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Giant’s Causeway Invasive species Irish sharks Guinness returns Mass medication

Special section on the earth sciences





ISSUE 16 May 06


Ireland’s science, nature and discovery magazine 6 issues a year covering science at home and abroad In newsagents throughout Ireland, and on subscription Subscribe on line from our website. €30 post included Ireland, UK and EU


Among the geological wonders of the world, the Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Antrim. Photograph: Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Publisher Duke Kennedy Sweetman Ltd 5 Serpentine Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. and Foxford Woollen Mills, Foxford, Co. Mayo Tel: 01 4545231 Email: Editors Seán Duke Tom Kennedy Business Development Manager Alan Doherty Design and Production Albertine Kennedy Publishing Cloonlara, Swinford, Co Mayo Proofing Aisling McLaughlin Printing Turner Print, Longford




I think, therefore I am, but how did I come to be? Seán Duke reports that there is more to inheritance than genes.



Shane Leavy writes that species are on the move



Tony Bazley brings us news and views on the earth sciences from ES2k


Mass medication

Gary Finnegan asks if we can be trusted to look after our own health


SPIN INDUSTRY Guinness backs Dublin

Seán Duke reports on the high-technology upgrade

UCC is close to industry



Hunting the hunter


Anthony King reveals that Ireland is surrounded by sharks

SPIN INDUSTRY Surviving in the shark pool


GEOSCIENCE Giant’s Causeway

Mary Mulvihill visits the world famous site








Contributors in this issue Tony Bazley, Gary Finnegan, Anthony King, Shane Leavy, Mary Mulvihill.

Seán Duke reports on the value of knowledge



Articles published in Science SPIN may reflect the views of the contributors and not the official views of the publication, its editorial staff, its ownership, or its sponsors.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 3

Upfront Fishy story

In March two fishermen from Killala were surprised to find a 490 pound Portbeagle shark trapped in their nets. T J Flannery and Michael Gallagher were out in their thirty foot boat, lobster potting. The Western People reported that the men, unable to bring the eight foot shark on board, towed it six miles back to shore where it ended up in the cold room of Niall Burn’s fish shop. Portbeagle sharks are uncommon visitors, and they usually only come closer to shore in summer months.

Pharmacy upgrade

In response to a growing need for pharmaceutical graduates there has been a major upgrading of resources at UCC and the College of Surgeons. In March the Cavanagh Pharmacy Building at UCC was officially opened. Since 2003 pharmacy students had been enrolling at UCC, but until now they have been spread over several locations around the college. The new building accommodates the School of Pharmacy and also the Biological Research Facility.

Bags of money

Some of the cash from landfill charges and the plastic bag levy is going back into a cleaner greener production programme. This programme, run by the EPA, has given financial support to more than 50 industry-related projects aimed at reducing waste. In March this year the EPA announced that almost €2 million has been allocated to fifteen new projects. Companies and third level institutes can avail of this support to develop more efficient manufacturing and processing technologies.

Research for Athlone

Up to fifty researchers are likely to settle in Athlone to work at the Irish branch of the Georgia Tech Institute. The Georgia Tech Institute of Atlanta is to be based at the IDA Business and Technology Park, Athlone. The Institute is the applied research arm of the largest engineering college in the USA. Since the 1930s the level of technology research being conducted in Atlanta has been growing, and the Institute now has 1,300 people working on such areas as aerodynamics, environmental management, photonics, and opto-electronics. The annual value of research being conducted for industry, government, and university clients, has been estimated at $140 million. The development at Athlone will be the first overseas facility for the college, and the plan is to build up strong industry links over the coming five years. The Institute also aims to work closely with Irish colleges and institutes where there is a sharing of research interests. Among the areas being explored are Internet protocol television (IPTV), radio frequency identification (RFID), and authentication technologies. The Institute’s Director, Dr Stephen E Cross, expressed the hope that collaboration with universities across Ireland will lead to significant breakthroughs in technology.

Tracking immigrants

Up to now paper tracking has almost totally failed to follow how many people are coming into Ireland and staying on for work. To overcome that problem Siemens has been given the contract to set up an automated visa tracking system. With this system, anyone applying to enter Ireland can expect a faster, turnaround, but detection will also be more efficient.

Valuable trees

The forestry sector, including the contribution to transport, and downstream activities, is believed to account for about eight per cent of the value added by manufacturing in Europe. In Europe

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 2

Eastern promise

If you can’t beat them, join them. The drift of jobs to the east is not just confined to low technology and assembly operations. Ireland may have a relatively well trained population, but compared to other countries the overall number of people with third level qualifications and specialised skills is low. An enormous number of highly educated people exist not just in eastern Europe, but in Asia, and a lot of them are looking for work. It would be a mistake for Irish companies to assume that they have a high-technology advantage, and even if they have, how are they to maintain their lead in an increasingly competitive world market? The response from the software industry suggests that there is a smart way to get around the problem. By linking up with Indian partners, Irish software firms plan to retain a strong presence on the market, while lowering, new product development costs. The Irish Software Association has signed a deal with its Indian equivalent, NASSCOM, which is expected to give firms here better access to high-end services. According to the Association, this will help Irish firms to grow in scale, and already one company, CR2, has entered the Indian market. SPIN

about 3 to 4 million people are employed in forest-based activities. In November last year 38 organisations from 18 countries joined in the launch of a pan-European organisation to support sustainable development of this sector. The organisation, EFORWOOD, is to create decision making tools based on data collected across Europe. For example, information on how short-rotation Eucalyptus grown in Portugal ends up in newsprint, or Norway Spruce goes into construction timber, is to be assembled and co-ordinated.

GM potatoes

Approval has been given for the growing of genetically modified potatoes at Arodstown, near Summerhill, Co Meath. The blight resistant potatoes were developed by BASF, and the Environmental Protection Agency approval is for a five year growing trial. Approval for growing does not include approval for sales or consumption, and according to the EPA monitoring will continue for four years after the end of the trials. One of the problems with potatoes is that the usual varieties have a narrow genetic base, so breeding for resistance to fungal blight has always been difficult. BASF aim to get around this problem through genetic engineering. One of the concerns is that traits from the GM potatoes will escape into neighbouring crops, and novel varieties will have patent protection. To create the modified potato line two blight-resistant genes derived from a wild Mexican species, Solanum bulbocastanum, were inserted. Another gene, derived from Thale Cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, described by BASF

as a herbicide marker, was also inserted. Accordiong to BASF this gene, ahas, introduced at an early stage of tissue culturing, does not confer herbicide tolerance. Similar trials have already started in Sweden, and GM potatoes are to be grown in Germany and the Netherlands. Globally, GM crops have become common, and much of the feedstock for cattle in Ireland is based on genetically modified crops grown in the US.

Web waste

To cut down on the time and bother of locating sources of data about waste from a variety of web sites, the EPA has assembled all the available information into OurEnvironment/Waste/ The EPA webpages give links to policy statements, environmental reports, regional plans, case studies and information on handling hazardous waste.

Upfront Laser power

By directing high powered pulses at a thin foil researchers at Queen’s, in collaboration with scientists from Germany and France, have managed to generate beams of ions travelling at one third the speed of light. Until now, beams of such high energy could only be produced by large particle accelerators. Dr Marco Borghesi, from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s said that the ability to control the properties of laser-driven beams is a significant breakthrough. Using a second laser pulse, the researchers were able to selectively filter out protons of the same energy. “This is an important advance,” explained Dr Borghesi, “as it overcomes some of the limitations that have been affecting use of laseraccelerated ion beams — for example, the tendency for beams to spread apart quickly and to contain ions of many different velocities.”

Innovation at GMIT

In January innovation centres were opened at GMIT’s Galway and Castlebar campuses. The centres are being backed by €3.8 million in State funds, and according to GMIT they will have the capacity to support 26 business units. The opening of the incubation units follows GMIT’s success in launching a Medical Device Centre in Galway last year.

R&D for SMEs

Small firms don’t have the time, resources or inclination to deal with the complexities involved in applying for EC funded R&D supports. At a meeting on competitiveness held in Cardiff Minister Michael Ahern remarked that “industry and particularly SMEs are turning away from the community research programmes because of the inadequate levels of funding available for SME type projects and the excessive red tape generally associated with evaluating proposals and negotiating contracts.” The EC Framework programme, under which projects are funded, he said, need to become more relevant to industry needs if targets on European research are to be met. Under the current programme, Framework 6, about six billion euro a year is going into supporting research throughout the European Union. The target for Framework 6 was to give 15 per cent to SME projects, but only 13 per cent has been achieved. Framework covers a four year period up to 2006, and plans are now being drawn up for Framework 7. One of the underlying trends has been a move towards concentrating support on a few strands, regarded as of strategic importance to Europe, and project size has become much bigger, so many firms and researchers claim that they are being excluded from funding.

Foras na Mara

Marine Institute Rinville Oranmore Co. Galway telephone 353 91 387 200 facsimile 353 91 387 201 email

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 3

Upfront Drogheda expansion

Medical device manufacturer, Becton Dickinson & Co, is expanding its manufacturing base in Drogheda. The company which has been manufacturing in Drogheda since 1964, also has a plant in Dunlaoghaire, and a shared service centre at Shannon.The company is one of the industrial partners for DCU’s Biomedical Diagnostics Institute. The Drogheda plant is to manufacture a pre-filled syringe for diabetic patients. Founded in 1897 and based in New Jersey, Becton Dickinson has been expanding for over a century.

Nano chips

Construction of the CRANN nanotechnology centre is in progress, and already researchers are busy collaborating with industry. A special chip, suitable for work on a nanoscale, has been developed jointly with Intel. The chip’s Adaptive Grid has been designed to arrange materials, such as carbon nanotubes, into coherent patterns.

Prof John Boland, director of CRANN, commented that success in this type of development depended on a combination of academic and industry skills. Photo: CRANN director Professor John Boland and Intel Ireland general manager Jim OHara at the launch of a new adaptive grid chip

Integrated manufacturing A cross-border project to deliver made-to-measure training for manufacturing industries, involving Sligo Institute of Technology and North East Institute of Further Education has been launched. The project, RIM 21, Robotics and Integrated Manufacture for 21st Century, extends over three years

and is backed by a €1.9 million investment in resources at NEI Ballymena and IT Sligo. Staff and student exchanges will be made between the two institutes, and manufacturing industries in the region are expected to benefit from training programmes developed to suit their own needs.

Bio boost for Cork Amgen, one of the largest biotechnology companies in the world, is to establish a bulk manufacturing plant at Carrightowill. More than €1 billion is being invested in the new plant, to be built on a 133 acre greenfield site, and the company expects to employ over 1000 people. Production is due to begin in 2009. Amgen is also expanding in the US and in the UK, where a development centre is being built at Uxbridge. The US company, founded in 1980, employs over 14,000, 40 per cent working on R&D. Last year revenue was reported to be in the region of €10 billion. Most of this success has been built on expertise in large scale protein production.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 4

(l to r) Maeve Keenan, Student, Padraig Walsh, Chief Executive, IUQB and Sarah Smith, Student, TCD

Quality in colleges

Guidelines on student support services have been published by the Irish Universities Quality Board. The Board was established recently with the support of the universities to promote high quality standards. The booklet on student support services was produced following projects donducted by the IUQB in collaboration with the universities.

Graduates at work

In 2004 the number of students graduating from higher educatin colleges reached 48,126. According to the HEA the number graduating has almost doubled in ten years, and nine months after graduation 56 per cent are in employment while 36 per cent are engaged in further studies. HEA chairman, John Boland, commented that these findings show that apart from need, the Irish economy has the capacity to absorb graduates from a range of disciplines.


12 to 19


Science Week is undoubtedly one of the largest, most diverse and exciting campaigns of the year. Thousands of people participate in Science Week annually through its wide reaching programme of innovative and interactive workshops and events all over Ireland. Themed events demonstrate the science behind anything and everything from spiders, bugs, astronomy and sound waves to animation, sport and music. Science Week 2006 will take place from 12-19 November and planning is already well underway to make this year’s event the biggest and best yet. For one fun-packed week, people of all ages are given the opportunity to explore, discover, experiment or invent their way to a be�er understanding of science and its relevance to everyday life.

Last year, the theme was the ‘Science Behind Entertainment’ and over 350 events took place across the length and breadth of the country. Some of the many exciting initiatives included a moving science workshop on the Luas, bearded dragons and African land snails visiting Hughes & Hughes bookstores, and Cinemobile touring the country with Wallace & Gromit’s “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and accompanying claymation workshops. In addition to the extensive programme of interactive activities, Science Week Ireland introduced Faulkes Telescopes to Ireland. Transition year students were given access to robotic telescopes based in Australia and Hawaii to make their own observations and Irish secondary school students are now helping third level students with their research by recording important observations in the sky and analysing and publishing the results. biotechnology, health and sport, research, manufacturing, technology and computing. There are worldwide opportunities available for people with science, engineering and technology skills but Ireland has led the way in some of the world’s key innovations. Irish science, engineering and technology graduates are the key to a�racting overseas investment and Ireland has become the location of choice for areas such as electronics, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, a�racting some of the biggest names in the industry such as Google, Dell, Intel and Boston Scientific.


Thousands of Irish school-leavers every year choose to study science, engineering and technology at third level colleges and universities. One of the greatest advantages of a career in science is that if offers the chance to work in a diverse and wide range of areas including pharmaceuticals and

When studying a science subject at third level, logical thinking is encouraged, but so too is being creative and inventive. These skills are highly valued by employers so there are very few careers that can’t be pursued once a science qualification has been gained. Science graduates have gone on to top jobs in business and industry because their studies have encouraged them to be versatile and independent.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 5

The aim of Discover Science & Engineering is to build and to deliver a clearly focused, strategic and engaging awareness campaign building on a range of previous individual programmes. The programme also looks to engage people from across industry, education and policy. Discover Science and Engineering will provide a co-ordinated approach to increase interest in science and to encourage young people to consider science as a viable career option. Science Week aims to provide children, secondary school students, parents, teachers and anyone with an interest in science and its applications, with an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the many things taken for granted in daily life. Full details on Science Week will be available in early Autumn. Please contact if you are interested in pu�ing on an event.

Sample careers specifically in science include pharmacology, biotechnology, food science and nanotechnology. Pharmacology scientists research new drug treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But, if understanding gene therapy or discovering new energy sources sounds more interesting, then a career in biotechnology might be more suitable. An exciting new area of science emerging is nanotechnology, which links physics with chemistry, biology and engineering to work on products that are not only smaller, but stronger, lighter and more precise. There are many different areas to consider and so many opportunities available. The first step to a career in science is to discuss options in detail with a career guidance counsellor at school or visit for further information.

