, and their control.  The book is co- written by some the leading researchers in the area: Steve Percival (Honorary Professor of Microbiology at the University of Liverpool and at the University of West Virginia), Marylynn Yates (Professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of California, Riverside), David Williams (School of Dentistry, at Cardiff University) and Rachel Chalmers (Director of the Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, Public Health, Wales).  The book is divided into sections covering bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. Other sections detail methods for detecting and identifying waterborne microorganisms, and the ways in which they are removed from water, including chlorine, ozone, and ultraviolet disinfection. Professor Nick Gray has written two of the six key sections dealing with the control of pathogens and the impact of global warming and climate change on waterborne diseases.Steven Percival

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gold medal awarded to plant science student

TCD Gold medal

For the second year in succession a plant science graduate has been awarded a gold medal by the Senate of Trinity College.  Gold medals are awarded for outstanding performance in final examinations and are rarely awarded by College.  We all send our congratulations to Alwynne McGeever for her fantastic achievement. The good news is that she has not left us but  is now working for a PhD under the supervision of Professor Fraser Mitchell on the Quantification of tree population dynamics.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Conference on Agriculture and Future Weather Patterns

A free conference on Agriculture and Future Weather Patterns is being held in the Teagasc Food Research Centre, at Ashtown, Dublin on Thursday the 5th December 2013.

The government has set ambitious targets for Irish Agriculture under the banner of Food Harvest 2020with a 50% increase in milk production targeted along with an increase in the output value of beef by 40% and sheep by 20% by 2020. While this is good news for the agricultural sector achieving these goals is very dependent on how our climate is going to evolve.  The fodder crisis during the winter and spring of 2012-13 is a good example of how production and weather are linked. This free conference will:
  •  Update stakeholders on the most current assessments of climate and future weather volatility
  •  Provide an assessment of the impact of the recent fodder crisis on agriculture and lessons learned
  •  Unveil exciting new research in monitoring grass growth and providing decision -support
  •  Identify stakeholder needs in terms of building on-farm adaptive capacity

There is no charge for the conference, but registration is essential.  To register please email your name, organisation and contact details to:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lack of Plant Scientists at critical level in US

Charlotte Darling, who currently works with the 
Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming,
In a major article in US News the problem of the lack of fully trained botanists and  the impact that this will have in so many areas from agriculture and forestry to biofuel production is explored.  The lack of plant scientists will severely hamper our ability to tackle global warming and adapt to climate change.  What is clear is that we need to further develop and invest in Plant Sciences as an academic subject  in order to be able to cover all the important areas it underpins and develop the research based solutions that we need for food, fuel and climate security.   The article explains that the current trend is to make Plant Science a minor subject in larger and less specialized biological sciences courses which seems crazy if Governments and universities  take these issues seriously.  For us to train the very best plant scientists they need to be part of research led botany departments and for that to happen universities have to wise up about future priorities and quickly.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Botany Society Needs YOU!

The Botany Society (BotSoc) has elected a new committee and is now looking for even more members.

Membership only costs two euro and they  have a wine reception for members being planned. So don't miss out. There is a sign up sheet  in the Botany Office or if you prefer  you can contact any of the committee members listed below.  New freshmen students are very welcome and are guaranteed a great time.

The new committee is
Chairman  John Ireland ; Treasurer Kevin Sheridan ; Secretary  Conor Dolan; Promotion:  Cara Delorey  


Friday, November 8, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Effects of energy crops on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Intensive agricultural practices can be responsible for the loss of farmland biodiversity, and have knock-on consequences for the delivery of ecosystem services which benefit humans. Recent research as part of the SIMBIOSYS project, led by Jane Stout in the School of Natural Sciences and Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, has quantified the effects of growing bioenergy crops on biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ireland. PhD student, Jesko Zimmermann, working with Prof Mike Jones, showed that even just two years after planting Miscanthus (a fast growing perennial grass grown for biofuel), a significant amount of carbon was already sequestered into soils (published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy). Furthermore, contrary to expectation, planting Miscanthus did not lead to significant losses in existing soil organic carbon stocks (published in European Journal of Soil Science). Jesko’s work also showed that within-crop patchiness of Miscanthus has a significant impact on payback time for initial investments by farmers and might reduce gross margins by about than 35% (published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy). Another PhD student, Dara Stanley, working with Jane Stout, investigated the effects of energy crops on pollinators and pollination and found that exclusion of pollinators from oilseed rape resulted in approximately 30% decrease in seed number and weight, equivalent to nearly €4 million per annum (published in Journal of Insect Conservation). Furthermore, Dara’s work showed that a wide range of pollinating insects use bioenergy fields (published in Journal of Applied Ecology) and that bees from more than 800 bumblebee colonies are attracted to individual oilseed rape fields (published in PLoS ONE). These studies, together with others by post-docs Jens Dauber and David Bourke who also worked on the SIMBIOSYS project, have substantially advanced understanding of the interactions between bioenergy crops and farmland biodiversity. The final report of the EPA-funded SIMBIOSYS project is available here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Undergraduate introductory field trip 2013

