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Guest blog by Jenna Warby – PhD Researcher – Monaghan Mushrooms/ DIT

In April this year, 30 researchers and I, embarked on a three day journey with the AFGDP, where we were introduced to the art of scientific writing and presentation skills (http://afgdp.ie/our-modules/). Little did we know, that we would be faced with the task, of talking about our research in an, I’d go as far as saying, fun way. Needless to say, the idea alone caused inner panic: how can I make my project sound fun and interesting?! Then I thought about why I decided to do this research in the first place. After all, it had to be interesting, for me to commit to another four years of third level education.

I brought myself back to when I started my new job in the Irish mushroom industry in 2009, with Monaghan Mushrooms (http://www.monaghan-mushrooms.com/). I was fresh out of college, after completing an MSc at UCD, ready to take on the world. During the introduction to the daily operations of an Agaricus bisporus mushroom farm, I noticed multiple containers filled with what looked like food, albeit, it needed a clean, but it looked edible. From then on, I could not pass the containers without wondering: what if we could do something with the material?! After all, this material, referred to as stalks, was once attached to the mushroom therefore it surely had to be edible. The years went by, and despite being occupied with other very interesting projects in the Research and Development Department, the idea of adding value to the stalks in the containers often entered my mind.

In 2014, the CEO of the company asked the same question: can we add value to stalks? I gladly accepted the challenge. I applied to the Irish Research Council for an Employment Based Postgraduate Programme to address this challenge (http://www.research.ie/scheme/employment-based-programme). I registered as a full-time student with the Dublin Institute of Technology in March 2015, signifying the start of the project.

With the increasing global population, it has become imperative to the health of the environment that we come up with new, more sustainable sources of food. This project proposes to use a waste material from the food industry as a source of food/pharmaceutical ingredients or additives e.g. a non-animal source of protein. There are four people in the project: an employment based postgraduate student, me; an employment mentor, Dr. Juan Valverde and the academic supervisors, Dr. Catherine Barry Ryan and Dr. Jesus Frias. It is a four year project which is due to be completed in February 2019. The project focuses on achieving three objectives: the characterisation of the Agaricus bisporus waste; identification of the most suitable candidate for commercialisation and; feasibility of process scale up.

This is a great example of a research led, commercial driven project, where academia and industry are collaborating to address an industrial challenge. It is currently in its second year, so in the meantime, watch this space.

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