Upfront �e��e��Pa��a���

A decline in computer and printer sales is leading to big changes at HewlettPackard. Some months ago, the recently appointed CEO, Mark Hurd, warned that the company needed to change direction, and as part of this costs are to be cut in the manufacturing side of the business. Hewlettt-Packard employs 4000 between sites in Belfast, Dublin, Galway, and Kildare, and according to the company job losses are not going to be big. It is thought that about 200 people could either go or be redeployed into new positions. Ireland appears to be coming out of the downscaling in manufacturing. Worldwide the company plans to shed 14,500 from a total of 150,000. About half those jobs will be lost in France, Britain and Germany. In Ireland, where HP has already focused strongly on systems integration and software development, the company has managed to stay one jump ahead of the change.


At a recent conference on patenting, arguments were put forward for a single European court to resolve any disputes. Although it is now possible to file a single patent with the European Patents Office to cover 31 countries, enforcement can be difficult as disputes may have to be settled through different courts. Speaking at the Epoline conference in Athens, Prof Alsin Pompidou, president of

the EPO, said that Europe lacks a harmonized central patent court, and underlined the need to establish a central, European court for patents: “Such a court will not only allow the reduction of procedural fees, but also significantly enhance the legal security for patent owners when exploiting their patents. Overall, it will diminish the financial burden especially for SMEs.“

Shocking For every minute delay before responding to cardiac arrest the rate of survival is believed to decrease by ten per cent. Rapid action is vital, but in many cases patients have to wait until they have reached a hospital before a life saving shock can be applied. Dr Karen Cairns, from Queen’s University, has promoted the idea of bringing the life-saving equipment out of hospitals and into the community. To date more than 800 volunteers have been trained in the use of defibrillators,

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 6

which restart the heart by delivering an electric shock. Although Karen Cairns’ doctorate is in mathematical modelling rather than medicine, she has come up with a life-saving programme. As she observed, cardiac arrests usually occur suddenly at home or in rural areas. The defibrillators are not too difficult to use, and they are reliable. ”They make use of sophisticated computer technology to detect the electrical heart rhythm, and only shock if appropriate,” she said.

Wood modiď€ cation

the alternative to heavy metal impregnation Professor Colin Birkinshaw and Seamus Dolan of the University of Limerick explain about the environmentally friendly options.


ood continues to be the material of choice for numerous structural applications, but it is often necessary to provide some form of protection against wood destroying fungi. Historically, this has been done by impregnation with either a heavy metal system, such as copper-chromiumarsenic (CCA) or creosote. Although there is no question that these technologies are effective, they are certainly at odds with modern concerns about environmental impact, and waste wood impregnated with these materials is now defined as hazardous. Such concerns have driven the search for alternatives and although totally organic preservatives are available, a more novel approach is to modify the chemical structure of the wood in such a way that it becomes less attractive to the fungus as a food source. Two approaches, chemical modification and thermal modification, have now been evaluated for their effectiveness with fast grown Irish timber. Chemical modification, of which acetylation is the most developed, works through esterification of the hydroxyl groups on all of the three main wood polymers, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Typically, the wood will be brought to an almost dry condition and then reacted with acetic anhydride to give a weight gain of between 16% and 20%. A double benefit is conferred; first the wood is less hygroscopic and therefore more dimensionally stable, and, secondly; the resistance to fungal decay is greatly improved. The reasons for the decay resistance are not fully understood, as a simple explanation such as prevention of fungal enzymes recognizing the modified substrate can be contradicted by published evidence of cellulose acetate decay. It is, however possible, that some form of steric protection, by the larger acetate group, is occurring.

Fracture surfaces of Sitka spruce, a) control and b) heat treated, showing cell wall delamination, probably caused by degradation of hemicellulose binding agent. Importantly, acetylated wood looks and feels like untreated wood and shows no significant mechanical property loss. Thermal modification, in which the wood is held at temperatures around 2000C, under vacuum or steam, seems to work through degradation of the hemicellulose removing available carbohydrate, and also through alteration of the substrate by modification of the lignin structure. Again, equilibrium moisture content is reduced and there are appreciable improvements in fungal resistance, but this process is not as effective as chemical modification in these respects and a significant drawback is that the wood is embrittled. Two evaluation exercises with fast grown native timbers have been supported by COFORD and carried out by the University of Limerick. Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine and Japanese larch, among the most abundant timbers in Ireland, were subject to acetylation or to heat treatment and then tested against controls. Acetylation proved its effectiveness in giving a highly stable and durable product, fully resistant

The reaction of wood polymers with acetic anhydride. Reaction occurs within the cell wall, causing significant bulking. The acetic acid formed must be removed to prevent corrosion of fixings.

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to aggressive brown rot organisms such as Coniophera puteana. Heat treatment gave materials with enhanced stability and durability, but clearly not good enough for ground contact applications. Embrittlement was substantial, with a loss of up to 40% in the modulus of rupture, and electron microscopy demonstrated that this could be ascribed to delamination in the middle lamella and the cell wall. Problems encountered with both processes were distortion and cracking caused by the severe drying required. This puts intolerable stresses on timber that does not have a perfectly true and even grain. There are also cost issues as modified wood, particularly acetylated wood, is much more expensive than treatment with CCA or creosote, and timber for the process will have to be specially selected. There are markets where modified wood materials are beginning to gain a share, but these are mainly in high value end-uses (such as exterior cladding), and to treat them as simple replacements for impregnated timber is probably inappropriate. It is clear, however, that they present no environmental hazard and no waste disposal problems arise, but it is still difficult to predict the future of wood modification in Ireland. Environmental pressures have to be balanced against process cost and effectiveness, and the final decision equation is also likely to have to take account of public perception of the timber industries.


I think, therefore I am,

but how did I come to be? Ever wondered how an eye becomes an eye? How a handful of tiny cells can grow up into a healthy human baby? Why many couples today are struggling to have children? Scientists within the College of Life Science, UCD, are discovering the answers to these and many other questions. Seán Duke reports.


he field of developmental biology is a fascinating one, and one that has a huge impact not just in the area of agriculture, but also in human health and fertility. Did you know that the diet of the mother in later stages of pregnancy directly affects the health of her offspring at birth? Or that genes can have a memory? By having a research farm, at Lyons Estate, and access to Ireland’s biggest Zebra Fish facility, researchers at UCD are well equipped to investigate all aspects of the life cycle.


Dr Carmel Hensey, School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science at the Conway Institute is using ‘gene knockdown’ techniques – turning a gene off – and ‘gene overexpression’ methods – turning a gene on – to try and unravel what the genes are doing during the early stages of organ formation. To find out how our genes determine what becomes heart, brain, or liver, Dr Hensey has been looking at the African Clawed Frog. Dr Carmel Hensey is looking at how genes control organ formation

The African Clawed Frog is, like us, a vertebrate, and has many of the same organs, and that makes it a good research model. It has clearly defined stages of embryo development, and it has naturally high levels of a known tumour suppressor protein called p53. This allows for investigations into the role of p53 in dealing with stresses that could otherwise lead on to tumours. “We are looking at the patterns of gene expression at different stages of the life of the embryo, to see which genes are turned on and which are turned off. This gives a clue as to what the genes are triggering. We are also working on a number of controller genes, or master genes, that have an effect on other genes,” said Carmel. A better understanding of how genes effect embryo development could have a massive influence on the development of new drug targets. For instance, if an abnormality occurs in an embryo when a particular gene is ‘turned off’, then researchers can begin to think of developing drugs to turn that gene back on. In a separate development, Carmel - working closely with Dr Fiona McAuliffe at Holles Street Hospital - has found evidence that suggests that the health of the embryo in the womb has a critical impact on the health of the person in adult life. Thus the health of the mother during pregnancy is believed to play a critical role in determining the health of the child as an adult in later life. Dr Breandán Kennedy is learning more about sight from Zebra Fish.

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Within a day heart and eyes have formed making Zebra Fish ideal for research.

Zebra Fish

Dr Breandán Kennedy, School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science at the Conway Institute has been working with the Zebra Fish as a research model for 15 years. Apart from being a vertebrate, Breandán explains that Zebra Fish have significant advantages. Lots of them can be housed in a small area, and their embryonic development is more rapid than other animals, such as the frog. To get an idea of the saving, fifty adult fish fit into the space occupied by a relatively slow breeding mouse. Furthermore, Zebra Fish, which come from the Ganges in India, are tolerant of pollution, and are prolific, with a pair producing 100 to 200 eggs per day. Another great advantage is that within a day of fertilization, the fish

have grown a head, heart, and eyes. Such rapid development also means that research programmes can proceed at speed. At the Conway Institute, Laboratory Manager and Research Assistant, Beata Sapetto-Rebow, keeps watch on a fish population of 30,000, housed in stacks of ten litre tanks. Having a Zebra Fish facility on-site is a great advantage for many of the researchers there, as it allows gene experiments to be conducted In Vivo, or in real life situations, rather than in laboratory simulated conditions. The research on Zebra Fish has led to the discovery of a key gene involved in sight. When this gene, RX, is disabled, the Zebra Fish cannot see. The significance of this for us is that researchers working on Zebra Fish may discover how to overcome defects of the same gene in humans.

Lyons Estate

On the outskirts of Dublin, near Newcastle, is a 600 acre research farm, the Lyons Estate. The importance of Lyons to UCD has often been underestimated, and the presence of such a research farm is one of the factors that puts UCD ahead of rivals in the field. The farm is of enormous value to development embryologists because it allows work in the lab to progress into the field. One of the key research goals of Dr Alex Evans and his colleague Dr Pat Lonergan, School of Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Medicine, is to understand why some eggs become embryos and develop further, while others do not. This has implications for the competitiveness of agriculture, but also for human fertility. In an era of ever declining human and animal fertility, understanding embryo development, has become crucial. The researchers are using microarrays - where genes are looked at simultaneously in hundreds of little wells by a robot to see if they are switched on or off – to determine which genes are important at different stages of development. Lyons provides researchers with access to the ‘Gold Standard’ of In Vivo embryos - embryos that are growing in the living womb of sheep or cattle. Alex and Pat have been testing the ‘Barker Hypothesis’ in lambs. This hypothesis, developed by David Barker, an epidemiologist at Southampton University, holds that many diseases

Dr Pat Lonergan, above, and Dr Alex Evans, right, are finding out why some eggs fail to develop into embryos. To take one example, stress can have a biochemical impact on DNA, and there is growing evidence to show that this influence on how genes are expressed can be passed on to the next generation. Thus, traumatic episodes in human history, such as the Irish famines, or the Holocaust, may be passed on as a genetic memory. Whether or not the genes come from the mother or the father also has an influence. A deletion on Chromosome 15 from the father causes Prader-Willi Syndrome in the child, while the exact same deletion on Chromosome 15 from the mother causes Angelman Syndrome. This implies genes are ‘marked’ or ‘imprinted’ by the father or the mother so that when they are passed on, there is a memory of what parent they came from. This essentially is the science of epigenetics, with epi meaning a layer upon. Dr Kay Nolan’s attention has focused on the role of insulin-like factors, known as IFG-I and IFG-II. These factors are involved in early development, with IFG-II influencing the foetal stage, and IFG-1 active in organ formation. It appears that such factors can, in effect, be chemically labelled or Epigenetics tagged to modify their When the Human actions. This marking or Genome was mapped, imprinting which might it almost seemed like be in the form of the end of genetics as methylation, is likely to a serious field of study, Dr Kay Nolan is working on genetic be caused by stress or but this is far from memory. changes in our being the case. As we environment. now know, the genes Genes from the father do not behave do not represent the entire picture. As exactly like the same genes from Dr Kay Nolan, School of Biological the mother, we are marked by the and Environmental Science, explains, environment, but the real surprise is there is something else at work, like that genetic labelling appears to be part another layer, influencing how the of our inheritance. genetic instructions are carried out. SPIN in human adults originate in the womb. The UCD researchers have been following a group of ewes that were subsequently born on 8th March. For one month before the birth, one group of mothers was fed on a normal diet, while another group was fed on a deficient diet. It was found that, at the time of birth, the foetuses from mothers with the deficient diet were more prone to high blood pressure. This is significant because environmental factors had not yet come into play. This proved that diet of the mother in the late stages of pregnancy had a direct impact on the health of the foetus. The question now is how far does this effect go? Does it follow the animals right throughout their lives? To answer this, the next plan is to monitor the two groups of ewes into adult life and to determine whether there are differences between them in terms of sperm production and oocyte production. These studies are likely to show why increased breeding has been matched by a decline in fertility, and we may learn why so many otherwise healthy couples find it difficult to start a family.

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Since life began oceans, mountain ranges and other natural barriers have prevented species from expanding to new locations. Over the last few thousand years, however, enterprising humans have changed everything. Travelling the world with their pets, pests and parasites, humans have introduced species to new ecosystems, free from competition or predators, where – sometimes – they conquer the natives. Shane Leavy looks at the phenomenon of bioinvasions.


he giant hogweed is spreading along the banks of Irish rivers. This alien species of the Caucasus Mountains opens its foliage earlier than native plants, dominating and replacing them. Its toxic leaves blister and can permanently damage the skin. In winter, the giant hogweed decays, exposing the soil to be washed into the river where it can prevent salmon from spawning. The waterways are already congested with the zebra mussel, another alien that probably arrived on boat hulls from around the Black Sea. It is causing colossal problems: replacing our native mussels, damaging lock gates, hydroelectric power stations, boat engines and fish farms.

Distinctively banded Zebra Mussels, photographed by Amy J Benson, US Geological Survey; and the Giant Hogweed, courtesy of American Academy of Dermatology.

Neither is our soil free from attack, with New Zealand flatworms devouring our native earthworms. The flatworms feed by lying against earthworms, secreting digestive enzymes and then absorbing them from without. Our earthworms are absolutely critical in draining and aerating the soil.

Global problem

Around the world things are no different. New Zealand is overrun with Australian possums, Australia is being eaten by European rabbits,

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and our own ivy and hawthorns are spreading across North America. “Invasions of natural ecosystems by non-native species now rank second to habitat loss as the major threat to biodiversity,” claims a 1999 report by environmental think tank, World Resources Institute. “New arrivals that become invasive have also created major problems for agriculture and other human enterprises and disrupt distinct communities of native plants and animals.” Before humans, invasions did take place. Animals have floated on driftwood to new shores, while plant seeds in bird droppings germinate on new islands. But modern “bioinvasions” are something quite different. “I think the speed, above all,” explains Christopher Moriarty, editor of Biological Invaders; The Impact of Exotic Species. “You’re making a jump which, if nature was left alone, would never happen. And when you have an island like Ireland, you’re particularly vulnerable to that sort of thing.” What Christopher means is that previous natural invasions took place very slowly. Human

exploration and trade has caused a gargantuan increase in bioinvasions, threatening the capacity of ecosystems to cope. We are now able to cross the globe in a matter of hours, making bioinvasions more and more likely. However, the first bioinvasions did not involve jumbo jets, but rather more primitive means of transport.

