Thursday, 29 July 2021

NUI Galway Project Wins SFI Future Innovator AI for Societal Good Challenge

AI-enabled satellite remote sensing can provide solution for measuring climate change adaptation A research project at NUI Galway has been announced today as the winner of the SFI Future Innovator Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Societal Good Challenge, for its ground-breaking AI-based satellite imagery analysis tool to measure climate change adaptation in agriculture. Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, together with Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD announced the winning TAPAS project. The TAPAS team led by Dr Aaron Golden and Professor Charles Spillane from NUI Galway, have been awarded €1 million for their interdisciplinary project resulting in a tool capable of providing objective data on the effectiveness of agricultural interventions for climate change adaptation.  The TAPAS project was co-funded with Irish Aid under SFI’s partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and has focused initially on test sites in Senegal that are subject to adaptation-strengthening agri-food interventions. Adaptation to climate change in developing countries is expected to cost $140-300 billion per year by 2030, so assessing the effectiveness of resilience-strengthening interventions through the measurement, reporting and verification of climate change adaptation in the agriculture and food sectors is a critical area of development. Over 130 countries are now prioritising agricultural adaptation in their national plans to meet the necessary ambition of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Speaking today, Minister Simon Harris said: “Congratulations to the TAPAS team at NUI Galway on this fantastic achievement. Building resilience through climate change adaptation which will strengthen food security is a critical issue for governments across the world and this solution provides a way forward that will allow public and private enterprises to invest wisely by assessing effective interventions and helping to achieve the objectives set out in the national Climate Action Plan.” Commenting on the Award, Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD added: “Imagine that it hasn’t rained for a year or that your crops have been scorched by the sun. That’s the reality for communities across the developing world who rely on rain-fed agriculture. Climate change threatens the ability of millions of families to provide food and earn income. I welcome the ingenuity of Dr Golden and his team at NUI Galway in developing this technology which will help communities adapt to our changing climate.” On winning the prize Dr Aaron Golden, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Maths, NUI Galway, stated: “The TAPAS project team and I are absolutely delighted to receive this prize in recognition of the importance of the ground-breaking technology we are developing with TAPAS, which we believe has the potential to empower society across the globe to proactively reduce the impact of Climate Change, most especially those communities in the developing world whose economies are almost entirely dependent on agriculture. It has been an honour to work with such excellent collaborators at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and SFI’s unique and innovative Challenge based funding process has, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, really helped us thrive as an interdisciplinary group of scientists to bring this transformative project to reality." The team co-lead Professor Charles Spillane, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, added: “Climate change adaptation is a critical 21st century challenge, particularly in the agriculture sector where almost 20 million (~40%) of the world’s agricultural land area is at risk of adverse effects of climate change. The current lack of a universally deployable system to measure adaptation to climate change motivated us to develop one, by combining AI with satellite remote sensing of agricultural systems. Moving forward from COP26, our TAPAS technology for measuring adaptation will inform both public and private investments to ensure that the most effective climate change adaptation interventions are deployed globally.” Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “Congratulations to Dr Aaron Golden, Professor Charles Spillane and Dr Andy Jarvis. This novel solution shows exactly what can be accomplished when interdisciplinary expertise comes together under a challenge-based funding structure that facilitates ideation through to invention. I am delighted for the team and look forward to following TAPAS as the impact of this solution unfolds across the globe. “I would also like to extend my congratulations to the runners up, Professor Patricia Maguire and the AI_PREMie team, for the important work they are doing in advancing foetal health and women’s health with their state-of-the-art diagnostic application.” As part of the SFI AI for Societal Good Challenge, a runner-up award of €500,000 was awarded to Prof Patricia Maguire, University College Dublin (UCD), and her team AI_PREMie­ in recognition of the potential impact of their AI-powered risk stratification platform for preeclampsia. -Ends-


