Professor Brendan Gilmore has been announced as the Director of the Centre for Plasma in Agrifood (AgriPlas for short), which has been established within the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast.
The dedicated research facility, the first of its kind in Europe, will investigate a relatively new technology with exciting potential to reduce harmful chemicals and antibiotics in the food chain. Supported by CIEL through Innovate UK funding, its focus will not only be pioneering research into cold plasma – partially or wholly ionised gases that have antimicrobial properties – but also the potential commercial applications cold plasma offers the agrifood industry.
Professor Gilmore works in the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s where he holds the Chair of Pharmaceutical Microbiology and leads the Biofilm Research Group. He is also a member of IGFS and sits on its Management Board.
AgriPlas will work closely with the Northern Ireland, UK and European agrifood industry on a number of projects to explore the use of plasma technology in, for example, veterinary treatments, prolonging shelf life of agrifood products and farm biosecurity.
Cold plasma research, particularly in the agrifood space, is still a relatively young field and although it is being increasingly seen as a potentially revolutionary ‘wonder technology’, it’s believed this is the first time a European university will focus research on agrifood, agriculture and veterinary scenarios. Initial research into cold plasma applications has focussed on medicine, particularly controlling infection and cancer research.
Early findings reveal that cold plasmas generate multiple reactive species with excellent antimicrobial and other desirable biological activities and are unlikely cause chemical residue formation like conventional biocidal agents. Because of their potential to reduce, or in some scenarios even supplant, the use of antibiotics, plasmas could be key in the fight against anti-microbial resistance (AMR).
It also makes them ideally suited to applications in farm animal healthcare and biosecurity, feed safety, and food shelf-life extension.
The AgriPlas initiative is being funded through CIEL, with £350,000 investment from Innovate UK and a co-investment by Queen’s.
AgriPlas will build on existing expertise in plasma knowledge at IGFS, and will involve a multidisciplinary team of physicists, pharmacists, animal-health experts, feed and food safety experts and analytical chemists.
It is anticipated that, by leading to reduced use of chemicals and antibiotics in food-production systems, the technology should ultimately enhance the sustainability and global marketability of the NI, UK and international agrifood industry.