Ireland’s early invaders

20,000 years ago the island of Ireland was buried in the last Ice Age, so the flora and fauna we are familiar with has had to arrive from Europe or Britain since then. Islands in general have lower biodiversity than an equivalent area on the mainland. Ireland, having to recover from the glaciers, has even lower biodiversity than normal. But what is really surprising is that much of the familiar “wildlife” of Ireland was actually introduced by our ancestors from abroad. The truly native freshwater fish of Ireland are mainly ones that can also survive in seawater. So trout, salmon and char were able to cross the sea to form new homes in Ireland. Pike, on the other hand, was not introduced until the 1500s, while roach is a recent newcomer from the 19th century. Many of our mammals are invaders too: rats, hedgehogs, rabbits, wild goats and house mice thumbed a ride with humans either intentionally or accidentally over the centuries. Even our common frog is thought to have invaded with humans!

Non-invasive exotic species

It is easy to forget that most of the food produced on farms around the world is “exotic.” Ireland’s cows, sheep and potatoes are not native to the island. A stroll around an Irish garden shows countless exotic plants. Our domestic cats and dogs are foreigners too. But not all species, when introduced to a new habitat, can escape and thrive. Farmers need to work hard to protect their livestock, and how many gardeners have

Hunted and unable to defend itself against introduced predators the dodo became extinct.

wrestled with the dandelions that are crowding out their exotic prize plants? Bioinvasions become a problem when the introduced species have a competitive advantage over the natives. From a purely economic point of view the introduced species can be very virulent pests. Thomas Austin released rabbits into the Australian

American mink, brought for its fur, and now on the loose and spreading. Photo: Jesper Clausen, Copenhagen Fur Centre.

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wild for hunting purposes in 1859; they now number around 500 million. Rabbits are Australia’s worst pest, destroying huge amounts of crops and saplings. In Ireland rabbits have stoat, badger and fox to worry about, but Australia lacked a natural predator and their population exploded. All in all, the economic effect of bioinvasions is staggering. Staff Researcher for the Worldwatch Institute, Zoë Chafe, says that economic losses due to bioinvasions run to over €115 billion annually. She has even suggested that terrorists might intentionally introduce invasive species to damage an enemy’s economy. In the longer term, bioinvasions are a serious threat to global biodiversity. When Dutch sailors landed at Mauritius in the 17th century they found the flightless dodo in abundance. But the Dutch


The Nile Perch caused the ecological collapse of Lake Victoria.

brought with them dogs, pigs, rats and monkeys who plundered the helpless dodos’ nests. Worsened by the Dutch destruction of the forests, the dodo was extinct within a century of its discovery. Unfortunately, this story has been repeated around the world over and over since then. By the 21st century we have little excuse to let this happen, but it still does.

Hitchhiker species

On Achill Island grows an alien from South America: Gunnera, known locally as wild rhubarb. The plant can grow over three metres tall and is spreading across the island, clogging drains and pipes. In winter it rots, turning an unattractive brown. “The plant is taking over the whole community,” local man and County Councillor, Michael McNamara, claimed last summer. Mark Ruddy was involved in trying to control some of the rhubarb and was surprised when he noticed some visitors from the UK actually buying one of the plants from a farmer, because it looked exotic. “Little do they know they’ll regret transplanting the stuff,” observed

Mark. “They actually paid for it!” This kind of deliberate introduction of an invasive plant is plain foolish, but there are many other ways in which human trade and tourism has caused bioinvasions. One of the worst offenders are ships who take tonnes of ballast water on board in one part of the world and eject it elsewhere. In the late 1980s the Leidy’s Comb Jellyfish was accidentally dumped from ballast water into the Black Sea. A native of North America, the comb jellyfish population has swollen enormously, obliterating native fish populations. The jellyfish consume the zooplankton that the native fish normally eat, as well as the fishes’ eggs and larvae. They have more recently been accidentally introduced to the Caspian Sea where they are again growing out of control. It is estimated to have already caused over €290 million in damage. Other animals have escaped from their initial farming enclosure like the American mink that is now breeding in the wild in Ireland. The Australian brush tailed possum was deliberately introduced to New

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Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade; there are now 70 million of them, eating their way through New Zealand vegetation. Alarmingly, possums have even been discovered to be quite intelligent animals – and capable of learning – some possum populations have also figured out how to eat an endangered giant land snail of New Zealand. In the 1950s the Nile Perch was deliberately introduced to Africa’s Lake Victoria to increase fish catches. By the turn of the century it has caused the collapse of Lake Victoria’s entire ecosystem. It has brought about the extinction of an estimated 200 species in the lake. The Nile Perch devours huge numbers of other fish, including those who eat algae. After they were wiped out the lake became choked with algae. As algae decomposes, the oxygen levels drop, rendering life yet more difficult in the lake. The Nile Perch annihilated a unique ecosystem in only a few decades.


When an exotic species is introduced to another country, one of the determining factors as to whether it will thrive or disappear is the availability of predators. So when an exotic pest threatens to damage an ecosystem, one possible response is to introduce its natural predator as well. This “biocontrol” has been tried many times since its first use in California in 1888, with very mixed results. In Ireland, a parasitic wasp Encarsia Formosa has been introduced to individual greenhouses, where it preys on the greenhouse whitefly. The wasp is stuck in the greenhouse and cannot escape as Ireland’s climate is too cold for its survival. On the other hand, Australia’s experience with the cane toad shows what can go wrong. The cane toad is a native of South and Central America, and it was introduced to Australia in the 1930s to control beetles that were eating the sugar

FOLLOWING THE ICE AGES MARINE SPECIES WERE AMONG THE FIRST COLONISERS, AND MANY OF OUR COMMON PLANTS AND ANIMALS ARRIVED LATER AS INTRODUCED ALIENS. cane crop. However the cane toad turned out to be uninterested in the beetles and proceeded to eat practically everything else. An Australian government website says cane toads will eat “any prey that it can fit into its mouth, including small lizards, snakes, frogs and their tadpoles, marsupials and mice, snails, and terrestrial and aquatic insects. It even takes food left out for pets.” The toads are poisonous and are spreading across the continent at about 27-50 kilometres a year. They damage native species, threaten pets and even spread diseases. However, when treated carefully, biocontrol can be a good way of reducing the damage done by invasive species. Jeff Waage of the International Institute of Biological Control (IIBC) argues that considering the problems caused by many pesticides, biocontrol may be the best solution. “Today, the introduction of alien natural enemies is a proven methodology, with a moderate success rate but enormous value and a high level of safety,” he says. Part of the IIBC’s belief is that pesticides can sometimes worsen pest problems as it also attacks the natural predators of those pests. They favour biocontrol, whether by helping native predators of pests or carefully introducing exotic predators.

Brought in for pest control on crops, cane toads have become a threat to Australian natives. Photo: Bartle Frere,

am at odds with a great many of my green friends,” says Christopher Moriarity. “It does not cost me any sleep. But I do see it as upsetting on a local scale.” Because bioinvasions can lead to a serious loss of local biodiversity most countries impose strict controls on movement of plants and animals. Some species have been recognised

as particularly harmful, and the IUCN has drawn attention to a selection of the worst in their booklet, 100 of the World’s worst invasive alien species. Shane Leavy is a DCU graduate in journalism.


The future

The rates of bioinvasions are getting worse as world trade and tourism increases, but the actual risk it poses is unclear. Bodies like the World Conservation Union (IUCN) reiterate the claim that bioinvasion is the second worst cause of extinctions after habitat destruction. Without doubt, humans are undertaking an unprecedented experiment with the stability of the world’s ecosystems. But it may not be as serious a threat as some would maintain. “I

Rabbits are thought to have come in with the Normans, but unlike Australia, Ireland had enough predators to keep them under control.

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UCC, within easy reach of industry “University College Cork is probably the best located university in the world for interaction with the pharmaceutical industry. Within twenty minutes of the campus, we can drive to the sites of Pfizer, GSK, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Janssen – all major international pharmaceutical companies.” The words belong to Professor Anita Maguire, Director of the Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility (ABCRF) at the University which is playing a key role in driving the next phase of development of a sector that has been targeted for a hugely important role in leading Ireland’s future economic growth.


lready 40% of manufacturing exports come from this sector. Currently, 14 of the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland. The sector has grown enormously in the past 30 years and currently employs 24,000 people (50% being graduates) generating some €3bn in tax payments. Ireland is now one of the top four locations for the industry worldwide. Prof. Maguire says “there has been a major strategic shift in the pharmaceutical sector in Ireland. For many years, it was almost entirely focused on manufacturing. But the global situation is now much more competitive. As a result, it’s quite clear that for the industry to survive here, it must move back into R&D and move up the value chain. Ireland needs

to become the site where all of the major companies will do their first scale-up of any new compounds and then ship them out to cheaper sites like Singapore or Porto Rico for later stage bulk manufacturing.” The ABCRF at UCC which is funded by the HEA under its Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI) is determined to play a major role in the future expansion of this sector. The new facility has benefited from the construction of a new School of Pharmacy building on the campus which followed a report of the HEA on Pharmacy Education. “When the decision was made to build a new pharmacy building it made absolute sense to locate the ABCRF in the same building. We now have research facilities which we share with the

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School which are better than could be accomplished from the two acting independently.” But interdisciplinarity is very much at the heart of the work of the new centre. “You cannot do the type of research work we have ongoing here without an interdisciplinary team of people. You need the biologists who understand the target design and how a drug actually interacts with the body and you need the synthetic chemists who can actually make the compounds and you need the analytical chemists to determine the purity, study the structures and so on.” Thanks to PRTLI, the University now has the capacity to engage in this advanced area of science. “The pharmaceutical industry has very advanced research capability of its own. It will only interact with a university if there is something to be gained from the university. It won’t do it for charitable purposes.” cautions Prof Maguire. The interface between chemistry and biology is also crucial to the future. “If you were to look back 10-15 years ago, chemists worked on small molecules and biologists worked on large molecules and we really didn’t have the technology to cross that interface. We’re now at a point where we can study the chemistry of molecular systems in a biological environment. This is particularly important in the area of drug design and drug development – one of the most exciting areas of research internationally.” adds Prof Maguire. It can take between 10-14 years to bring a new drug to the market with costs of the order of €800m involved. The traditional approach to drug discovery was to find a natural product and then modify that to make a drug. For example, in 1929, Fleming’s discovery of penicillin from a fungal source Penicillium notatum led to the development of antibiotics which are now accepted as a routine aspect of healthcare. “This was very effective but you weren’t really in control of the situation. Advances in genomics have led to an understanding of protein structure and thereby rational design of molecules to interact with receptors, enzymes etc. This represents an enormous step where instead of random screening, drugs can now be designed in a logical fashion based on scientific understanding of the disease or condition.” explains Prof Maguire. Drug synthesis is seen as presenting a huge opportunity for this country and for researchers. For each new drug that comes on the market, 10,000

novel compounds would have been developed initially during the basic research phase. These would have been reduced to about 10 candidates for the process development phase. Prof Maguire feels that the Irish pharmaceutical industry must actively move in this direction. “There is no point in designing the most wonderful drug unless an efficient, robust, safe route for its production can be developed.” In the opinion of Prof. Maguire, a stronger penetration of the process development phase would bring the Irish pharmaceutical industry five or six years into the typical 10-14 years lifespan of the development of a new drug. This would represent a significant improvement on the current situation and open tremendous research and employment opportunities for graduates. One of the areas that the ABCRF is actively engaged in is asymmetric synthesis – an area where Prof. Maguire has an international reputation. In chemistry, molecules come in two asymmetric forms known as enantiomers. When a molecule is designed to interact with an enzyme or a receptor – the “left hand” enantiomer will fit into the site in a very different way to the “right hand” enantiomer – imagine trying to force your left hand into a right hand glove. Prof. Maguire is using a household ingredient in her research in this field. “We use Baker’s Yeast to drive the chemistry so that it produces the left or right hand forms. The ultimate benefit of asymmetric synthesis is the drugs will be very much safer. If you were to administer a drug in its left handright hand form – in some cases one enantiomer will be inactive and taken unnecessarily but in another scenario the wrong enantiomer will lead to undesirable side effects. By generating the drug only in its active form you are reducing toxic side effects. The thalidomide case has been extensively quoted as an example of what went wrong in the past, although this is an over simplification. Propranolol is another – this is a drug used for cardiac disease but its enantiomer has different biological properties.”

The Analytical and Biological Chemistry Research Facility (ABCRF) at UCC has recently acquired two new mass spectrometers from Waters/Micromass and has established a strategic link with the company. The Facility is funded under the HEA PRTLI. A colleague in the ABCRF, Dr. Dmitri Papkovsky is engaged in a range of research activities including the development of systems to monitor oxygen concentration levels. “We can measure residual oxygen in packaged food without destroying the packaging. This has huge food safety implications and we now need to produce this smart packaging materials in large volumes. This principle can also be applied to the pharmaceutical area – it’s the same optical fluorescence based oxygen sensing system.” says Dr. Papkovsky. He has already established a spin-off company - Luxcel Biosciences - which recently won the innovator award in the Small Business Firms Association National Small Business Awards. Prof Anita Maguire, Head of Dept of Chemistry & Director ABCRF, UCC; Dr Mike Harrington, Vice President, European Operations, Waters Corporation; Professor Gerard Wrixon, President, UCC, and Mass spec technician Mick O’Shea, Dept of Chemistry, UCC.

Dr Humphrey Moynihan is bringing his expertise to bear in the area of organic chemistry with particular emphasis on studying the relationship between molecules in an actual real sample of a material that you might use in a product. He explains “we use techniques such as crystallography to investigate those relationships and then to find technologies or chemistry whereby we can encourage molecules to sit in a better relationship with each other so that they may be more soluble for instance or they may have a physical property which is useful in their manufacturing. For instance, they might come out as crystals with a rounded shape which flow well. This is vital if we are to become expert in product finishing.” In the field of chromatography under Prof Jeremy Glennon, significant work is ongoing in analytical chemistry “we want to push back the speed with which you can do analysis – we want to work on the portability of analysis. To do that we are looking for faster chromatography. Traditionally, chromatography could take 30 minutes – that doesn’t sound a lot but if you have 10,000 samples to do today then it is too long. In terms of a doctor’s surgery, the doctor would like to carry out the analysis straight away. In the future when you bring a sample the doctor, within possibly 30 seconds, the doctor will give you a result. We are heading into the era where you will have portable analytical systems incorporated into your mobile phone.” The ABCRF is enthused with the exciting prospects that lie ahead in this field. Dr. Florence McCarthy, a researcher in the area of synthetic medicinal chemistry approaches to cancer is in no doubt that the work of the ABCRF is serving a vital national interest. “All of these projects are not just great ideas - they all have a purpose or an outcome. They are all impacting on the lives of the general public at the end of the day. I’m ecstatic to be a scientist. I couldn’t imagine myself being anything else because each day I jump out of bed to come to work and I know I can make a difference.”


