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Women in STEM 2019

Unlocking the hidden health benefits of food

Pictured: Therese Holton has a BSc and PhD in Genetics and Bioinformatics from Maynooth University

Expanding field of artificial intelligence (AI) is at the cutting edge of science research. One Dublin company, Nuritas, is unlocking the potential of food and plants to treat diseases. Dr Therese Holton, who holds a BSc and PhD in Genetics and Bioinformatics from Maynooth University, describes Nuritas as combining artificial intelligence and genomics to reveal “the hidden health benefits in food.”

Mining peptides found in food and plants can tap into their potential to treat disease and chronic illness. “We’re pioneering the use of science and data in the food space. Right now, it’s quite random how functional ingredients are discovered, and more often than not the active component is not known.

“At Nuritas, we are combining the use of AI and machine learning to inform ingredient discovery. It’s fascinating work and I love it. My role is to collate all of our research activity and scientific outputs and communicate them to the world.”

Therese, who completed her BSc in 2007 and a 2011 PhD in Genomics and Bioinformatics, credits her study with helping her get where she is today. “The Biology Department really instilled the importance of basic research, along with encouraging us to take education further – that I really could do a PhD afterwards. It’s fantastic to promote that belief in yourself. I don’t know if it’s the same at other universities, but I really got that sense from the Biology Department at Maynooth.”

Return to learning, return to STEM

Returning to education as a mature student can be a daunting prospect, but a supportive pathway to a science degree is an excellent option.

Dr Abigail Maher has personal experience of returning to education, having left formal education after her Leaving Cert to work in a variety of jobs for 25 years. “The Maynooth University Certificate in Science helped me fulfil a lifelong ambition to study science. It gave me confidence in my ability to learn new things and provided me with a pathway into the science degree course,”she says.

Dr Maher went on to complete a PhD in Biology and now lectures in the Biology Department at Maynooth University as well as continuing her research in ecology.

“One of the most satisfying aspects of my teaching role is that I get to work with new Science Certificate students, so I can give something back to the course and encourage new groups of students along the path into science as mature students.”

Dr Karen Herdman works in the Chemistry Department at Maynooth University, having completed her PhD in 2016. One of her roles is as a tutor on the Certificate course.

“The Cert course offers an opportunity to experience life as a university student while ‘dipping your toe’ into a variety of subjects,” she says.

“The level of support given by the tutors and fellow students is second to none. So, go on, be brave, challenge yourself to be the best you can be.”

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