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Saorla Kavanagh

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Research Profile

PhD project: Bioactive and nutritional profiles of Irish honey in relation to anthropogenic activity

PhD student Saorla Kavanagh is studying honey chemistry in relation to the landscape context in which honeybee hives are placed. Saorla has funding from IRC and a DCU Career Enhancement Award and is based in DCU under the primary supervision of Dr Blánaid White, and is co-supervised by Jane Stout.

Declines in bee populations have caused great concern due to the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Neonicotinoids (neuro-active insecticides) have been implicated in these declines. They have been found to decrease the foraging success of the honey bee with the potential to induce a variety of behavioural difficulties. However, honey bees and the pollination services they provide are also threatened by a range of human activities. The aim of my project is to examine how changes caused by humans at the landscape level affect pollinators and pollination services. My project will combine cutting edge analytical chemistry techniques with up-to-date geographical surveys to explore the relationship between landscape context, agricultural practice and honey composition in terms of bioactive substances and contaminants in order to improve the marketing of Irish honey.

The aims of my project are to identify the bioactive (having an effect upon a living organism, tissue, or cell) and anthropogenic (caused by humans) constituents of honey, and to determine the extent to which honey chemistry is related to the environment foraged by the bees. Composition profiles can be used to prove food authenticity and develop traceability and contaminant analyses; over 85% of worldwide manuka honey is estimated to be counterfeit, and honey samples showed the highest level of non-compliance for antibacterial contamination of all animal foodstuffs tested by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) in 2011. By comparing composition profiles of honey to the composition and configuration of surrounding landscape, the extent to which land use and agricultural farming practices impact on honey chemistry can be explored.

My project will provide an extensive profile of honey compounds and will enable the development of a typical polyphenol (a kind of chemical that (at least in theory) may protect against some common health problems and possibly certain effects of aging) constituent profile for Irish honey. By determining the presence and concentration of any EFSA identified insecticides and publishing this information, agricultural farming practices may improve i.e. the use of pesticides known to be harmful to bees may cease to be used. The results will also provide critical information which will contribute to the emerging international knowledge on bee health.

DCU Career Enhancement Award and IRC funding

Saorla Kavanagh, School of Chemical Sciences, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

Tel: +353-1-7005791


Last updated 21 March 2017