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Hunting the hunter The 1975 classic Hollywood film Jaws, etched an image in the public mind of sharks as ruthless man-eaters, but the reality is that sharks have more to fear from humans than we have to fear from them. Over-fishing of sharks in Irish waters is causing numbers here to dramatically fall, writes Anthony King.


rish waters are teeming with shark species, with over thirty different kinds of shark in our waters. There are fast, agile sharks such as blue and mako sharks, slow behemoths like the basking shark, and strange green-eyed creatures of the deep, with names like ‘ghost catshark’ and ‘knifetooth dogfish’. Ireland has a greater diversity of sharks than other European countries, according to Dr Maurice Clarke of the Marine Institute, because Ireland has coastal, deep sea, slope, and oceanic environments.

Prime predators

Sharks and their close relatives, the rays, differ from other animals by having a lightweight skeleton made from bendable cartilage rather than bone. This improves buoyancy and makes them extremely flexible. Some sharks must swim to stay afloat, but others are neutrally buoyant due to enormous oil-filled livers. These livers are much sought after for their oil. The basking shark, the second largest shark in the world, was

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traditionally hunted in Irish waters for the 2,000 plus litres of oil in its liver. Sharks have relatively large brains and superbly developed senses that allow them track down food. Dr George H Burgess, Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, speaking to Science Spin, said that sharks put the energies of their brains into their senses, which means

Opposite page, top. Dogfish, one of the great shark family frequenting Irish waters, pictured here at the Bray Aquarium. Photo: Anthony King. Left, rows of shark teeth give a powerful grip on prey. Over a lifetime the shark grows and sheds thousands of teeth. Photo: North Dakota State Government.

they are essentially “swimming sensory machines”. Sharks initially use sound to detect prey, being most attracted by the low-frequency sounds produced by struggling fish. Their sense of smell can then detect tiny amounts of blood or bodily fluids from hundreds of metres away. At close quarters, vision becomes more important. Sharks also have a line of sense organs running along the side of their bodies, and can sense the minute electrical activity of the muscles of their prey using electrical receptors on their snout. Many sharks circle their prey and, having no hands, may bump the target or take a test bite to investigate further.

Shark attacks

Dr Burgess is curator of the International Shark Attack File, which investigates shark attacks. He said most shark attacks in Florida are exploratory hit-and-run attacks, with the shark taking a test bite and retreating when it realises that the human is too big or doesn’t taste like fish. According to Dr Burgess: “Most shark attacks are probably mistakes. Many occur in the surf zone, an environment where visibility is reduced and sharks can misinterpret the splashing of humans at the surface as the activities of their normal prey items.” However, there are cases where a shark attacks humans because they

are the appropriate size and behave like prey; the exploratory bites of large bull, tiger, and white sharks can prove fatal. The good news is that, of the 500 or so species of shark, very few ever bite humans. South Africa, Australia, California, Hawaii and Florida are the main areas where shark attacks occur – there has never been an unprovoked shark attack in Irish waters, though fishermen have

A Mermaid’s Purse is the horny egg case of a dogfish, ray or skate. Dogfish eggs are a milky colour and are easily identified by the long curly tendrils that extend from each of the corners. The tendrils are hollow to allow a current of water to pass to the interior of the capsule, carrying oxygen to the embryo. The egg cases are laid every 5 to 6 days during the breeding season between November and July and are attached to weed to provide anchorage during incubation. Incubation takes between 5 to 11 months, depending on water temperature. When they hatch the dogfish will be 10 cm in length and able to feed straight away. Máire O’Shea, Dingle Oceanworld

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reportedly been bitten by captured blue sharks and Portuguese dogfish. Worldwide, the International Shark Attack File recorded only 61 shark attacks in 2004, seven of which were fatal. In Florida, one of the world’s hotspots for shark attacks, six times more people are struck by lightning than attacked by sharks. Sharks, however, have much to fear from us, since we kill millions of them each year.

Life history

Sharks, skates and rays are grouped together in a class of fish called ‘Elasmobranchs’, and this class is very different, for example, from bony fish such as cod and trout. Whereas fish spawn to produce thousands of eggs, most sharks give birth to just a few pups. As Dr Burgess observed: “Sharks, compared to the bony fishes, have very different life history traits and these are the Achilles’ heal of the group. They are slow growing, slow to reach sexual maturity, long lived, and have limited reproductive potential.” Most sharks carry the young for between nine and 18 months. The spurdog, for example, matures at between 10 and 25 years and lives for 70 to 100 years. They grow surprisingly slowly and carry their young for a whopping 18 to 24 months, the longest of any vertebrate.

“The strategy of sharks is to spend a lot of time growing to a large size to allow them to produce a small number of large offspring,” said the Marine Institute’s Dr Clarke. “These are released into the environment in a state where they can fend for themselves.” The once common spurdog, sold as rock salmon in Britain, has been heavily fished and scientists advising the European Union on fishing policy say the stock may be depleted to less than 10 per cent of the original biomass. To make matters worse for such species, only a handful of young are produced at any one time and most females need a year or two to recover. Dr Burgess, meanwhile, explained that if shark populations were overfished, as many are, recovery would be measured in decades rather than years — even with good scientific regulations in place.

Irish sharks

“The most common shark in Irish inshore waters is the lesser spotted dogfish,” according to Kevin Flannery of Dingle Oceanworld. They feed on worms, crustaceans, and small fish; like most sharks, they are also scavengers. Dogfish is a name commonly given to small shark species; they were given this name by fishermen who thought their teeth looked like dog teeth. The largest shark is the basking shark, which can be over 10 metres in length. These cruise the sea surface, sieving seawater through huge gill rakers to extract plankton. They sometimes congregate in huge numbers, and over 100 of these giants were reported off the Old Head of Kinsale, in May 2004. The distinctive thresher shark is another large shark in Irish waters. Adults can be over five metres in length and half the body-length consists of a powerful curved tail. These sharks go into shoaling fish and thrash them with their whip-like tail, stunning and herding fish such as mackerel and herring. The blue shark is probably our most attractive shark; with a dark blue back, bright blue flanks, and a white underbelly, the perfect camouflage for hunting close to the sea surface. They

Extremely good at detecting prey, very few of the 500 or so species bite humans.

are great travellers, criss-crossing the Atlantic, with females, males, and juveniles all having their own migration patterns. In some areas of the world, they are valuable for dive tourism, but they can be voracious and should be treated with caution. The shortfin mako, highly prized as a game fish, is probably the fastest of all sharks. They chase down prey and can take spectacular leaps out of the water. Like threshers, they are warm-blooded animals, an adaptation for fast, efficient

Shark Spotting

swimming. The porbeagle is a large migratory shark in the same family as the great white, but is not dangerous. Valued for their flaky white meat, they were over fished in Irish waters in the 1970s and their population has yet to recover.

Deep water sharks

Dr Clarke describes deep water living as “a strong theme in sharks,” with about 30 per cent of all sharks exclusively found in waters below 400 metres. Such species are even

There are a number of places where sharks can be seen in Irish waters. Dingle Oceanworld hosts a number of exotic and native shark species. The aquarium has lesser and greater spotted dogfish and two angelsharks. It also has blacktip and whitetip reef sharks in its tropical tank. Sea Life in Bray has greater spotted dogfish, lesser spotted dogfish, common smoothhound, and starry smoothhound. Its tropical tank has blacktip reef sharks and leopard sharks. Joseph Wybraniec of Sea Life said the aquarium also has plans to set up a shark nursery in March of this year. A small tank will host thornback ray and dogfish eggs, and visitors will be able to see the embryonic sharks developing within the eggs. The nursery will also host Port Jackson sharks, bamboo catsharks, and epaulette sharks. Galway Atlantaquaria also has four species of native sharks: lesser and greater spotted dogfish, smoothhounds, and angelsharks. For the more adventurous types, The Shark Watcher’s Handbook provides a directory of 250 shark-watching destinations around the world. For instance, there are organised scuba-dives off the Algarve, and the Azores can offer close encounters with blue, shortfin mako, and hammerhead sharks.

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longer lived and slower growing than shallow water sharks. Food is not plentiful in the deep. “All deep water sharks are, to some extent, scavengers. In deep water, they have to make use of any food that becomes available,” said Dr Clarke. Most store energy in large livers, which can be 30 percent of their body weight. The Portuguese dogfish is a deep water species so opportunistic that it will take bites out of passing prey: dagger-like upper teeth pierce flesh and broader lower teeth gauge out chunks of flesh. Little is known about the behaviour of many of these strange fish, which can live at depths of a kilometre or more. Sharks at these depths include the huge Greenland shark, the formidable knifetooth dogfish, the voracious six-gill shark, and the small Iceland catfish.


The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, or the ICES, which coordinates marine research in the North Atlantic, has expressed

great concern over deep-sea shark species such as the Portuguese dogfish and leafscale gulper shark. German, British, and Spanish vessels have targeted deep-water sharks for their oil which is used in the cosmetics industry, fins for shark fin soup, and flesh for food. Dr Clarke, who chaired the Elasmobranch group in ICES, said that this was an extremely destructive fishery, because nets would be left in the sea for months at a time, and a significant proportion of the haul consisted of rotting fish. The fresh fish and crab meat made it profitable. Kevin Flannery of Dingle Oceanworld said that “the sharks were getting absolutely slaughtered” and welcomes a recent ban on gillnets, which should reduce the amount of deep-water sharks caught. A great deal of damage has been done, however. “The Irish waters were rich in sharks,” said Kevin Flannery, “but the sharks have taken an extreme pounding in the last ten years.”

Dr Burgess in Florida commented: “We need to do a better job of regulating how many sharks are killed.” He said that the regulatory issue is a complex one that has to be developed country by country, region by region, to match the needs of people and social and economic concerns, as well as the animals. “The problem is, as is often the case in fisheries management, the social and economic needs are put in place before the animals. As a result, the animals are simply disappearing.” He warned that: “If we don’t do something soon, there simply aren’t going to be many of these species left in the next 50 years and many will be commercially extinct a lot sooner.” Anthony King is a DCU Science Journalism graduate.

Divers sharing a tank with sharks at the Credith Tennessee Aquarium. Photo: Todd Stailey.


Bray shark nursery

Commenting on the opening of National Sea Life Centre Bray’s Shark Nursery, Centre Manager Pat Ó Súilleabháin says the all-new Shark Nursery will provide visitors of all ages with a unique insight into the universe of the shark. “The opening of Ireland’s first-ever Shark Nursery at National Sea Life Centre Bray further helps to educate people that sharks are not the vicious creatures that some believe them to be, but are just wonderful creatures that deserve our respect.” National Sea Life Centre Bray is an all-weather, freshwater and marine aquarium located on the Bray Seafront. Open 7-days a week, all-yearround (excluding Christmas Day & St Stephen’s Day), opening hours are 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm). Admission charges are: Adult €9.75; Child up to 14 €6.95; Child under 3 Free; Student/Senior Citizen €8.00. Family tickets are €31 (2 adults and 2 children). For further information on the Shark Nursery, tours or any of the other exhibits at National Sea Life Centre Bray, telephone (01) 2866 939 or log onto

Sharks might have a fearsome reputation, but many biologists working with sharks don’t believe the reputation is deserved. A good place to discover the truth about sharks is the National Sea Life Centre in Bray, which just became Ireland’s first shark nursery. On 10th April the Centre received 50 shark eggs and 20 baby sharks, which were transferred to a freshwater and marine aquarium – now the animals’ permanent home. The shark population at Bray is composed of tropical and native species. It includes Bamboo Cat Shark eggs, two Port Jackson Shark eggs, 12 Thornback Ray eggs, and 24 Dogfish eggs. Once each shark egg is hatched, each new baby shark will be transferred to one of the ‘rearing tanks’ before being put on permanent display. The almost 20 baby sharks now being sung lullabies in the Centre include two infant Japanese Horn Sharks, two baby Epaulette Sharks, a newborn Port Jackson Shark, three toddler Bamboo Cat Sharks, three newborn Undulate Rays, and five baby Lesser-spotted Dogfish.

Interesting facts • The world’s second-largest Shark (and fish) is the Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and lives in Irish waters. This gentle giant of the Irish Sea grows up to 13m long (longer than a double-decker bus) and eats plankton, like the Whale shark and other whales. Its name comes from its appearance to bask in the sunlight during the summer months. • According to National Sea Life Centre Bray, human beings throughout the planet kill over 100 million sharks in any one average year. We kill sharks for a variety of reasons, including for Shark Fin Soup, popular in Asia; for the use of shark flesh in some cosmetics; for research purposes; and for shark teeth for the production of earrings, pendants and other jewellery. Some experts believe that if humans continue to kill sharks at this rate, many species could be extinct within five years.

BIM is offering a FETAC Certificate in Commercial Fishing and an intensive one year Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources Fishing Vessel Engineer Class 3 course for new entrants scheduled to commence in September 2006.

CommerCial Fishing This course consists of the following modules: u Safety at Sea

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u Net Construction

u Fishing Gear Maintenance

u Computer Applications

u Care of the Catch

u Work Practice

engineer oFFiCer This course is one of the approved ways towards obtaining a Certificate of Competency and consists of the following modules: u Safety at Sea

u Bench Fitting

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u Turning and Milling

u Material Science

u Manual Arc & Gas Welding Skills

u Engineering Drawing/Basic Draughting

u Marine Engineering Practice

u Mathematics for Engineering

u General Engineering Science 1 & 2

u Communications/Information Technology

u Work Experience

For application form please complete the Please send me a Training leaflet & application Form. coupon and send to: Name: Training Services Section, Address: Marine Services Division, BIM, P.O. Box 12, Crofton Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. Tel: 01 2144100 or Fax: 01 2144254 or Phone No.: Email: Email:

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science foundation ireland fondúireacht eolaíochta éireann

Traps and mice

Understanding how our brain is wired


he circuitry of the mammalian brain is staggeringly complex, and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Investigator, Dr Kevin Mitchell of the Developmental Neurogenetics Group at Trinity College aims to understand how it selfassembles during development. “During development, billions of individual nerve cells must connect up to each other in highly specific ways to allow the mature brain to function correctly, and genetic variation may affect how different people’s brains are wired,” he explains. Some genes have been identified that help orchestrate the wiring of the brain. They encode proteins that define the molecular landscape of the brain and the responses of individual cells to that landscape. In this way, they direct the guidance of each threadlike nerve cell extension to its correct target during early brain development. We could picture these encoded instructions as traffic police waving their white-gloved hands to direct the worst traffic jam in the history of the world, and the circuitry awaiting assembly as the billions of motorists waiting to complete their journey. The total number of genes that are involved in this gargantuan task is unknown.

Dr Kevin Mitchell and the team are discovering how the genome directs assembly of the mammalian brain.

