Experts explain why Ireland must act now on climate change

Huge waves slamming into 150 cliffs off the west coast of Ireland [Credit: Chris Murray]
Climate change in Ireland will have many impacts – some of which will be life-threatening – according to a range of experts based here. This means, they all agree, that action can no longer be delayed.

This report features contributions Dr Ina Kelly, consultant in public health medicine, HSE; Dr Audrey Morley, ocean scientist NUIG; Dr Jimmy Murphy, coastal erosion engineer at UCC MaREI and Dr Ruth Kelly, zoologist, TCD, and was first broadcast on Drivetime on RTE Radio 1 on 20th December ’17.


Immune system found to work better at certain times of day

The immune system has been found to work to a 24-hour hour circadian cycle, like the rest of our body [Source:]
The immune system works better at certain times of day than others, according to new research, which could help point the way towards the development of new drugs for autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

In a study published in Nature Communications, Professor Kingston Mills and Dr Caroline Sutton of TCD and Dr Annie Curtis of RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons Ireland), show that immune responses and regulation of autoimmunity are affected by the time of the day when the immune response is activated.

“In the year that the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm, our exciting findings suggest that our immune system is programmed to respond better to infection and insults encountered at different times in the 24-hour clock,” said Prof Mills.

“This has significant implications for the treatment of immune-mediated diseases and suggests there may be important differences in time of day response to drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis,” Prof Mills said. 

Using mice as a model organism, the researchers showed that a master circadian gene, BMAL1, is responsible for sensing and acting on time-of-the-day cues to suppress inflammation. Loss of BMAL1, or induction of autoimmunity at midday instead of midnight, causes more severe experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (an analogue of multiple sclerosis) in mice.

Circadian rhythms or 24-hour rhythms are generated by the body clock, allowing us to anticipate and respond to the 24-hour cycle of our planet.

Maintaining a good body clock is generally believed to lead to good health for humans, and disrupting the circadian rhythm (for example, as happens in some people working night shifts) has been associated with immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis; however, the underlying molecular links have been unclear.

“Our study also shows how disruption of our body clocks, which is quite common now given our 24/7 lifestyle and erratic eating and sleeping patterns, may have an impact on autoimmune conditions,” said Dr Curtis.

“We are really beginning to uncover exactly how important our body clocks are for health and wellbeing,” Dr Curtis added. 

Genetic map of Ireland charts impact of invasions and plantations

Researchers have found relatively high levels of West Norwegian-like (probably Viking) ancestry within Ireland [Source:]
The Irish DNA Atlas which has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports provides the first fine-scale genetic map of the island of Ireland.

The DNA Atlas, which was produced by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons and the Genealogical Society of Ireland charts the genetic impact of major historical events such as the Norse Viking invasion and the Ulster Plantations as well as revealing genetic similarity in 10 distinct clusters.

The Atlas was developed by population geneticists and genealogists who came together to collect DNA samples from 196 Irish individuals with four generations of ancestry linked to specific areas across Ireland.

The analyses of the DNA, and comparison with thousands of further samples from Britain and Europe, are revealing seven clusters of Gaelic-Irish ancestry, and three of shared British-Irish ancestry.

Scientists expect that this genetic information will improve the diagnoses of diseases where genes play a strong role, particularly for people and populations with Irish roots.


The researchers involved in the study believe the work will help deliver on the vision of the new FutureNeuro Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre, which is seeking to improve the diagnosis of rare neurological disorders and to personalise treatments of those.

“Having a genetic map of the Irish population will be invaluable in future studies of the genetic component of some common diseases in the Irish population, especially those diseases which show a difference in prevalence rates across the island of Ireland,” said Dr Sean Ennis, UCD ACoRD and Genomics Medicine Ireland.

Some of the information the Atlas has so far revealed include the findings that there are relatively high levels of people of Northwest French and West Norwegian origin in Ireland; that there is evidence of continual, low level migration between the north of Ireland and the south and west of Scotland; and that there are three genetic clusters with shared Irish-British ancestry which are mostly found in the north of Ireland and probably stem from the Ulster plantations.

Atlantic storm waves, not tsunamis, lifted 50-tonne boulders along northwest coast

Boulders pictured here at Annagh Head Co Mayo, some weighing more than 50 tonnes were lifted by Atlantic storm waves, not tsunamis [Pictured: NUI Galway]
The massive boulders deposited at Annagh Head in Mayo, and possibly some other locations along the northwest coastline of Ireland were not caused by a tsunami, but by storm waves breaking on the foreshore for hundreds of years.

That’s according to research by Professor Paul Ryan from Earth and Ocean Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway and the University of Oxford published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This study shows the enormous power of storm waves battering the foreshore over centuries, ripping boulders of over 50 tonnes from the cliff face, piling them 100 metres or more inland,” said Professor Ryan.

The researchers found that the huge boulders, some over 50 tonnes, which are piled at the top of a small cliff, got there due to battering from storm waves.

It had been speculated that many of the larger boulders along the west coast of Ireland had been uplifted by tsunamis, but in 2004, the late Professor Michael Williams argued that the boulders on the Atlantic cliffs of the Aran Islands were due to storm waves, not tsunamis. This thesis caused caused considerable international debate at the time.

The researchers here set out to resolve the debate as to whether the large boulders had been moved by tsunamis or storm waves.  They used computer simulations, hydrodynamic equations, as well as oceanographic, historical, and field data. These found that the boulders are a cliff-top storm deposit.

Northeast Atlantic storms can produce waves of over 60 metres, which are capable of lifting massive boulders. This knowledge is important in the context of climate change, the researchers said.