News Archive

Friday, 23 July 2021

Professor Charles Spillane, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, will give a presentation on ‘Transformative agrifood pathways for achieving global climate targets’ at the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit on Tuesday, 27 July, 2021. The recent State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2021 report has highlighted the worsening global situation regarding chronic food insecurity, which has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, humanity was already not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) commitments to end world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. The recent State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 (SOFI 2021) report highlights that there are now 811 million people suffering from chronic hunger, up from 690 million before the pandemic. More than 2.3 billion people lack year-round access to adequate food, while 3 billion people do not have enough money to buy healthy diets. All of these indicators of food security and nutrition are currently going in the wrong direction. In September 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is convening a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The Summit aims to launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems. Over the past year, Professor Spillane has been commissioned by the Climate Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to research and develop a vision paper and policy brief on ‘Transformative agrifood pathways for achieving global climate targets’ as a knowledge input to the UN Food Systems Summit policy process in September 2021. A team from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway consisting of Professor Spillane, Dr David Styles, Dr Una Murray and Dr Peter McKeown have been working on the vision documents in close collaboration with colleagues across a range of FAO Divisions at their headquarters in Rome. On 26–28 July 2021 the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit will set the stage for the culminating global event in September by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The event aims to deliver the latest evidence-based and scientific approaches to food systems transformation from around the world, launch a set of new commitments through coalitions of action and mobilise new financing and partnerships. The Pre-Summit will take stock of the progress made through that process, laying the groundwork for an ambitious and productive UN Food Systems Summit, which will take place in September alongside the UN General Assembly in New York. Professor Spillane has been invited by FAO and UNDP to deliver a presentation on “Transformative agrifood pathways for achieving global climate targets“ and engage as a Panel Member at the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit FAO/UNDP Session on “Scaling up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture through Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans (SCALA)”. In addition to Prof. Spillane, the FAO/UNDP Session will have contributions from: Julia Wolf, SCALA Programme Coordinator; Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist NAPs, UNDP; John Chrysostom Birantana, Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries, Uganda; Vinod Ahuja, FAO Representative in Mongolia; and Greg Downing, Sustainability Director on Climate at Cargill. The FAO/UNDP Session will be held on Tuesday 27 July at 13:30-14:20 CEST with online registration available at https://bit.ly/36UQ8Az, or https://bit.ly/3wZgKuI. For further information on the Pre-Food Systems Summit 2021 visit: https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit/pre-summit.  -Ends-

Friday, 23 July 2021

Scientists show that different marriage systems within traditional farming communities in Africa affect the spread of variants of pandemic crop viruses Scientists from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway have analysed the social factors that influence the spread of viruses responsible for Cassava Mosaic Disease, one of the most important virus crop diseases in Africa. Their results revealed contrasting dynamics of viral diversity due to different marriage systems across traditional farming communities in Gabon, Central Africa, directly related to cultural differences in the way villages exchange cassava varieties through matrimonial networks. The study has been published today (23 July 2021) in the leading journal Nature Communications. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made all of humanity acutely aware of how social interactions contribute to the spread of viral diseases. The research by Dr Marc Delêtre, Professor Charles Spillane and Dr Ronan Sulpice from NUI Galway, in collaboration with Dr Jean-Michel Lett from Cirad (France), has now shown that social factors that govern interactions between communities of farmers also influence the spread of pandemic crop viruses that threaten food security in Africa. The research combined anthropological field research by Dr Delêtre in Gabon with molecular plant virus epidemiology in the lab to analyse factors that influence the spread of viruses responsible for the Cassava Mosaic Disease, one of the most important virus crop diseases in Africa. Dr Marc Delêtre conducted the interdisciplinary research as a member of Professor Charles Spillane’s Genetics and Biotechnology lab in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway during his EU Marie Curie funded postdoctoral research project. Dr Delêtre analysed the DNA sequence of plant viruses in infected cassava plants collected from different villages across Africa and found that the diversity of the viral variants causing Cassava Mosaic Disease was much higher in matrilineal communities (where membership to the social group is inherited from the mother) compared to patrilineal communities (where descent is traced through the father). Dr Delêtre said: “I have been working in Gabon since 2004, interviewing farmers, recording varieties and collecting samples. I discovered that there is a strong relationship between rules that control exchanges of cassava landraces between smallholder farming communities and rules that govern the transmission of the clan (kinship), with a direct impact on the dynamics of crop genetic diversity.” In matrilineal societies, farmers readily import new cassava varieties through matrimonial networks, and as a result varietal diversity increases in the community. In patrilineal villages, farmers rely mainly on small sets of heirloom crop varieties. On average, cassava varietal diversity is five times higher in matrilineal villages than it is in patrilineal ones. However, communities who exchange germplasm are also more exposed to new viral variants. Dr Delêtre added: “Seed exchange networks play an active role in the dynamics of agrobiodiversity and can make smallholder farming systems more robust to pathogens where they favour the adoption of disease-resistant varieties. However, they can also make these systems more vulnerable if they facilitate the dissemination of seedborne plant pathogens. What we found is that there is also a cultural component to crop plant epidemiology.” Cassava mosaic disease is one of the most important virus crop diseases in Africa, causing losses of 20% to 95% of cassava harvests and economic losses estimated at US$1.2 to 2.3 billion each year in Africa. With the threat of other crop pandemics spreading across Africa, such as the Cassava Brown Streak Disease, an emerging threat to regional food security, understanding how social systems can drive transmission of crop viruses is key to designing and promoting local strategies for preventing or curbing the spread of crop pandemics. Professor Charles Spillane, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, commented: “Understanding different social systems is critical for understanding the transmission and evolution of pandemic viruses, whether they are viruses infecting humans, livestock or crops. Genetic epidemiology combined with an understanding of social interaction systems can generate the knowledge necessary for reducing the transmission of viral diseases that are catastrophic for the poorest or most marginalised in society. The findings of this interdisciplinary research will inform new approaches for reducing the burden of viral disease on staple crops of smallholders in Africa.” Read the full study in Nature Communications here: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24720-6. -Ends-