Mitchell, who also lectures at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, wants to identify new classes of these genes and to investigate how they function to coordinate the wiring of billions of nerve cells or neurons. To achieve this he is using a technique known as “gene trapping”, which uses transgenic manipulation of mouse embryonic stem cells to generate mice with mutations in different genes. Special proteins encoded on the transgenic DNA enable the wiring patterns of the brains of the mutant mice to be visualised in exquisite detail and examined for defects. If the wiring pattern is different in a particular mutant, then the gene which is mutated is probably part of the genetic programme of brain wiring. He plans to apply this method on a large scale, taking advantage of the recently sequenced mouse genome. The first goal is to build up a “molecular wiring diagram” of the developing brain - ultimately in the form of a web-based atlas - that describes the distribution of known and novel cell-surface molecules on various axon tracts. The second is to identify specific genes required for wiring and to explore their roles in much more detail. “In addition to screening for new wiring molecules, we are focusing on a number that we have already isolated, to further explain molecular functions and signaling pathways,” says Mitchell. As the mouse brain is assembled using the same principles and many of the same molecules as a human brain, these methodologies will ultimately enable Mitchell to investigate whether variation in genes involved in brain wiring affects brain development and behaviour in humans. He hopes to determine, for example, if there is any link between axon guidance molecules and conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism.

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Mitchell and his team are also studying the genetics of synaesthesia in the Irish population. Synaesthesia, which comes from the Greek words syn and aesthesis, means “union of the senses”. People with this condition experience the unusual sensation of, for example, seeing colours when they hear music, tasting what they touch, or smelling sounds. Synaesthesia is commonly inherited and present from a very early age, suggesting that it may be caused by miswiring between sensory areas of the cerebral cortex during brain development. Interestingly, about 71% of synaesthetes are female, and perhaps as many as 1 in 200 people are synaesthetic. Famous synaesthethes include Nabokov the novelist, Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, and composer, Franz Liszt. “We have formed a multidisciplinary team to study this phenomenon from psychological, genetic and developmental standpoints,” says Mitchell. “As a first step we are carrying out a survey of the Irish population to identify synaesthetes and characterise the familiality of the condition. To date we have identified over 70 synaesthetes.” Interestingly, the team has found that very different types of synaesthesia can co-occur in families. For example, one person may experience coloured letters or words, while their sibling may experience shapes from specific tastes. This means that these very different phenomena share an underlying mechanism. A fullscale genetic mapping study is planned to identify the affected gene and it is also hoped to use neuroimaging techniques to visualise brain activity in synaesthetes. These studies should shed light on the causes of this fascinating phenomenon and also reveal more general principles of how the brain gets wired. In 2005 Mitchell became the first Irish researcher to be awarded a European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) Young Investigator Award. He received his BA in 1991 in Genetics from Trinity, and his PhD in Neurobiology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1997, where he was funded by a National Science Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship. Mitchell then pursued postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University.


Giant’s Causeway

An awe inspiring sight with thousands of regular columns. Photographs courtesy of NI Tourist Board. The amazing Giant’s Causeway makes for a great geological day out, writes Mary Mulvihill.


he Giant’s Causeway has to be Ireland’s most spectacular coastline, made all the more special by the dramatic contrast between the black basalt surface and the white chalk below. It is easy to see why people thought this place was not natural: there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in these islands, and the basalt columns are so unusual and regular they were surely man-made. Such a landscape needs explaining, and for centuries, legend attributed it to the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill, who reputedly built the causeway to reach Scotland. The first scientific description was in 1694, when Thomas Molyneux,

a Dublin medic and philosopher, described the formations in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Finding no evidence of chisel marks or mortar, he reasoned that the formations must be natural. International interest was aroused in the 1740s, when the first accurate paintings of the site, produced by Dublin artist Susanna Drury, were circulated across Europe. The first tourists began arriving, and for the next 75 years the Causeway rocks were at the centre of a major scientific and religious controversy concerning how the Earth was formed. By the early 1800s, however, it was widely accepted that basalt was volcanic,

One of many engravings made of Susanna Drury’s paintings of the Giant’s Causeway, which helped bring the unusual formations to international attention in the 1740s.

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and that the causeway columns formed when a vast lake of molten lava cooled slowly. The origins of the Giant’s Causeway lie 60 million years ago. ‘Ireland’ then was at the latitude of Spain today. The weather was warm, and there was a rolling chalk landscape, with hills, valleys, caves and chasms. But the continental plates were on the move, and the North Atlantic Ocean started opening up as North America and Greenland began pulling away from Europe. Across northern Ireland and northwest Scotland the Earth’s crust was stretched taut and thin, molten magma rose from deep within the Earth and eventually, fissures opened in the surface and lava poured out, blanketing the landscape in molten rock and baking the chalk to form a myriad of unusual minerals. The area experienced several volcanic episodes, on and off for five million years, separated by quiet intervals lasting tens of thousands of years, during which time the lava weathered to clay, and trees re-colonised the landscape. The volcanic events varied in their violence and intensity. The first lava flows, for example, were relatively quiet ‘extrusions’, next came an explosive phase, when several volcanoes erupted violently. Telltale signs can be read from the landscape: layers of ash

The earliest known depiction of the Giant’s Causeway, published to accompany Thomas Molyneux’s account in 1694. lava. The ‘ponded’ lava took months to cool slowly from its initial temperature of 1,000oC, but as it cooled, formed into neat and many-sided columns of basalt. (See panel overleaf on how these columns formed) A second period of widespread volcanic activity followed, shaking the whole region and blanketing the area with more thick layers of basalt. The Mourne and Cooley mountains in Counties Down and Louth, and Slieve Gullion in Armagh formed around this time, from massive volumes of molten igneous rock that rose close to the Earth’s surface. Eventually, however, the Atlantic rift drifted away from Ireland – it is now at Iceland – and the volcanic

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Mary Mulvihill is the author of Ingenious Ireland, the award-winning guide to Ireland’s scientific and industrial heritage


and tuff, which are produced only by violent eruptions; the remains of the volcanoes themselves, as at Knocklayd, Slemish, Ballygalley Head and Carricka-rede; and the shattered rock around the various volcanic vents, where lava was forced through the chalk. When there was not enough energy to force the magma to the surface, it would work itself between layers in the existing sedimentary rocks. This produced hard dolerite ‘sills’, and when the surrounding softer rock was eroded away, the sills were left as rocky headlines, as at Portrush. Swarms of dolerite dykes formed where molten rock rose up through fissures; these dark dykes survive as conspicuous wall-like features in places. When the region was quiet the basalt surface weathered in the humid climate to form a red laterite clay, like that seen in tropical Africa today, and rich in iron and aluminium. Indeed, the Antrim plateau has the only substantial aluminium deposit in these islands, and it was mined at several places around the coast until the 1920s. There were river valleys and lakes, and redwood and eucalyptus trees – their fossil remains reveal much about the climate and vegetation of the time. Some of the vegetation was turned to coal and some to lignite, and both were mined in the past, notably at Ballintoy in the 1700s. The Causeway Coast, however, lay on a major geological fault. Even while the rest of northern Ireland was quiet, this region remained active, and several times the valleys there filled with molten

activity died away. By 50 million years ago it was all over, and apart from the occasional earthquake since then, Ireland has been geologically quiet. The volcanic era dramatically changed the landscape of northeast Ireland, and produced a broad basalt plateau that is the largest of its kind in Ireland or Britain. So much basalt was extruded that the Earth’s crust was undermined, and it eventually collapsed to form a depression that is now filled by Lough Neagh. Much of the basalt has been removed by erosion, but in places it is still nearly one kilometre thick. The hill of Slemish, for instance, is merely a plug that was once at the core of a large volcano. And the plateau’s southern edge today ends north of Belfast, but the basalt once stretched to Armagh. As for the underlying chalk, this is a pure type of limestone, deposited 140 million years ago when Ireland was covered by a warm and relatively shallow sea. The water was thick with coccoliths – tiny single-celled plants which, unusually, have a hard shell. The shells accumulated on the sea floor, and were later compressed to form a pure, fine-grained chalk. Examine the chalk under a microscope and you’ll see the fossil shells. Around 100 million years ago the sea withdrew and ‘Ireland’ was again dry land. Erosion immediately began to remove the chalk, but in the northeast this process was stopped by the arrival of the basalt. As well as preserving the chalk, the basalt baked and compressed it. As a result, Antrim chalk is harder and more impervious then British chalk of the same age, and it has been quarried for centuries.

Giant’s Eyes


At the Giant’s Causeway, as well as the world-famous formations (there are an estimated 40,000 polygonal columns), you can see layers of red laterite clay and, embedded in the clay, occasional kernels of uneroded basalt, known locally as ‘giant eyes’. At White Rocks you can see the remains of explosive volcanic vents (basalt agglomerate, which plugged the vent, is surrounded by shattered chalk); plus fine chalk cliffs, sea stacks and caves on the beach. Ballintoy Harbour lies on a fault line, and the rock has shifted so that now the basalt northwest of the fault lies alongside chalk to the southeast. There are also has fine raised beaches and fossil sea stacks there, which were left high and dry after sea levels fell. Ballintoy is one of the many places where chalk was quarried, and where lignite, iron ore and bauxite were mined from between the basalt layers. Carrick-a-rede, noted for its vertiginous rope bridge, is the best example of a volcanic crater in Ireland, although the sea has now broken through. Carrick-a-rede was the scene of one of the north’s most explosive volcanic eruptions – witness the layers of tuff and ash in the surrounding rock, and the volcanic ‘bombs’ and boulders of basalt that were thrown high before falling back.

Go see

Nearby Bushmills distillery and the re-opened Bushmills light railway, plus the Antrim coast road and Carrick-a-rede bridge make the Causeway area an excellent day trip. The Causeway, sometimes called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Nature Reserve, with 15 miles of footpaths maintained by the National Trust. The best place to explore this volcanic landscape is not on the relatively featureless plateau, but at the edges. A drive up the stunning Antrim coast road (starting in Larne) is highly recommended. You can also follow the ‘causeway path’ from Portrush to Ballycastle, which is surely Ireland’s most interesting walk.

The columns

How did those perfect columns form? Tony Bazley explains. The overall jointing pattern at the Causeway is due to shrinkage after cooling. The polygonal patterns could be compared to those seen in mud in a dried up pond. Mud cracks, however, are due to drying rather than cooling, are much more superficial, and generally only effect the surface layers of the mud. The Causeway molten lavas ponded into quite a deep lake in a wide river valley that had previously been cut into the surface below. The lava erupted at around 11000C forming a deep, still, pond. Heat was lost very rapidly from the top and bottom surfaces of the flow. With cooling the lava contracted, and the internal stresses caused joints to form

Early morning light over columns formed from an ancient lake of lava. Photograph, NI Tourist Board.

on the surface, like those of mud, but there the comparison ends. These joints developed downwards as the ‘cooling front’ moved towards the centre of the flow. The joints, or cracks, intersected to form irregular polygons with 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 sides. The long columns also tended to shrink along their length, forming the commonly observed convex and concave ‘ball and socket’ horizontal joints. In the ponded situation, needed to form perfect columns, cooling was slow but although the rock would retain warmth for some months, the main cooling period would have been days and weeks. Many of the unusual features of the lava columns, the way they appear twisted in places, are due to the fact that quite a bit of water was around at the time. The lava flow had probably blocked a river when it filled the valley. In places this water passed down into the hot, still crystallising, lava and modified the cooling process, often giving curved surfaces towards the top of the flow. How do we know all this? Partly by deduction from the evidence on site, but also from the study of modern lavas, especially the Hawaiian lava lakes where polygonal cracks start to form within minutes of the lava beginning to cool.


More information and Causeway Visitor Centre open Marchmid Dec daily, mid-Dec - Feb weekends only. Carrick-a-rede bridge: weather permitting, Mar-Oct daily. Coastal path open all year Please do not interfere with the rocks or take samples.

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A special interest feature on the ESTA website is the Teaching Resources link and especially the Geology Teachers’ Resource Exchange (GEOTREX) link. GEOTREX is a project conceived by Ben Church, who has taught the WJEC Geology GCSE, AS and A2 specifications at Monmouth Comprehensive School since 1989. Most Geology teachers work in isolation and are usually the only geology specialist in the school. GEOTREX aims to facilitate networking, leading to the sharing of our best resources and ideas, making teaching and learning more


An aerial survey of the geological resources of counties Antrim and Down took to the air on March 27th. The survey is part of the Tellus Project, a unique scientific investigation of Northern Ireland’s geological resources. Counties Fermanagh, Tyrone, Londonderry and Armagh were surveyed in 2005 as part of the project. Launching the latest phase of the project at the Northern Ireland Science Park, Enterprise Minister Angela Smith said: “The Tellus Project is a prime example of how high quality science contributes to and interacts with government and the private sector. The information collected will allow informed decision making on a wide range of topics, from mineral exploration to environmental conservation, from brown field urban redevelopment

effective for everyone. A lot of the material was posted last April–June by a small core of Geology teachers. It is very important that teachers from all over Ireland also make an effort to contribute to this site as we have a wealth of fantastic coastal scenery and geology. It is an easy way to exchange information that will be useful to all our students.

Perhaps some of our readers may know of an equivalent web resource like this or would like to get involved in a similar set-up for Ireland that would provide a support to Earth Sciences here. If you use an equivalent resource site please send details to the Editor. NI Enterprise Minister, Angela Smith, looking at minerals.

to the identification of pollution issues associated with rural landfill. Increased understanding of our natural resources and environment will facilitate sustainable development.” The aerial survey is due to be completed by early July 2006. A Twin Otter aeroplane, fitted with instruments to collect data on the magnetic and electrical properties of the ground, will fly in a series of parallel lines. The plane will be based in Newtownards airfield, and will be flown Mondays - Fridays. You can put any questions about the survey

to staff on the Tellus information line, telephone 028 9076 0006. Tellus is co-funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the EU Building Sustainable Prosperity programme. The survey results will be processed and published as maps and images on

WICKLOW COAST QUAKE A minor earthquake from a source about 30 miles off Bray Head, Co Wicklow shook the ground between Arklow and Bray on 14th December last year. Measuring 2.6 on the Richter Scale, it caused some minor structural damage. The tremor will only have been noticed by light sleepers and night

workers because it struck at about 3.20 am. It reminds us that even in Ireland the ground beneath our feet is not always stable, as confirmed by the article on landslides in this issue. ES2k notes with pleasure that the Royal Irish Academy Committee for Geociences is supporting the

proposed establishment of a modern Irish National Seismic Network to be operated by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. If you are reading this and asking ‘what is a seismic network?’ there will be an article in the next issue.

Geoscience section sponsored by GSI and edited by Tony Bazley for ES2k SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 25


SPECIAL AWARD FOR Co ANTRIM GUIDES Heather Smyth, Slemish Guide Unit explains.


ne cold frosty November morning, five sleepy Senior Section Guides from Cullybackey and Ballymena rose at dawn and made their way north to the White Rocks near Portrush in County Antrim. The reason for this early start was to beat the tide. Rosalie Grainger was our mentor for the morning. Our previous knowledge of rocks was limited to a small section of the school geography curriculum. Only two of us were studying A-level geography, but within our group there were talented artists, scientists and girls skilled in ICT and literacy. The intention was to enter the ENI Geological Challenge 2005. Rosalie had read about this competition in the geology magazine called “Down to Earth”. Guide groups from Girlguiding East Lothian in Scotland had been successful in winning a previous award. Our task was to find out as much as we could about the famous rocks surrounding Portrush and then to express our findings in layman’s terms in an A3 leaflet.