Shorelines are becoming more vulnerable and the ability to understand these piles of boulders along the west coasts will help us understand how much more vulnerable we actually are to storms, the researchers said.


Volunteers sought for large Irish OCD study

OCD is often associated with repeated hand-washing, hoarding and checking of locks and lights, but it also involves repeated intrusive, distressing or frightening thoughts [Pic source:
One thousand volunteers who suffer from obsessions or compulsions due to OCD are being sought by the School of Psychology at UCD to take part in an online survey.

The disorder known as OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can drive people to repeating behaviours over and over again, such as washing or checking locks. It can also cause people to struggle to remove disturbing, intrusive and unwanted thoughts.

The disorder can severely impact on a person’s life, with some people actively engaged in thought rumination or performing rituals to reduce anxiety. It is estimated that between 2 and 3 per cent of people in Ireland suffer from OCD – or between 48,000 and 96,000 people.

The online study will be conducted by Patrick McHugh, a psychologist in clinical training at the School of Psychology NUIG, along with Dr Jonathan Egan, Deputy Director of the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programme.

“Obsessions can feel overwhelming and difficult to control,” said Mr McHugh. “We aim to investigate whether strong emotions like guilt and disgust contribute to such symptoms.”

Dr Egan added: “When people do not reach out to others in order to normalise their thoughts, they may then start to experience distress,”

“Obsessions are often associated with thoughts which feel intrusive and out of your control and if left untended to, can become a worrying pre-occupation and affected a person’s day-to-day life, and may result in the need for a Chartered Clinical Psychologist’s intervention,” said Dr Egan.

To participate in the survey, visit:

Participants can enter for a draw for a €100 One4All voucher on completion of the survey and request access to a summary of the results

TCD group to investigate health effects in Ireland from diesel emissions

A TCD team is to investigate the health impact of diesel emissions in Ireland (Pic: TCD)

Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2 is an air pollutant generated, for the most part, by diesel engines and can irritate airways and lead to respiratory disease, especially asthma.

In the past, Irish governments have encouraged the purchase of diesel cars through tax incentives in order to help meet the country’s obligation to control carbon dioxide, or CO2, which is the most significant greenhouse gas.

However, it has become clear that nitrogen dioxide, which is released by diesel engines, is a serious hazard to public health so this policy may change.

For many years the US had strict controls on nitrogen emissions from vehicles, and the EU is now looking to follow with its own more stringent nitrogen regime.

This research will involve a team of engineers, hospital consultants and environmental scientists based at TCD, and is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Research Programme 2014 to 2020.

The researchers will investigate the associations between NO2 and health impacts as it pertain to Ireland, with particular emphasis on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly and the socio-economically disadvantaged.

The team will identify a set of characteristics for the locations in Ireland that are at most risk of experiencing high levels of NO2.

“Traffic in urban areas contributes significantly to air pollution and the impact on individuals living and working in those areas is difficult to quantify,” said Margaret O’Mahony, Professor of Civil Engineering, and the project lead.

“The EPA funding will enable the team to investigate the associations between NO2 and its impact on health and wellbeing, which is an important step forward for environmental and health research in Ireland,” Prof O’Mahony added. 

The team will also examine the HSE drug prescription database to establish much-needed baseline data linking NO2 levels with the prescription of drugs used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease.

Other databases, such as the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), subject to their availability, will be explored to investigate if relationships between prevalence of respiratory symptoms in vulnerable groups and NO2 levels exist.

Finally, the team will identify a set of effective and efficient solutions to mitigate the impact of the transport sector on NO2 levels in Ireland.

Irish film wins top award at New York science film festival

An Irish documentary has won an international prize, awarded by the AAAS in the USA (Pic: Eilis O’Dowd)

An Irish documentary called Feats of Modest Valour depicting the lives of three people living with Parkinson’s disease and scientists working to cure it has won the Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York last week.

The Scientist Award is awarded by Science, and its publisher the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to a film that portrays, in an accurate and inventive way, the life of a scientist.

The jury included Nobel prize-winning scientist, Professor Martin Chalfe, and award-winning science columnist for the New York Times, Professor Carl Zimmer.

In ‘Feats of Modest Valour’, three individuals live clockwork existences, dictated by a strict regime of medication to manage the physical reality of living with Parkinson’s disease.

Brian Carney is a farmer from County Mayo whose son had to take over the running of the family farm from a very young age; Milena Lulic is a Croatian World War II survivor who faces her condition head-on with great dignity; and Tom Hickey, the Irish actor, talks about how suffering for his art takes on a whole new meaning with the disease.

Interwoven with these individual stories, the documentary depicts researchers at NUI Galway’s Centre for Research in Medical Devices (CURÁM), led by Dr Eilís Dowd, who are developing a novel therapeutic approach which they hope will revolutionise treatment of the condition.

The film uses animated sequences to delve into the brain of someone with Parkinson’s disease, and see how dying cells can be replaced by stem cells supported by a natural biomaterial “scaffold”.

“This is a film about science and medicine, about scientists and patients, about art and music, but most of all, about hope,” said Dr Dowd. “It was a genuine privilege to work on this project with such talented filmmakers and such inspirational patients.”

The film is co-directed and co-produced by Mia Mullarkey and Alice McDowell of Ishka Films, and is due to be screened on RTE 1 on Sunday November 12th at 10:30 pm. To find out more about the film, see

‘Feats of Modest Valour’ was produced through the Science on Screen initiative between CÚRAM, Science Foundation Ireland, and the Galway Film Centre who manage Galway’s UNESCO City of Film designation.