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

A new study, led by Dr Elaine Wallace at NUI Galway and senior academics from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, have investigated whether consumers follow a brand on social media that reflects their real self, or if they follow a brand to create more of an ideal self-image, and whether this would be associated with different outcomes offline.  Companies often try to understand the relationship between followers of their brands on social media, and how those brands perform in the offline, real world. When consumers follow brands on social media, they sometimes do so to signal something about themselves (the real self), or to create a self-image that might be more of an ideal.  The study explored if that meant some consumers’ relationships with brands on social media are more superficial.  Specifically, the study investigated whether individuals would pay a premium price for those brands offline, for instance would they still pay if the price of that good went up, or if it was more expensive than other brands in that category. The study also investigated whether these followers on social media would talk about that brand with their friends.   Participants in the study followed a brand on social media, which included fashion and sports clothing brands.  55% of the respondents were female, with an age range from 23-37 years.  56% of the participants were heavy social media users, spending at least three hours online daily.  The social media platforms used were Instagram (50% of users) and Facebook (40%), as well as sites such as Pinterest.  While 57% of the respondents were students, the majority of the remainder were working. The data was collected in Portugal.  In the study, the authors considered whether brand trust (measured as the credibility, integrity, and benevolence of the brand) would influence those outcomes such as willingness to pay a premium price.  In addition, the study investigated brand engagement, which is the degree to which social media users would spend time and interact online with the brand they follow. Both trust and engagement are typical characteristics of a strong brand relationship. As expected, when consumers believed that the brand they followed was a reflection of their true selves, they would pay a premium price for it, and talk about it with friends – but only when they trusted it and were engaged with it. Surprisingly, when consumers believed that the brand they followed helped them to show off an ideal self-image, they did not trust the brand or engage with it – yet they would still pay a premium price for it, and they would talk about the brand with their friends. Lead author of the study, Dr Elaine Wallace, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway, said: “We were surprised with our findings. Strong brand relationships are usually based on trust. Why would consumers sometimes pay more for a brand, even when they don’t trust it?  We believe that when brands are used to create an image on social media, consumers are willing to pay more for them in the real world, because they allow them to create an image offline too – yet this relationship might be somewhat superficial because they don’t necessarily trust that brand." “By contrast, when people follow a brand that reflects their true selves, they need to first trust that brand, before they will pay more for it. We believe this signals a more authentic relationship between the consumer and the brand.”  The full study is available in the Journal of Business Research: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2021.06.058 -Ends-


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