Daunting expedition

Initially, the expedition at the White Rocks was quite daunting. It was

bitterly cold, slightly misty with a northerly wind adding to the wind chill factor. However, before long we became fascinated by the rock formations on the beach. It was amazing to learn that the Ulster White Limestone had originated in warm, shallow seas at a more southerly latitude. This soft white rock would have been eroded long ago were it not for a cap of basalt. Looking closer at the limestone rock face we saw flints, belemnites and even large lumps of basalt. We enjoyed exploring the caves, arches and stacks.

A short car ride brought us to Landsdowne Crescent foreshore beside the Countryside Centre at Portrush, where we eagerly searched for the imprints of ammonites. Lots of photographs were taken and some of us did “ammonite rubbings”. This location had fascinated early geologists and it was here that they had debated the origin of a metamorphic rock known as hornfels. Our journey home took us past Dunluce Castle. We examined the rock foundations of this mighty fortress and were not surprised to discover that the castle could have been better sited, avoiding a watery grave for the kitchen quarters.

Glossy leaflet designed and 10,000 copies printed

Back at Guides, further research took place and our creative talents were put to the test. The most difficult task was to try to find a sponsor to publish our masterpiece. We were very grateful when a local quarry owner, James Stevenson (Quarries) Ltd of Ballymena, guaranteed that our work would appear in print so that 10,000 other people could learn a little more about Portrush Rocks! The purpose of the annual ENI Geological Challenge is to acknowledge those who help both the geological community and the general public to better understand geology. Congratulations to the girls on being given a Special Award. A trophy and surprise gift will be presented later this year. Rosalie’s leadership was clearly an inspiration – Editor.

Spelling mistakes

Marking coursework can be a time consuming task, but it is often made lighter by unusual comments such as: ‘We must choose a random position on the rock by throwing the quadrant over our shoulder’ - I must remember to stand well away from him! ‘We saw many sedimentary structures such as a loudcast’ ‘There were small amounts of mice and haematite present. The rock formed quite rapidly because the mice has been transported and deposited quickly.’ A new breed of mica?

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Letters to the ES2k Editor

NEWS FROM RIA COMMITTEE FOR GEOSCIENCES With thanks to Julian Menuge, Committee Secretary.

Mars and life?

Professor Andy Knoll of Harvard University will give an Academy lecture on Thursday, 9th November 2006. The lecture will probably be run in conjunction with the Irish Times and held in Trinity College, Dublin. The title of Professor Knoll’s lecture has not yet been finalised, but the topic is likely to be ‘Mars and life’.

International Year of Planet Earth

Approved by the United Nations General Assembly, the ‘Year’ will consist of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. The aim is to highlight the importance of geoscience in today’s world and will feature both scientific research and public outreach activities. The Geological Survey of Ireland will establish an IYPE National Committee for Ireland over the next few months. This National Committee will propose, coordinate and promote activities in Ireland under the IYPE banner.

New Chairman

Garth Earls (GSNI) has taken over as Chairman of the Academy Committee for Geosciences.


New course and new name. At least, Geohydrology isn’t in my New Oxford Dictionary of English. Jokes have been flying around the earth science community that having closed its Geology Department, Queen’s University, Belfast is now shy about using any term that includes ‘geology’. It appears, in fact, to be a course in hydrogeology …. yes, hydrogeology is in the dictionary…., an increasingly important aspect of geology as water supplies and their potential for contamination hit the headlines on an almost daily basis.

Starting soon

Starting later this year at Queen’s University is this three-year BEng Environmental Geohydrology course – 4 years if taken with a ‘sandwich year’ in industry. The contact name if you are interested in attending the course, or want to know more, is Dr. Trevor Elliot at the School of Planning, Architecture & Civil Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast BT7 1NN or see . It is pleasing to see an aspect of geology, by whatever name, re-enter a university in the north of Ireland. It will surely be popular because good graduates will find rewarding careers working with water and environmental problems.

From Andrew Brock, University College Galway Of… Ireland, Shaken but not Stirred (Editor – If you didn’t see the original article, it showed the remarkable effect in an Irish water borehole of the Asian tsunami earthquake (26/12/2004) – the water level ‘jumped’ 26cm.)


he article “ Ireland, shaken but not stirred” ( ES2k, Issue 12 ) makes interesting reading. The underdamped response is an example of resonance and the amplitude of the response will depend on how close the driving frequency is to the natural frequency of the borehole-water system. A borehole of depth 50m will have a natural oscillation period of the order of 20s which is nicely in the range of Rayleigh waves from earthquakes. Whether a given borehole shows a good response will depend on the amount of water involved in the oscillation and thus indirectly on its depth. In practice, things are slightly more complicated because some of the water movement is in the aquifer itself. Interestingly, the diameter of the borehole is not important because it cancels out in the defining equations. There is another borehole oscillation that is often observed. It is due to earth tides and occurs at frequencies typical of tides – with periods around 12 and 24 hours, much longer than the periods of earthquake waves. It is seen in boreholes in confined aquifers in porous media and with amplitudes generally of a few centimetres. The oscillations look very similar in shape to those on a tide gauge at a harbour. The difference is that they are almost exactly in phase with the driving force which is due to the gravitational effect of the sun and moon on the solid earth. The small gravitational forces which generate sea tides also affect the solid earth and cause slight dilations and compressions in it. The water in a borehole penetrating a confined aquifer will respond by moving up and down in the borehole. Very small fractional changes of volume in the aquifer can translate

into centimetre size changes in borehole water level. It is a little like squeezing a saturated sponge – water squirts out. I first saw this effect in an instrumented borehole on the campus of the University of Lesotho in southern Africa. It had been installed to monitor water levels in a local aquifer. The tidal oscillations were an interesting bonus for an earth scientist but of no immediate use to a hydrologist. There is a theoretical link to aquifer properties such as porosity and permeability, but these properties are more usually studied with pump tests and the like. It would be interesting to hear if tidal oscillations have been seen in Irish boreholes.

From Ann Serff… Of the ES2k Magazine


am finding all kinds of nuggets. If one of your aims is in making science seductive to the general public… you can count yourselves as very successful with regard to this one. A couple of years ago I came into Beggars Bush (GSI Headquarters) and discovered what an interesting complex it is…the printing museum, the geology museum etc. And another discovery was the slate grotto on Valentia Island and the Tetrapod trackway….so exciting. So much to explore that I sometimes feel like the fellow that Canadian author Stephen Leacock described…”he got on his horse and rode off in all directions”! From Shirley Gray… Of her article ‘Cutting Edge Company’ in ES2k Issue 12 would like to register my disappointment that the article… included additions I did not write. I wished only to convey to the readers how impressed I was at the skill and expertise of the [company] staff…and the fact that our visit was such an inspiration to everyone that day.


(Editor – apologies for being carried away during the editing process. I hope…and believe…the additions did not detract too much from the message). or ES2k Editor, 19 Inishanier, Killinchy, Newtownards, Co Down BT23 6RP

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The Copper Coast European Geopark, in association with Dr Bettie Higgs of UCC, has, for the second year running, offered an introductory Geology course in Co. Waterford. The group meets once a week, each Saturday morning at the Dunhill Multi Education Centre. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds, including a few teachers, but most of us are there out of curiosity and a fascination for the landscape around us. We have no background in geology. Some of us may have studied something for our Leaving Cert but that is vaguely remembered at best. Early on in the course we were invited on our first field trip led by Geopark geologist Sophie Préteseille. The morning of the field trip we spent indoors studying rock samples – describing them, testing them for hardness, etc. It was a bit confusing. We all approached the rocks as if they were part of an exam and we needed to get the “right answers”. Great, we thought over our packed lunch of sandwiches, that’s over, now we can relax. We are off on a guided fieldtrip, Sophie in the lead, telling us where to look, what to take particular note of, and supplying us with nice neat explanations. Not so!

GEOBUG Karen Parks, teaching at The Methodist College, Belfast, answers the question “How did you catch the geo-bug?” When I was 16 I met an undergraduate geologist called Enda

Preparing the way, and below, getting close to the subject.

Kilfarrasy Strand

The site selected for the fieldtrip was Kilfarrasy strand, just west of Tramore near Fenor Village. It is a popular beach with residents of Tramore who want to get away from the crowds of visitors on Tramore Beach in the summer. At the car park, we all gathered around Sophie expectantly while she explained what we were going to do for the next hour or two. It quickly became evident we were there to work, applying anything we had learned in the classroom. We were going to investigate the site with the eyes of a geologist – we were going to observe, describe and hypothesise. Then test our hypothesis.

who was mapping in the Rosguill Peninsula, County Donegal. He was on his bike and had a clipboard, hammer etc. I thought I would like to do that and when I went back to school after the summer holidays I started an O-Level Geology course. It led to me going on to study Geology at Queen’s University, Belfast where I particularly enjoyed all the field trips. It was great to be able to understand what is below the Earth’s surface and visualise landscapes in 3-D. I am indebted to John Neeson who resigned from teaching

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Sophie kick started our exploration of the area by posing questions, asking us to describe what we saw etc. We spent quite some time looking around for anything that caught the eye – we described the shape of the cove, sea stacks, the cliffs, the colours in the cliff etc. Through questions and answers we developed our ideas on how they and the rocks formed - and also ended up with new questions.

A lifetime of exploration!

At the end of the two-hour session, with not a little guidance, prompting and feeding of information, we managed to develop some understanding of the geology and nearly felt we had discovered Kilfarrasy cove ourselves. If the weather had been warmer we would have stayed longer and may have even got further than fifty yards from the entrance to the cove. The Copper Coast has a further 25 kilometres of spectacular coastline, that’s a lifetime of exploration in front of me!

as I finished my degree and I have since enjoyed teaching Geology at A-Level and GCSE. Whitepark Bay, Ballintoy and the surrounding coastline is fantastic for all geology enthusiasts and I love taking groups to stay at Whitepark Bay Youth Hostel for part of their coursework. Trá Na Rossan and Meencoolagh, Co Donegal. The first area that I mapped in Level I at Queen’s University.


“In any battle between the Earth and human species, the Earth will win” Dr. Pádhraig Kennan UCD

Written In Stone by Pádhraig Kennan, 1995.

Originally produced as a series of television programmes, Pádhraig Kennan’s explanation of how Ireland was formed is now available on DVD. The entire series of TV programmes is on one disk for a very reasonable price, and Karen Parks recommends it strongly. In these programmes Pádhraig Kennan, described by his students as an inspiring lecturer, brings us on a tour of Ireland’s rocks. While clambering up slopes, chipping at rocks, and showing us spectacular landscapes, Pádhraig tells us how these features formed, and as he keeps reminding us, the history of Ireland did not start with the arrival of humans. Programme 1 –introduces rock types and geological time. It illustrates how rocks can be dated and how ancient fold mountains developed. Programme 2 – this highlights deformation and has good images of folds and faults and the plate tectonic setting in Ireland. It links modern day earthquake examples to what it would have been like in Ireland when it was a destructive plate margin. Programme 3 - introduces volcanic and intrusive activity in Ireland.

The entire DVD runs for 150 minutes, but the individual programmes can be viewed one by one, and this is probably the best approach in a class-room situation, and besides, this was the way they were broadcast. A simplified geology map of Ireland and guidance notes for schools linked to the DVD/video can be downloaded from the GSI website These materials give an increased awareness of the importance of geological processes, rocks and minerals to everyday life. As such they relate to Core Unit 1 of the new syllabus ‘Patterns and Processes in the Physical Environment’. They are also a useful resource in relation to students taking GCSE Geology at ‘A/AS’ levels in Northern Ireland A booklet, produced to compliment the series, was also Programme 4 - takes a journey through time and demonstrates how the rocks relate to continental drift and how the palaeo-latitiude and palaeo-climate influence the rock formation. Programme 5 - shows how water has influenced the landscape and focuses on the glacial impact on the rocks. Programme 6 - looks at the resources available in Ireland

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published to celebrate 150 years of service of the Geological Survey of Ireland. I have just started to use this DVD with my geology classes. Used with PowerPoint and relevant diagrams, it makes topics such as geological history, the formation of rocks, the impact of weathering and, in particular, glaciation more easily understood. Pupils, and anyone interested in how Ireland formed through geological time can relate the topics to familiar landscapes. The DVD and booklet are available at a special price of €32 including post and packing, from GSI. Order from Enda Gallagher, Marketing, GSI, Beggar’s Bush, Dublin 4. Email: Web site:


Slipping and Sliding in Bréifne

Top left: Rotational landscape. Top right, Potential rock fall. Left: Crown earth slide.


approximate costs? Happily, in none of the cases did costs have to be measured in lives. Following the field visits, the classification of all 694 landslides was revised, with 30% of bedrock slides and 50% of peat slides being reclassified. This showed that selective fieldwork is essential to validate desk studies and to properly categorize unstable land. Six factors are considered to cause landslides. Called ‘triggering factors’, these are bedrock type, soil including superficial deposits, land cover (e.g. grass, woodland etc), slope, aspect (e.g. north-facing etc)) and elevation. Statistical analysis was used to determine the influence of each triggering factor on each landslide type. The triggering factors were assigned ‘weights’ according to our experience in this area. Finally, four landslide susceptibility maps were produced, one for each type. The maps show 7 levels of susceptibility to landslide, ranging from extremely high to extremely low. The susceptibility map for bedrock slides is illustrated. It is concluded that these maps have the potential to guide future development away from unstable areas and that their wider application would be of value to the community.

Xavier Pellicer- Quaternary and Geotechnical Section (GSI)

ethods of making maps that show where landslides might occur in the future haven’t yet been generally applied in Ireland. The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) chose the Bréifne area, 2130 sq km in North West Ireland, as a test area to develop such maps. Provided they prove of practical value, the technology could be applied across the whole country. The maps will pick out land that is more or less susceptible to slipping and sliding, so are called ‘Landslide Susceptibility Maps’. Several digitally held photographic datasets were available to examine the ground before making field visits. These included colour photography, black & white photography and satellite imagery. Topographic images (Digital Elevation Models) were available at 20m and 50m resolution. Using the photographs, firstly, known landslides, reported in books or newspapers, were checked. Secondly a search was made for signs of landslip or unstable ground that hadn’t been recorded before. This was focused in areas with slopes higher than 15°. Precise location and form of the instability was noted. Where possible, the centre (crown) of the failure was recorded and a line was drawn to the toe of the landslide. This gave the general size of the structure and direction of movement.