The 2013 Plant Science undergraduates

Each year the incoming junior freshmen (third year students) have introductory field course to learn some basic techniques, as well as to get to know each other.  This year it was based in and around the Wicklow Mountains National Park  and was enjoyed by students and staff alike. The first few days were filled with bright sunshine and that made the excursion to, and work on, Liffey Head Bog (the source of the River Liffey) very pleasant indeed: in fact it was almost too hot. The field work was combined with two overnight stays in Glendalough allowing the woodlands nearby to be investigated as well as the local pubs! Later days were spent at Avoca exploring the mining area and on the coast at Bull Island looking at estuarine and sand dune vegetation and some of the management issues dealing with a nature reserve right in the centre of the City.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bioenergy can work, if it is done right

Jesko Zimmerman
There isn’t much you can tell plant science researcher Jesko Zimmerman about the biomass crop Miscanthus or elephant grass.  It is widely grown throughout the EU as a commercial energy crop, which can be used for combined heat and power generation or converted into biofuel such as ethanol.  However, according to Jesko, bioenergy crops put us into somewhat of a dilemma, or a trilemma as David Tilman and colleagues put it in their noteworthy 2009  paper in the journal Science, ‘Beneficial biofuels -the food, energy, and environment trilemma’. The interesting conclusion of that paper being that bioenergy can work, if it is done right.

Miscanthus x giganteus (Image: Pat Smitz) 
Jesko’s research is exactly about that: how to do it right. His research focusses on Miscanthus x giganteus, a perennial grass originally from south-east Asia, but with the potential to produce high biomass yields even in our cooler European climates. The crop has been and still is heavily subsidised by the government and is becoming more prevalent in the Irish landscape. Although Miscanthus is highly adaptable to European climates, Ireland is at the geographical margin of where the is economically viable. Therefore it is important for farmers to produce the maximum possible yield per hectare. However, while surveying Miscanthus fields all over south-east Ireland he has  discovered lots of open patches within fields where the plants just do not grow.

This raised three questions that Jesko is very interested to finding answers to: (i) Why are they not growing in these areas, (ii) how much yield is being lost, and (iii) how is the economic feasibility of growing Miscanthus affected?

As no yield data was available for these fields, we had to measure the amount of cropped area (and therefore yield) lost due to patchiness using aerial photography, which showed an average reduction in biomass yield of 13.7%.  The economic loss was calculated using life-cycle assessment tools to compare the gross margin for each field if the full potential yield is realised and if yield loss due to patchiness is taken into account. The results showed that farmer’s gross margins were reduced by up to 35 %. The question what caused the patches has not been directly answered. However, the aerial images do give some indications. Miscanthus rhizomes are directly planted into the soil and parallel lines of linear patches indicate problems while planting the crop due to jamming in the mechanical planter, which has been confirmed by farmers. Single large patches indicate localised issues such as areas of water logging while widely spread small patches appear to  originate from planting rhizomes that did not survive storage. Generally it could be shown that patchiness may not be an immediate problem for farmers, but that addressing the issue could have significant economic benefits. While the cause of patchiness was not directly investigated, it can be said that taking more care when planting should reduce the crop patchiness. More details of this can be found in Jesko’s recent paper in Global Change Biology Bioenergy. ‘Assessing the impact of within crop heterogeneity (‘patchiness’) in young Miscanthus × giganteus fields on economic feasibility and soil carbon sequestration’.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Goodbye to the Botany Huts!

Image Trevor Hodkinson
Those of you making their way to the Science area of College will have walked past our temporary accommodation which we have been using for over 30 years. So these temporary buildings have become a permanent fixture for generations of plant scientists.

Plans to remove the botany huts, as they are universally known, and renovate the site is finally under way this week and the square outside the main Botany Building will be converted into a new grassed open space for staff and students to enjoy. Being next to the Botany Building the planting up of the borders will be very special.

Postgraduates have been moved into custom built offices and laboratories in the Biotechnology Building.

See previous blog on the huts here


Friday, October 4, 2013

TCD Botanical Society

Remember Freshers Week ?

Well you might not have had time to join all the societies that you wanted.  But there is still time to sign up to the TCD Botanical Society.  The society is all about increasing awareness and interest in plant science and promote environmental awareness among society members and the student population in an interesting and informative way. The Society  organises lectures, talks, discussions, walks, film showings, field trips and other events. The Botanical Society is a student society but is open to all undergrads, postgrads and staff alike. 

They can be contacted directly by email at


Monday, September 30, 2013

Free course on moss and lichen identification

Clara Bog Visitor Centre
This is a great opportunity for all aspiring plant scientists. An outdoor workshop for beginners to intermediates on Bog Moss and Lichen Identification is being held at Clara Bog SAC in  Co. Offaly on Saturday 5th October.  This will be led by  George Smith who is a  Consultant Ecologist and County Recorder for the British Bryological Society.

