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Sustainable Agriculture and Food

Food Security

Sustainable Agriculture and Food is one of BBSRC’s key strategic research priorities and work funded in this area contributes towards the UK’s multi-agency Global Food Security programme.

MIBTP has 18 studentships each year earmarked for research projects in this area. Sustainable Agriculture and Food is defined broadly as bioscience addressing the challenge to produce and supply enough safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way for a growing global population in the context of global climate change, other environmental changes and declining resources. MIBTP has particular research expertise in the priority areas of Plant and Crop Science, Animal Health, Soil Science, Agri-systems, and Microbial food safety.

Our Topics

Animal Health and Welfare

Research considered relevant to Animal Health includes all aspects of diseases of farmed, lab and companion animals; diseases of wild animals which can transmit to farmed, lab and companion animals (and where the possibility of transmission is included in the application); overseas diseases that could spread to UK livestock.

Research considered relevant to Animal Welfare includes dedicated research that aims to improve the conditions and management of farmed, laboratory*, companion and other managed animals (e.g. zoo animals) through improvement to procedures and husbandry which minimise pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

Current Projects

Diseases include infestations by “pests”, i.e. internal (helminth) or external (arthropod) parasites, as well as infections by viral, bacterial, protozoal or fungal pathogens. Farmed animals include: livestock, poultry, fish and bees; Studies of vertebrate or invertebrate wildlife reservoirs or vectors of infection are only included if they focus on the role of wild animals in the transmission to and/or maintenance of disease in the target farmed species, and not on the nature or incidence of disease in the wildlife host per se.

The following disease types are included:

  • TSEs (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies) research. Diseases include BSE and Scrapie. Includes research on yeast prions.

  • Endemic Diseases representing a constant presence of disease or infectious agent within a given geographical area and/or population group. Includes research on: tuberculosis, Marek’s disease, mastitis (including research on Staphylococcus aureusand Streptococcus uberis) and coronavirus.

  • Exotic Diseases not native to a given area or population. Includes Bluetongue, avian flu, foot and mouth, and African swine fever.

  • Food-borne Zoonoses - diseases that affect animals, which can be transmitted to humans through the food chain. Research includes food-borne bacteria and viruses, notably the pathogenicity of Campylobacter, Escherichia and Salmonella, where studies are at the animal level. It includes food-borne and other infectious diseases of zoonotic origin with implications for public health that are carried by farmed animals, but do not necessarily have a significant impact on animal health.

  • Parasitic Diseases resulting from a number of microbial protozoan pathogens, including Leishmania, Eimeria, Toxoplasma, and Cryptosporidia and larger helminths, including nematodes.

  • Non-transmissible diseases – physiological or metabolic diseases such as cancer in animals, metabolic disorders, immune disorders and reproductive disorders.

  • Research relating to animal welfare where the focus is a welfare-related disease, such as lameness or mastitis
  • Research on farmed animals that does not specifically relate to disease, such as: genetics and genomics of farmed animals; basic immunology of farmed animals; research into reproduction of farmed animals

Relevant animal welfare research includes:

  • The basic behavioural, neurobiological, immune, metabolic, physiological and tissue responses of animals to their environmental conditions

  • The consequences of human intervention, genetic selection and management for the normal function of animals

  • The incidence and alleviation of disease, pain and mental disorders

  • Measures of welfare, including developing and validating new measures

  • Welfare related health/disease (e.g. foot rot, lameness, mastitis, postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome)

  • Housing, husbandry and environmental impacts on welfare

  • Relevant behaviour, cognition and perception

  • Pain and nociception

  • The impact of early life challenges on development and long term health and welfare

  • The influence of production traits on animal welfare.

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Microbial Food Safety

Microbial Food Safety describes the production, transportation, handling, preparation, storage and consumption of food in ways that prevent food-borne illness. Also includes contamination of food with microbial toxins.

Current Projects


  • Research relating to microorganisms that potentially cause illness in humans via the contamination of food sources (food poisoning). Relevant microorganisms include: Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Listeria Clostridium, entero-hemorrhagic bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 (EHEC, ETEC, VTEC, etc.), enteric viruses. Research should include that where the emphasis is on the interaction of the microbe with the human or farmed animal host.

  • Research relating to fungal contamination of grain and other foods with mycotoxins (e.g. ergot, aflatoxins), or contamination of foods with bacterial toxins.

  • Processing of food to inactivate/delay growth of microbial components, e.g. pasteurisation and sterilisation. Food preservation, storage and handling methods to prevent unwanted microbial growth and spoilage (e.g. salting, chilling, freezing, desiccation) – including products that are modified by desirable microbes (cheese, yoghurt, etc.).

  • Monitoring of the food supply chain to allow traceability of microbial contamination; development of methods for detection of specific microbes or their toxins.

  • Microbial safety relating to specific diets, for example, baby foods, maternal diet.

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Plant and Crop Science

Crop plants are defined as plants (including algae and cultivated mushrooms) grown to be harvested as food (cereals, vegetables, oils), livestock fodder, or for any other economic purpose. Such purposes include: use of trees for wood and paper production; extraction of non- food plant oils; use as materials (e.g. cotton); use for extraction of bio-pharmaceuticals; production of energy crops (such as for biofuels).

Current Projects

This topic includes:

  • All research involving crop plants or crop plant cells, including managed grass/clover/pasture and grazing crops

  • Crop breeding, including by genetic modification

  • Study of diseases (viral, bacterial or fungal) and invertebrate pests of direct relevance to crops, including studies of crop pests and pathogens not directly involving the crop (e.g. combating resistance of insect pests to insecticides, or the study of crop pathogens on model plants or in isolation)

  • Influences of the environment on crop plants (e.g. climate change, drought)

  • Soil-crop interactions and studies on the rhizosphere that directly involve crop plants

  • Pharming – use of crop plants to produce biopharmaceuticals

  • Studies on pollinators only where direct interaction with a crop is being studied

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