A total of 694 landslides were identified. These were subsequently grouped into 4 main landslide types: bedrock slides, peat slides, falls and flows. Then the work moved onto the ground where 52 landslides were visited and described in detail. The shape of the ground, local geology, types of rock and/or superficial deposits involved, size of the slide and impact on buildings, roads and services were recorded. It was also important to try to find out what the weather had been like when the slide occurred; was it triggered by unusually heavy rain or were man-made activities the cause. Finally, had remedial measures been taken and, if so, what were the

Landslide susceptibility map for bedrock slides.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 30

Mass medication Can we be trusted with our own health? Is the government getting tired of trying to encourage the public to do the right thing when it comes to their own health, and their children’s health? The move to add folic acids to our foods to cut birth defects suggests they might be, reports Gary Finnegan.


ometimes it seems we just don’t know what’s good for us. Health warnings are slapped onto cigarette packets, and we continue to smoke; hard-hitting ads appear on television outlining the dangers of alcohol abuse, and we continue to drink too much. It appears that the government might be getting tired of just encouraging the public to do what is best for them. There are signs that the government might be willing to “mass medicate” the Irish population if they believe that this can improve public health. A case in point is provided by folic acid. It appears the government policy will soon require its inclusion in foods.

Folic acid

For over a decade, a key element of Ireland’s health policy on reducing birth defects has been to urge women of child-baring age to take folic acid supplements and to choose foods high in folate. But, not enough women are doing this, and defects remain too high. Folic acid is an essential nutrient – one of the B vitamins – that is believed to reduce neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. However, despite large-scale public awareness campaigns, it appears the message has not seeped into the public consciousness. The cost of this is measured in the number of children born each year with Spina Bifida and

In the US and Canada flour is already fortified with folic acid, and other governments are considering the option. Photo courtesy of The Federation of Bakers, UK. for this reason, the issue of mandatory fortification of food with folic acid refuses to go away.


In 2004, the government set up the National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification to look at the possibility of adding the vitamin to food. It was charged with examining the scientific, legal and practical difficulties that might arise. With a budget of €300,000, the group is managed through the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. It set out three possible policy options. The first was to continue with the current policy. However, the statements from the committee and the government have indicated that

Defective gene

the current strategy is considered a failure. Ireland still has a high rate of neural defects and adding folic acid to food has worked elsewhere. In reality, it has been suggested that the committee is highly unlikely to plump for the ‘do nothing’ option. The next possibility is that specific amounts of folic acid would be added by bakers to some bread on a voluntary basis. The final option is mandatory fortification. This will require a change in the law to force millers and bakers to add a set level of the nutrient to bread. It is understood an exception may be made for organic produce so as to preserve some degree of consumer choice. The committee conducted a consultation exercise, asking the public

A study by the Health Research Board has shown that up to 40 per cent of Irish people have a gene, which increases the risk of neural tube defects. Ireland currently has one of the highest incidences of neural tube deficits in Europe with approximately one to 1.5 per 1,000 births affected. Research by public health specialist Dr Peadar Kirke has shown that 50 per cent of Irish babies carry a gene that increases the risk of birth defects. The gene, it was found, affects how folic acid is used by the body, causing an increased risk of Spina Bifida. It has been estimated that up to 50 of the 70 per cent of babies born per year with neural tube defects could be protected from the condition if their mothers have sufficient folic acid in their system prior to and immediately following conception.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 31

Folic Acid Facts

What is it?

Folic acid is a B vitamin. It is used in our bodies to make new cells. If a woman has enough folic acid in her body before she is pregnant, it can help prevent major birth defects of her baby’s brain and spine. These birth defects are called neural tube defects. Why is it in the news? Ireland has a high level of babies born with neural tube defects. It is thought that between 50 and 70 per cent of these defects could be avoided every year using folic acid. When do women need it? Folic acid levels need to be high in the earliest stages of pregnancy before the neural tube – the early brain and spinal cord in the embryo – develops. By the time a pregnancy is confirmed, it is often too late to begin taking supplements. Spina Bifida is sometimes referred to as ‘open spine’ as it occurs when the spine fails to full close during pregnancy. Where has fortification been introduced? The US and Canada have cut their rates of neural tube defects since introducing fortification in 1997. An expert group in the UK urged the Government to follow suit but no action has been taken to date. Who will decide? Health Minister Mary Harney will take the final decision based upon the advice of an expert group established under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, as well as the opinion of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jim Kiely. Last April, the Irish Medical Organisation passed a motion at its AGM calling for folic acid fortification to be introduced without delay. Patient groups have also supported it. How much? In the US, where neural defects are rarer than in Ireland, doctors recommend that women take around 400 micrograms per day. The amount that may be added to foods in Ireland is still a matter for debate among experts.

The Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus fully supports the mandatory fortification of all flour with folic acid. SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 32

what they thought of the idea of having folic acid added to their foods. By and large, the response was said to be positive. There were thought to be some ethical objections to “mass medicating” the entire population for the good of a minority, but the expert group is largely of the view that there is minimal risk in taking on additional folic acid – even if you are not a young woman. There may be a small risk to older people who are low in vitamin B12 and consume a lot of folic acid. Because folic acid is quite closely related to vitamin B12, tests can appear to show that the patient is healthy, when in fact they are low in B12. This so-called masking of a B12 deficiency is of concern because it is a form of anaemia that can leave older people tired, breathless and with recurring headaches. Doctors will probably be asked to be aware of this if folic acid is added to the food supply.


The Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus fully supports the mandatory fortification of all flour with folic acid, according to its submission to the National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification. The Association said that mandatory fortification of all flour was preferable to voluntary fortification or the addition of folic acid to some flour only. Folic acid should be in all flourcontaining foods rather than just in breads, the Association believes, but this view goes slightly further than what the expert group is likely to advocate. There is some concern among patient groups as to how the fortification will be monitored, but the committee is thought to be grappling with this to find a way of making sure the folic acid reaches the right sections of the population.


The Association also warned that the current generation of young women is eating less bread than women did ten years ago. A combination of wheat allergies and the popularity of some wheat-free diets – such as the Atkins diet – could mean women are getting less and less folic acid from food. There will still be a need for regular awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of folic acid supplements

in addition to fortification, even if it can be found in every sliced pan in the supermarket. Meal guidelines and recipes in shops aimed at maximising the consumption of folic acid, are also suggested by the patient group. This should take account of the fact that some of the nutrient may be lost during cooking, making it difficult to say exactly what dosage of folic acid makes it from the flourmill to the dinner table. This is not the first time Ireland has considered adding folic acid to the food supply. In June 2002, the Department of Health asked the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for advice on the fortification of food with folic acid. Following consideration by the Authority’s scientific and nutrition subcommittees, mandatory fortification of food with folic acid was recommended. The Chief Medical Officer reported in 2004 that “the case for fortification of food with folic acid is sufficiently robust to move to the next stage”, which was consultation. It was at this point that the current Committee was established.



The US and Canada have already introduced mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid and have seen a reduction in Spina Bifida, as a result. In Newfoundland, Canada, a reduction of 78 per cent in neural tube defects has been recorded since the change was brought in. An expert group in Britain recommended that folic acid be added to flour, but this has yet to be acted upon. It is also known that in the UK, a proportion of women carrying babies with neural tube defects terminate their pregnancy. This is not an option in Ireland at present. The British group, which included Professor John Scott, a worldrenowned expert on folic acid and B12, based at Trinity College Dublin, called for a relatively high level of the nutrient to be added to food “on scientific, medical and public health grounds”.

According to Ms Maureen Lynott, Chairwoman, National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification, “research shows that only one-in-five pregnant women take a folic acid supplement and over a third of women consume no folic acid at all – either through food or supplements”. “Almost 50 per cent of pregnancies in Ireland are unplanned, so a large segment of females may not have taken folic acid for the recommended period prior to conception to assist the prevention of NTDs,” she said. Research at the Coombe Women’s Hospital has shown that, among women having planned pregnancies, only 21 per cent of women take folic acid during the correct time frame. It appears the broad consensus of opinion is leaning towards introducing mandatory fortification of white breadmaking flour, but the consultation process could change the course of current thinking. Watch this space.

According to the Food Safety Authority an official report on folic acid will be published soon.

Gary Finnegan is Editor of Irish Medical News.


Better informed is better equipped for international success This is your invitation to join Enterprise Ireland in knowledge sharing events for companies in the internationally traded services sectors. Design for Value. September 12,13. Crowne plaza Hotel Santry. Design for Manufacturing & Assembly. October 9,10. Crowne plaza Hotel Santry. Design for Reliability& Compliance. November 13,14,15. Crowne plaza Hotel Santry.

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The Programme is designed for companies involved in the design, development and processing of products across all sectors, electronics, engineering, and food, pharmaceutical, chemical, bio and services. The programme is aimed at Design Engineers, R&D staff and executives who want to improve the design and development function in their organisation.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 33


Guinness comes home St James’s Gate is back - big-time. The decision to close the Park Royal facility in the UK and increase the production capacity in Dublin was a coup for Ireland. Increasing the amount of ‘dark stuff’ going out the gate wasn’t easy, however, and it required a detailed analysis and re-design of the existing production process, writes Seán Duke.


Diageo closed its brewing operations in the UK at Park Royal, in the summer of 2005, it was bad news for 90 people that lost their jobs at the brewery in London, but good news for the brewery at St James’s Gate, which increased its production from 4.8 to approximately 7 million hectolitres to make up the shortfall. This was an increase in beer production of 45 per cent – all made possible by process engineering.


Diageo invited tenders from a select group of bidder that could provide them with the process technology improvements to help them reach their production targets. The in-house engineers came up with a solution. Diageo wanted the bidders to analyse this solution, but also to come up with their own solutions if they thought these were better. Diageo gave the tender to GEA Process Technologies Ltd, Naas, Co Kildare. This Irish arm of a global operation has a turnover of €18 to €20 million per annum. GEA Process Technologies is part of the world Global Engineering Alliance Group, a multi-national headquartered in Germany, which employs more than 17,000 people globally. Paddy Kenna is director of GEA Process Technologies, and has years of experience working with Diageo, formerly Guinness, in their brewing plants in Dublin and elsewhere. He said that Diageo gave them the drawings of the Dublin plant, and asked GEA to look at every aspect of their production process to see where improvements could be made.

The advantages for Diageo in choosing GEA is that they had worked with them successfully in the past, that they were part of a global operation with a huge spread of expertise, and, as such, they could provide a single solution for the entire job. GEA in Ireland has 72 permanent staff and

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 34

about 15 contract staff. The focus here is on delivering solutions for the process industry, that is, any industry that involves the movement of liquid or powder. The main strength of the Irish operation is on solutions for moving liquid, and the Dublin brewery is all about moving liquid.


Ever since Guinness was first brewed the raw materials have been the same; barley, water, hops and yeast. The use of these materials, and the manner in which they are brought together, is the production process, and the goal of Project Seven, which was the Diageo name for what it wanted at St James’s Gate, was to increase production. The primary focus was on making changes to the existing fermentation plant, or the Fermentation Beer Processing Plant, or FBP, as Diageo calls it. The plant was located inside an existing building, and that meant that either the pipes and equipment would have to be modified inside that building, or an extension built. The building was built in the 1980s and was home to lots of tanks and pipes, so solutions wouldn’t be easy. GEA had looked at the solution provided by the Diageo engineering team, analysed it closely, but had decided to go another route. This option was the one that Diageo went for. The company would contract GEA to do what was needed to implement the option, and then, at a later stage, it would test a number of KPIs, or key performance indicators to make sure that the plant was working at the improved production level. The first major task was the installation of two massive new stainless steel brewing tanks. These were sourced in Holland, from an arm of a Danish company called Holvrieka, since there was no Irish company with the capability to make stainless steel tanks that can hold 3,500 hectolitres of beer. The tanks came in by ship from Dublin Port in the middle of the night, were brought out to Raheny then back to St James’s Gate – a roundabout route to avoid any tight turns or obstacles in their way. Training was another important part of the changes, and it was the responsibility of GEA to make sure that Diageo operators were trained so that they could properly operate the plant with the new process technology. A system was in place that could identify problem areas if performance tests showed the production was below target.





As well as monitoring people, a Diageo in-house management information system, which logs feedback from all instruments at all times, can determine where problems arise. For instance, if a vessel is empty and clean, and ready to be filled with beer, but sits not being used for two hours, that’s a problem.


From barrels to kegs — while methods of distribution have had to change, care has been taken to maintain traditional quality. “If a guy is incapable of operating the plant properly you may not achieve the KPI because he was too slow to react to something – maybe he went for a tea break for an hour and a half while there was something flashing on the screen that needed attention,” commented Paddy Kenna. Since 2005 all Guinness consumed in Ireland and Britain has been produced at St James’s Gate. Guinness Flavour Extract, the essence of Guinness, is exported from St James’s Gate to more than 45 countries. Over €350 million has been invested at St James’s Gate in a new brewhouse, on-going technology and real-time logistical support systems. Source: Diageo

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 35

One of the big issues for the Dublin plant was water, and how it was being used. The traditional practice at St James’s Gate for years had been to stop brewing on a Sunday, to provide time for cleaning of the water system, and equipment. That meant that on a Sunday there was no beer being moved around, and no beer product going into kegs. Essentially, this was down-time, and this practice had to change to boost production. Diageo gets its water from the public mains in Dublin, but it also has its own well water that it uses for non-process production purposes such as washing and cleaning. They also have a water facility on the Grand Canal, and this water is also used for washing and cleaning. St James’s Gate has its own water treatment plants and these are used to treat the water bringing it up to the quality required for production. The big challenge for GEA was to move the plant on to 24-7 production with cleaning as part of the normal process. The other major issue was that the changes to the production process, and all the civil engineering and other work that was required to implement the changes, had to be done in such a way that the product going out the gate would not be interfered with. The plant had to continue producing beer, and GEA could not get in the way of that.


In the production of beer there is an amount of beer that is wasted. As part of the process of brewing, centrifuges spin to separate yeast from the beer, and some of the beer is lost at this stage. GEA wanted to design a new

process that would recover as much of that beer as possible. Beer waste was, thus, to be kept to a minimum. In the past, going back to the 1980s, the effluent generated as part of the brewing process at St James’s Gate wasn’t a big issue. Disposing of effluent wasn’t a big cost, but it is today, and reducing waste, or pollution, can significantly lower costs of production. A key KPI for GEA was, thus, reducing effluent. But, even that wasn’t enough, and it was also necessary to better treat the waste that still remained. There is always some effluent, and this must be treated to high standards.


