Queen’s University Belfast is to establish a dedicated research facility to investigate a new technology with the potential to fight antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The Centre for Plasma in Agri-Food (AgriPlas) will be the first of its kind in Europe and will be located within the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s.

Its focus will not only be pioneering research into cold plasma – ionised gases or liquids that have antimicrobial properties – but also the potential commercial applications.

AgriPlas will work closely with the Northern Ireland, UK and European agri-food industry on a number of projects to explore the use of plasma technology in, for example, veterinary treatments, prolonging the shelf life of agri-food products and farm biosecurity.

‘Wonder technology’

Plasma research is still in its infancy 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 agri-food, agriculture and veterinary scenarios.

Initial research of plasma application has been focussed on medicine; particularly cancer research.

Early findings reveal that cold plasmas are naturally non-toxic and don’t cause chemical residue formation. Because of their potential to reduce, or even bypass, the use of antibiotics, plasmas could be key in the fight against AMR.

It also makes them ideally suited to applications in farm animal healthcare and biosecurity, feed safety, and food shelf-life extension.

Fighting AMR

The AgriPlas initiative is being funded through the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), one of the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres, with £350,000 investment from Innovate UK and a co-investment by Queen’s University.

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 Northern Ireland, UK and international agri-food industry.

IGFS is a Global Research Institute within Queen’s University. Its founder is Prof. Chris Elliott OBE, who conducted the UK Government’s inquiry into the horsemeat scandal of 2013.