Trinity scientists secure prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowships

Posted on: 22 September 2023

Ecologist Dr Richard Nair and immunologist Dr Craig McEntee have secured the awards, funded in Ireland by Science Foundation Ireland, are given to outstanding scientists in the early stages of their research careers who have the potential to become leaders in their field.

Trinity scientists secure prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowships

These URF awards provide salary costs and research expenses for up to eight years and provide the opportunity to build independent research careers. 

Dr Nair, from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, will use the funding to deliver project RoDEO: Root Dynamics for Ecosystem ObservationDr Nair and his team will measure seasonal patterns of root growth using robotics and AI in real ecosystems to better understand and predict how ecosystems will respond to climate change.  

Dr Nair said:

Roots are the ‘hidden half’ of plants and are critical to how both plants and ecosystems work but they are difficult to measure so their role in how ecosystems respond to – and potentially slow – climate change is uncertain. We will study links between carbon uptake and release by ecosystems, and to what extent seasonal patterns of root and leaf growth are paired. This will help us forecast, adapt to, and manage ongoing global change.  

“RoDEO will provide new fundamental data about long-term trends and patterns and will ultimately allow improvement of climate models, which in turn will aid management decisions that are taken to optimise carbon storage in ecosystems. RoDEO will help inform evidence-based policy around climate action and also build technical capacity in Ireland to make such novel measurements.”

Dr McEntee, from Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, who is based in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, will use the funding to deliver a project that seeks to decipher the role of PYHIN proteins in T cell-mediated adaptive immunity. A better understanding of this process should help us develop improved vaccines. 

Dr McEntee said:

“In this project my team and I will study the early immune events following infection which ultimately shape the subsequent development of long-lived memory T cells to determine key factors driving their differentiation. By identifying key factors involved in the generation of memory T cells, we hope to identify new targets or strategies to boost immunity against infectious diseases by harnessing such responses, such as with improved vaccines capable of driving the differentiation of tissue-resident memory T cells.

“The importance of effective vaccines cannot be understated and the COVID-19 pandemic underlined that in no uncertain terms. As another example, influenza viruses alone are responsible for 4-50 million symptomatic cases and 15-70,000 deaths in Europe annually, with an economic cost of €6-14 billion. Universal vaccines capable of conferring protection against entire families of viruses, including newly emerging strains and variants, would thus have a transformative impact on public health. Thanks to the support of The Royal Society and Science Foundation Ireland through this University Research Fellowship I will fulfil a career ambition of leading a research team to uncover novel immune mechanisms by which our bodies respond to and fight disease.”

Professor Sinéad Ryan, Dean of Research at Trinity, said:

“The Royal Society University Research Fellowship scheme supports exceptional early career researchers whose work may prove fundamental to the future of global science. These projects will contribute to an improved understanding of ecosystem responses to climate change and to the development of more effective vaccines promises – both issues of global importance. We look forward to following the progress of both projects as Richard and Craig develop their careers at Trinity.”

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