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Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) PhD CASE: Factors influencing the production of mycotoxins in grass silage and their effect on gut health and performance in dairy cows

Other - Non Specified Department

Location:  Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB
Post Type:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours BST on Friday 26 July 2024
Interview Date:  To be confirmed
Reference:  MH-R-RHH-R4-LS-24

Factors influencing the production of mycotoxins in grass silage and their effect on the rumen microbiome and health and performance of dairy cows

Primary supervisor: Prof Liam Sinclair, Harper Adams University

Non-academic partner: Dr Jules Taylor-Pickard, Alltech

Project description

Grass silage is the predominant forage fed to dairy cows in the UK. The aim when ensiling grass is to create an anaerobic environment to restrict proliferation of undesirable microbes, thereby maintaining the nutritive value over the winter-feeding period, and preventing spoilage. Factors such as the dry matter and sugar content of the grass, along with plant maturity and ensiling conditions can all affect the forage quality. Under adverse forage growing and ensiling conditions, or aerobic spoilage of clamps or bales at feed-out, fungal spoilage can be widespread. Under these conditions fungi can produce secondary compounds, including mycotoxins, which have been reported to occur in over 90% of the forage fed to cattle in temperate regions such as the UK, Ireland and Northern Europe. When present in the diet of cattle, mycotoxins and biologically active breakdown products can negatively affect gut function, health, fertility and production, and, in extreme cases, lead to death. Moreover, there is a risk that mycotoxins can be passed into the human food chain via the milk or meat.

Ruminants such as cattle rely on the activity of the microbes in the first stomach, or rumen, to digest feeds such as grass silage. Cattle can be more resistant to certain mycotoxins due to the activity of the rumen microbial community. However, most work has been undertaken on maize silage and few studies have been conducted on the mycotoxins commonly found in grass silage, or the subsequent effect of these compounds on the rumen microbiome. The ability of the rumen microbiome to efficiently digest forages is also dependent on a delicate balance of microbial species that can break down fibre and protein in the diet. An imbalance or shift in microbial population as a result of mycotoxins in grass silage may reduce digestive efficiency and indirectly impair health, milk performance and fertility.

Harper Adams University is one of the few centres in the UK that has the capability to carry out high impact research to investigate mycotoxin production in grass silage and subsequent effects on the rumen microbiome, rumen fermentation and immune response in dairy cows. These facilities allow us to ensile grass silage at multiple scales and under varying conditions to produce different levels of mycotoxins. Studies undertaken in vitro or in the animal can be undertaken to examine the ability of the microbiome to detoxify mycotoxins, and the uptake of biologically active compounds into milk. The rumen microbial community will be analysed using the current metagenomic and metabarcoding methodologies. Blood samples may be collected to examine the immune response to feeding forages with different mycotoxin loads, and strategies will be examined to mitigate and deactivate the effects of mycotoxins, such as the use of in-feed binder supplements. Mycotoxin analysis will be conducted by at a dedicated laboratory run by the industrial partner. 

Selection will be based on academic attainment, and research potential within the MIBTP Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). However, international student numbers are capped at 30% by the funders (BBSRC).

Successful candidates will receive a yearly stipend (paid monthly in advance) set at the UKRI rate: for 2024/5 this will be £19,237. In addition, the industry partner will provide a £2000 per year uplift to the stipend.

Harper Adams University is unfortunately unable to offer a fee waiver for international students applying to the MIBTP programme. Evidence of funding will be required for international students to show they can cover the difference between the UK and international student fees for the full four years of the programme: for the 2024/5 academic year this amount is £10,890.  However, scholarships may be available at the time of appointment to cover the difference between UK and International fees for the duration of the programme. 

Please note that in addition to the Harper Adams application form you will be required to complete an EDI form directly with MIBTP. 

Candidates are encouraged to contact Prof Liam Sinclair to discuss the project before applying if they wish to.

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Harper Adams University is one of the premier UK Higher Education institutions focused on the land-based and food supply chain sector. With around 2,800 undergraduate students, plus those completing postgraduate, research and CPD programmes, Harper Adams University is the UK's largest single provider of higher education for these subjects.  Programmes fall into eleven broad subject areas – but none operate in isolation. Community and collaboration are key at Harper Adams, meaning everyone, including staff, students and industry partners, benefits from a close network of knowledge and opportunity exchange. Situated in Shropshire, the campus and the surrounding area provide an excellent working and living environment for staff and students alike.

Harper Adams is consistently positioned highly in a range of national ratings, performance measures and league tables. The University has been the highest performing modern university in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide for the last four years, climbing to 17th place in the overall league table. In the 2020 guide Harper Adams was named Modern University of the Year and runner-up University of the Year. In the 2019 Whatuni? Student Choice Awards, based on student reviews, Harper Adams won the Student Support category for the fifth time – the only university to have taken the title since the awards began - and won the category for best job prospects for a fourth year running. In the 2020 QS World Rankings for Agriculture and Forestry published in March 2020, Harper Adams was ranked first in the UK for academic reputation and second in the world for its reputation with employers.

Harper Adams University is internationally recognised for the quality of its research, as evidenced by the Research Excellence Framework 2022. In order to maintain and uphold the high standards of our research, we continue to undertake initiatives to ensure that integrity, ethics and excellence are at the core of our research activities and fully embedded in our research culture.

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