GEA wanted to introduce greater flexibility into the Diageo production process, which was hampered by limitations on the routing system of pipes and vessels. The problem could be thought of in terms of traffic and roads. If there were just two roads into Dublin City, there would be huge problems getting that traffic transferred from the outer suburbs into the City Centre. However, if there were perhaps 30 really good roads bringing traffic into the City Centre, then traffic jams would flow very freely. The goal for GEA was to study the roads, or in this case the brewing lines leading into the tanks to see how the lines and tanks interacted, what the limitations were on the existing system, and where improvements could be made. There were only two beer transfer routes in place, and that was a limitation on moving beer. Every step of the existing process was looked at, and potential bottlenecks found. Another issue was the need to sip, or clean a vessel, during the production process. A vessel has to be sipped after a certain number of brews, or after 24 hours of constant use, and there was a need to minimise this time. GEA partnered with a company called Ecolab — a multinational cleaning and sanitation company with offices in Bray and Clonee — to resolve this issue. The idea was to use a solution where the caustic strength was optimised to provide faster cleaning of large vessels that can’t be moved. “You can’t obviously stick a vessel into a dishwasher, so they bring the cleaning solution to the vessel,” said

Loading Bays

Paddy Kenna. This approach meant that cleaning was going on all the time, and was integrated into the process. So, as one vessel is being emptied of its brew, another is being cleaned elsewhere in the plant.

Siemens AG

A wort is an infusion of malt that is fermented to make beer. The other major contract in Project Seven – separate from GEA – involved the setting up of four independent wort streams in the brewhouse, that flowed into the, massive, new stainless steel vessels from Holland. These huge vessels served a dual purpose allowing for the maturation of the beer, as well as fermentation, to take place. The entire brewhouse at St James’s Gate was re-designed to allow for a new CIP, or cleaning in place, regime This required software solutions and Siemens AG won the contract for this work.


SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 36

After the work of improving the production process was completed in the Summer of 2005, Diageo again approached GEA with a view to increasing the capacity of its loading bays at St James’s Gate, as a lot more product needed to be moved by tanker. GEA designed four new loading bays, which means that 48 tankers could be loaded up each day, and sent on their way, to the packaging plant at Runcorn, near Manchester. This plant, which before Project Seven, merely bottled or canned Guinness, had been geared up to be able to keg Guinness coming from Dublin, to serve the UK market. As part of this contract work on the loading bays, changes were made to ensure that less Guinness was being lost in the transfer of beer into the tankers. This used to be by two men and a hose, but an automated system means that more product is saved for the consumer.

NOTICEBOARD For inclusion contact Alan Doherty at 01 2842909 or email: Announcing

Science is Fun

Make Science Real

UL Summer Camp (ULSC) 19th – 23rd June 2006

JUNIOR SCIENCE TRAIL at Ireland's Historic Science Centre, Birr, Co Offaly.

Book early as places are limited. The ULSC is a new initiative in its inaugural year and has been established to respond to the growing need to promote science awareness and create an excitement of science in our lives. It is estimated that six out of every ten Irish jobs created in the future will be in the elds of science and engineering. The programme is highly interactive where students will have hands-on sessions in areas such as sport sciences, genetics, forensics, chemistry, health sciences including physiotherapy, the life sciences including biology and nutrition, physics and environmental science. The Camp is designed for students currently studying in Junior Certicate, Transition or Fifth Year.

Supports the Junior Science syllabus in key areas of knowledge and skills Includes mandatory experiments and investigations in Coursework A Includes mandatory experiments and investigations in Coursework Provides ideas and inspiration for further experiments in Coursework Broadens scientific experience outside the classroom and textbook Increases knowledge about the lives and achievements of famous Irish scientists Provides a fun, outdoor, interactive field trip with science museum visit Provides the student with a record of their work and investigations For further information, visit or contact: T: +353 (0) 509 20336 F: +353 (0) 509 21583 E:

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The Science Camp offers students a chance to experience our stateof-the-art university laboratories and campus facilities including the 50m swimming pool and sporting facilities while learning about science in an engaging way. It is a great opportunity for students to discover the world of university life while participating in hands-on experiments in a fun-lled and safe environment. CONTACT DETAILS Bernie or Maeve on 061 213059 / 061 202642 Email: Website:


SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 37

Blue Shark, Cassel’s Natural History, 1880. Source Archives.

Surviving in the shark pool Are you an indigenous Irish manufacturing operation producing low value products that is being squeezed mercilessly by the larger manufacturers? If so, a new business model, being encouraged by Enterprise Ireland, which places an emphasis on R&D, innovation and the licensing out of IP, could form the basis of a viable survival plan, reports Seán Duke.


rish manufacturing is in crisis – let’s not pretend. The costs of making anything here is now such that many innovative Irish firms are simply getting out of manufacturing. This is particularly true for the companies that are producing low value products. It’s not all gloom, however, and the way forward was detailed by speakers at the recent meeting of the Technology Club at Enterprise Ireland’s Glasnevin office in Dublin.

Business model

The gathering discussed the value of a viable new business model for

Irish SMEs. This model is based on innovation, acquisition of IP – either from in-house research or outsourcing – leading to licensing deals with firms with a wider market reach. The keynote speaker was Edward McCloskey, CEO of Irish Breeze Ltd, a firm that used to make cotton products here, until it realised that a new strategic approach was needed. Irish Breeze Ltd, Drogheda, began life in 1993, when its parent company, Boyne Valley Foods, decided it was time to diversify into new markets away from food. The company began looking around for an opportunity, and decided that cotton products were a good bet, as nobody was making these products in Ireland. The next step was to source the technology they required to enable them to manufacture the products. Edward McCloskey recalls that a search was begun to find a company that would provide them with the expertise and technology they required. “We found Protex Ltd,

SPIN INDUSTRY Issue 16 Page 38

a company in Malta, which was manufacturing cotton products for Malta and the North African markets. They also had a separate business which involved helping other firms set up in manufacturing. That was 1993. It was five months from when we decided, let’s do it, to the first packs of cotton being manufactured. In the next three years we attained contracts with customers such as Dunnes Stores and Musgraves.” It was a success story, but in more recent times the firm decided that a complete change in strategy was required. The cost of manufacturing in Ireland increased throughout the 1990s. Irish Breeze continued to manufacture here, but it was becoming more and more expensive to do so. It got to the point where it didn’t really make sense to manufacture low-value cotton products, so either the value of the products would have to be increased somehow, or manufacturing had to be dropped. The firm decided to apply for an RTI (research, technology and


Licence deals can get Irish products onto global markets innovation) grant – a grant scheme managed by Enterprise Ireland on behalf of the IDA. The firm got the grant and began to develop IP in-house that could be licensed to bigger players. It wasn’t feasible to continue to compete with the big players in manufacturing. The beauty of doing licence deals with larger companies was that Irish Breeze could get its products into export markets without worrying about the cost of manufacturing at home and marketing products abroad. The bigger firm would take care of all that. Edward McCloskey provided an example of how the new business model worked for Irish Breeze in practice. He said that the company became aware that baby wipe products were very popular and sold exceptionally well, but that they were not well packaged. The company conducted research into how packaging could be improved and this formed the basis of a patent. A licence deal can now be done with a larger company that is interested

in actually making the product and getting it into markets.

Licensing IP

The Irish Breeze CEO has tremendous sympathy with Irish firms that are finding it horrendously difficult to set up manufacturing operations, particularly to simply serve the Irish market. The home market is very small, too small, he said, and the company typically needs export markets to survive. The problem then is that an Irish company manufacturing for export, quickly comes into direct competition with the big guns. In such a situation, it is almost inevitable that the big guns will win out, he said, so why not work with them, through licensing IP, rather than trying to compete against them? Better to concentrate on innovation and R&D than to try and continue manufacturing, the CEO commented. “We have a dedicated in-house R&D team, and the goal is to develop innovations, and to license them out. We come up with

ideas for innovative new products, license the ideas out. Really, we don’t care who makes the products.” The company is continually seeking to innovate, and at the moment is developing a moist cotton pad product. People love cotton, because it is soft and biodegradable. Wet wipes too are popular with people, particularly to clean baby’s bottoms. A cotton product that could be pre-wetted, without disintegrating into a mushy mass, should, thus, be very popular combining the qualities of two popular consumer products. Irish Breeze said that it has found a way to develop just such a cotton product. In addition, on a separate front, they are set to launch a disposable dribble bib for newborn infants. As well as developing its own IP, the company is constantly on the lookout for new technologies or ideas being developed by others. “We must have a constant feed of innovations to survive,” said Edward McCloskey. “We either make dust or eat dust.” SPIN

Model Companies Auto Conversions Ltd, Clara, Co Offaly This company is providing aluminium bodies for ambulances and other emergency vehicles. They partnered with a Canadian firm to get the technology they required. Heatsolve Ltd,

Ballina, Co Mayo This firm has developed an ingenious ‘smart wire’ that can be integrated into a heating blanket that provides a warning if there is a short. The IP was developed in conjunction with Materials Ireland.

Softedge-Systems Ltd, Dublin This small, but highly innovative firm has made an agreement with Microsoft. The software giant has agreed to provide source code technology, and the Irish firm in return has built a product that incorporates this technology. Butler Manufacturing Services Ltd,

Longford This midlands operation is a specialist designer and manufacturer of wastewater treatment products. They have licensed out their products, and as a result, their products are available in over 26

SPIN INDUSTRY Issue 16 Page 39

worldwide markets including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa.

Xenith Biomed Ltd, Ballynahown, Co Galway This west of Ireland high-tech firm is a manufacturing and supplier of allergy testing kits and other in vitro diagnostic kits. A US firm was making an exit from the allergy testing market, and Xenith bought the technology. The markets for their products include Ireland, Europe, Japan, the Middle East and the USA.

REVIEWS Flashes of brilliance

The square root of 2

David Flannery has a rare and valuable ability to bring mathematics within reach of all. From page one of his book, The square root of 2, the reader is drawn along into a labrynth of mathematical construction. The success of David Flannery’s approach is based on the application of an age-old tradition; dialogue between the master and the student. The master poses a leading question, and it is up to the student to draw a conclusion. The great strength of this approach is that it is not prescriptive; it respects the intelligence of the student. Logically, step by step, David Flannery starts off by requesting the student to draw a square divided into four. As he remarks , “Now, that shouldn’t be too hard,” and then he quickly moves on, asking the student to draw four diagonal lines, creating a square within the square. All very easy, and so is the realisation that this is what mathematicians really mean when they talk about the square root of a number. From there on the reader is hooked, caught, because everything now makes sense. A great number of people who consider themselves hopeless with maths would probably enjoy this dialogue, which in many ways reads like a ‘who-done-it’, and like those who spend time solving cross-word puzzles, some are better at it than others. Perhaps its a mind-set as much as ability, but the book has a wonderful example of how some people with a natural gift for figures seem to keep their focus on the underlying logical rules. Back in the

This collection of published articles, reflect the diversity, the volume and the outstanding quality of the research happening in Ireland today. The author, Dick Ahlstrom, science correpondent with The Irish Times, is arguably the best-known science journalist in the country (there aren’t too many of us around). His science writing here began in the mid 1980s, when science in this country was on its knees. As the author says in his introduction: “I started writing about Irish science during the dark days of the mid 1980s, when Irish scientists excelled at getting more financial support per capita out of the EU’s various research programmes than anyone else in the community. These are changed times, and now researchers here have the capacity to do world-class science. How things have changed, beyond all recognition, and now top class Irish researchers are returning home to join the party, but, even more remarkable, leading scientists from abroad are now quite happy to come and work in dynamic little Ireland. Wow!

18th century, when Carl Gauss was an eight year old boy, his teacher set a difficult puzzle to keep the pupils busy until the end of class. The teacher asked the pupils to work out the sum of 1+2+3 and on to 100. Within seconds, young Gauss handed up his slate, and the teacher, assuming that the lazy pupil had just made up a figure, ignored the answer until the end of class. As it turned out, Carl Gauss was the only one to get the sum, 5050, right. While all the others had been struggling, totting up as they went along, Gauss, realising that 1+100, 2+99, 3+98 and so on, all added up to 101, found a short-cut. Carl Gauss was a brilliant mathematician because he understood the rules.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 16 Page 40

This welcome book – one of the few popular titles that deal with Irish science, or Irish scientists - has articles published in the period 2002 up to the start of 2006. The articles, as we would expect, are well written and presented, and in the book are further enhanced by the use colour pictures. This book will appeal to the science professional and to the general reader, albeit a general reader with a strong interest in science. There is a welcome lack of scientific jargon, and the author does a good job explaining difficult concepts in ways that all of us can understand. For example, “DNA is like a ladder that has been twisted into a helix”. Or how about, “As explained in all the best sci-fi movies, put matter and antimatter together in one place and both are immediately destroyed with the release of large amounts of energy”. The author is avoids speaking over the heads of his readers. I have one quibble, but this book is still highly recommended. Instead of repeating material that has already been published, perhaps another approach might have been to select a smaller number of articles and go into these in much more depth. Certainly, some of the stories seem to abruptly end, just as the appetite is whetted. Seán Duke Flashes of brilliance, the cutting edge of Irish science, Dick Ahlstrom. Published by Royal Irish Academy.

The book originated with David Flannery’s work for a PhD in Education at TCD, but the book was published in the US. Undoubtedly, it will appeal to an international market, and hopefully that will not diminish its local appeal. This is a title that deserves to go into every school and public library in Ireland, and I suspect that more extensive application of David Flannery’s discoursive approach would do a lot to help broaden interest in mathematics. Tom Kennedy The square root of 2, a dialogue concerning a number and a sequence, David Flannery. Copernicus Books. Hardback, 2006.

Science Foundation Ireland Scholarship 2006 School leavers Deadline for applications is June 30th 2006.

Young women in engineering PART OF A PROGRAMME TO INCREASE THE PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN SCIENCE, ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH IN IRELAND The Dell Precision M20 notebook computer is powerful workstation class portable PC and is certified to run with a wide range of engineering class software applications. Additionally with the latest mobile technology and OpenGL graphics, this lightweight notebook lets you experience genuine workstation power on the move. Office applications like email and Word are available as standard. The Dell Precision M20 comes complete with a backpack and the security of three years next business day onsite warranty from Ireland's largest computer manufacturer.

The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) with support from Dell is introducing a new research driven scholarship to encourage more young high-achieving women into engineering. Up to 10 scholarships will be awarded in 2006 to women entering designated four-year engineering degree programmes in Ireland. Scholars will receive an annual award of â‚Ź2,000; a Dell Precision M20 notebook computer; the support of an active researcher as a mentor throughout their undergraduate career; and at least one summer researchinternship in an academic research laboratory or an industry R&D laboratory during their degree. Full details of the objectives and eligibility requirements, including how to apply for the scholarship can be obtained on the SFI website: or by e-mailing: Completed applications should be sent to the address below for delivery on or before June 30th 2006.

SFI Scholarship - Young Women in Engineering Science Foundation Ireland Wilton Park House

Wilton Place

Dublin 2, Ireland

tel +353 1 607 3200 fax +353 1 607 3201 email

The National Foundation for Excellence in Scientific Research

Science Week Ireland offers people of all ages the chance to explore, discover, experiment or invent their way to a better understanding of science.

Science Week 2006 takes place from 12-19 November. Log on to for regular updates on events and happenings and make sure not a moment is missed from Ireland’s most exciting and diverse week.

Spin 16  

Spin 16, Irish science, sharks, invasive species, Giants Causeway

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