Deadline: 4th August 2017


Role of the rumen microbiome in enhancing feed efficiency and reducing methane emissions in sheep

Background: Global demand for livestock products will continue to increase driven by growing populations. In 2010, the ruminant sector contributed about 29 percent to global meat production (equivalent to 81 million tonnes) of which 79 percent is from the cattle sector and the remaining from buffalo and small ruminants. Global milk production in 2010 was 717 million tonnes with milk production from the cattle sector contributing the bulk, about 83 percent of global production.While ruminants play an important role in providing high quality protein essential for human diets, they are an important source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To avoid significant increases in total GHG emissions from the sector, a reduction of the intensity of emissions from ruminant livestock is required.
Between 2000 and 2050, the global goat and sheep population is forecast to rise from 1.7 billion to 2.7 billion. Globally, small ruminant production of meat and milk is currently responsible for 428.8 million tonnes CO2-eq, of which 254.4 million tonnes CO2-eq (59 percent) are associated with sheep production. Significant efforts are underway to develop low-emissions sheep production systems, through breeding of low-emissions sheep combined with innovations in husbandry and feeding regimes. Teagasc have made considerable progress in analysing the microbial diversity, abundance and functional capacity of the bovine rumen and its influence on host feed efficiency and methane emissions. In the Teagasc Athenry sheep improvement programme, Residual Feed Intake (RFI) and other production traits are measured routinely on large numbers of sheep and rumen contents collected. In this Walsh Fellowship, the PhD student will measure methane emissions from the sheep, and perform next-generation sequencing to investigate the influence of the sheep rumen microbiome in controlling host feed efficiency and methane emissions. Due to low cost, large numbers, easy handing and extensive phenotyping, sheep are as an excellent model to study the rumen microbiome for developing novel strategies to reduce methane emissions.
The Walsh Fellow will enrol in the NUI Galway - Teagasc Structured PhD in Plant & AgriBiosciences to generate data that contributes to development of more carbon-neutral approaches for ruminant livestock production and products. The project will contribute to the broader goals of the NUI Galway – Teagasc Research & Education Alliance on Carbon-Neutral Agriculture which was launched in July 2016.

Requirements: Applicants should have a primary degree (First or upper Second Class Honours) or M.Sc. in an appropriate discipline (Animal science, Biological sciences, Molecular biology, Biotechnology etc.), and some prior experience of working on molecular genetics/biology, ideally in an agricultural context. Familiarity with next-generation genomics techniques and also with bioinformatics (e.g. R, Python) would be highly desirable, combined with a motivation to develop innovative approaches for reducing the emissions intensity of sheep production systems. A full EU driving licence is also required.

The PhD Fellowship is part of a joint research project between Teagasc Athenry and the Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) at NUI Galway. The student will be registered on the NUI Galway - Teagasc Structured PhD in Plant & AgriBiosciences where, in addition to their research project, they will undertake broader training in relation to understanding agrifood systems and innovations. The student will be co-supervised by Dr. Sinead Waters (Teagasc) and Prof. Charles Spillane (NUI Galway) and will work between the two research labs as appropriate. The project will involve collaborations with other scientists in NUI Galway, Teagasc and internationally. The 4-year fellowship provides an annual stipend of €22,000 from which university fees are paid. 

For further information please email both and

Application Procedure: By email submit an electronic copy of Curriculum Vitae (with contact details for 3 referees), and a 1 page letter of motivation simultaneously to both and 

The subject line of the email message should be: PhD Fellowship Application - Sheep Emissions

Closing date:        4th August 2017 @ 1700