The start time is 10.30 am and it is expected to finish by 3.30 pm.  The meeting point is the Clara Bog Visitor Centre, Ballycumber Rd., Clara, Co. Offaly. The Ballycumber Rd. is on the R436. Parking is available at the Clara Bog Visitor Centre.  As this is an outdoor course you should come suitably dressed and be prepared for bad weather and you should bring your own packed lunch and refreshments.  The course is FREE, but as places are limited booking is essential

Booking and enquiries: please contact Therese Kelly on 057 9368878 or email:


Friday, September 20, 2013

Want to be a research scientist? Hear and meet some of the world’s top natural scientists

Cambodia's forests are under constant threat of deforestation
Every year the School of Natural Sciences run the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology seminar series. This is quite a mouthful but is a once in a lifetime opportunity for freshmen and sophister students to hear about cutting edge research in a whole range of disciplines that make up natural sciences, including of course plant science. This year we have speakers from the Universities of Copenhagen, Exeter, Southampton, Michigan State, Neuchatel (France), Greenwich, Oldenberg, Edinburgh and Macaquarie (Australia); the Royal Veterinary College, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, AgroParisTech, and our own University of Maynooth and Queens.

The first lecture is by Professor Ida Theilade who is Senior Researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning. She is also a member of IUCN Species Survival Committee on threatened trees. Her talk is on Evergreen forest types in Cambodia: floristic composition, ecological characteristics and conservation status. Even if you are unsure about plants, then this will give you an interesting insight into biodiversity and conservation and the images are going to be fantastic. She also works on the REDD process (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) with focuses on how to design projects to benefit not only the climate but also biodiversity and forest dependent people. Like many other countries conservation of forests is a very politicized issue, so this will be a very interesting insight into the problems that surround it.

Talks take place every Friday afternoon in the Botany Lecture Theatre at 3 pm starting on the 4th October with tea and cake afterwards. I know you might be a bit nervous about just turning up...but YOU are very welcome to come along and we especially would love to meet and talk to any new students. If you need some more information contact


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

College Foxes Leave Botany

Fox leaving his den under the
 Botany Hut early morning
We are delighted that the temporary portacabins opposite the Botany Building are about to be demolished after over 40 years of use by generations of plant scientists to be replaced with a wonderful new open green space. The Botany Huts, as they are known, also housed the Electron Microscopy Unit in the early days and also for a short period the Environmental Sciences Unit, now the Centre for the Environment. More importantly they have been the home for numerous undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as our extensive growth cabinets. Our students have been moved into fantastic new labs and offices in the Biotechnology Building. The Botany Huts have also been the home for several generations of foxes. Interestingly they seem to know that their home is about to be demolished and have moved to a new location on campus behind the Luce Hall, so hopefully they will enjoy the new green space as much as the rest of us.

The early shift outside the Botany Building

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why should I do Plant Sciences at Trinity?

The quick answer is that we need the very best people to become plant scientists in order to address the most serious and challenging problems facing mankind and the global ecosystem.
Plants provide us with food, biofuels, fibre for clothing, and medicines.  They provide us with shelter, buffer us from extreme weather, regulate the oxygen balance in the atmosphere and sustain our global diversity. In fact plants sustain all life on Earth.  The challenges thrown up by global warming and a rapidly developing population, set to hit between 10  to 12 billion by 2050, will be solved largely by plants and that means plant scientists.

Currently we are desperately short of plant scientists and for that reason they are among the top science earners coming after doctors and dentists in terms of average starting salary.

The opportunities are enormous allowing you to specialize in biochemistry, physiology, genetics, systematics, conservation and many more areas, in fact plant scientists are to be found working at the forefront of all science areas.  So whether you enjoy lab work or being outdoors, developing new products, growing food or biofuels, whether its research or business, plant sciences can offer you enormous opportunities. New industrial initiatives using plants include anti-cancer drugs, biodegradable plastics, biodiesel from algae, healthier sugars, that’s not to mention advances in cereal and crop production, as well as forestry, all developed by plant scientists.  Plants offer us sustainable alternatives to feeding the global population and dealing with climate change.  Are you up for the challenge?

If interested why not have a look at this list of 100 important questions that urgently need to be addressed by the next generation of plant scientists.  This list was drawn up by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the John Innes Centre, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Horticultural Society, universities, agriculture and industry.  Perhaps with more plant scientists we really can make a difference and really tackle hunger, poverty and climate change. Have a look at some of our past students or make an appointment to talk to one of us.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New research starts on Embelia

Embelia schimperi
image copyright
Anne Dubéarnès has just started work on her Ph.D. Project on the genus Embelia under the supervision of John Parnell and Trevor Hodkinson. Her project is part financed by the UK branch of the Trinity Trust. Embelia is a large genus, with over 140 species, of largely Asian climbers that belongs to the Myrsinoideae sub-family of the Primulaceae (the Primrose family). The Myrsinoideae also, surprisingly, now contains the genus Cyclamen. Much remains to be discovered about the phylogeny, taxonomy and biogeography of Embelia and we look forward to hearing more of Anne's work as it progresses.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Bioblitz 2013 results

The results of this year’s Bioblitz have just been released.  Trinity Botany students were very much involved in this years activities.  See the results in the video below presented by Derek Mooney of RTE.  For further information go to the Bioblitz homepage.