Developing Oats for Improving Human and Animal Health (MPhil Scholarship)

Developing Oats for Improving Human and Animal Health

Aberystwyth University, IBERS

Project ID: AUM30004
Annual Stipend: £11,472
Application Deadline: 30th August 2018

Oats (Avena satvia L.) are a multifunctional crop used as a health promoting human food, high quality animal feed and feedstock for industrial applications. Oats are also well adapted to a wide range of soil types and can perform better than other small-grain cereals on marginal soils. For this reason there is considerable interest in increasing the contribution of oats to the human food chain. The UK market for hot oat cereals is valued at more than £160 million. IBERS has an international reputation for developing new oat varieties. More than 65% of the UK oat seed market has been developed at IBERS. This rich heritage provides remarkable access to unique genetic resources including advanced breeding lines, landraces, heritage varieties and wild relatives as well as experimental populations developed to facilitate the dissection of traits of interest and accelerate their selection.

Oats are rich in ceramides (CM) used as high value active ingredients in skin and hair care products to replenish endogenous ceramides depleted during aging. CM are a class of lipid compromised of a sphingosine and a fatty acid moiety. These are abundant in cell membranes as structural components, but also involved in cell signalling pathways regulating cell differentiation, proliferation, and programmed cell death. Oat lipid extracts containing CM are known to alter gene expression and induce differentiation and ceramide synthesis in human keratinocytes, which collectively can improve skin barrier function.

Available evidence highlights a major opportunity to add significant value to oats through the isolation and quantification of lipids as functional ingredients in the human food chain or for use in the cosmetic industry. However, commercialisation relies on i) establishing an evidence base of bioactivity, ii) characterising the variation in the relative abundance of CM and other polar lipids including natural emulsifiers (DGDG and MDDG) in oats, iii) developing and optimising extraction procedures and iv) developing low cost high throughput techniques for measuring polar lipids including CM that can be used for phenotyping in future oat breeding programmes. This project will generate new information to address each of these knowledge gaps as follows;

  • State-of-the-art HPLC based techniques and high throughput accurate mass spectrometry will be used to characterise the influence of genetic and environmental factors on CM and other lipid classes in oats.
  • Working with Oat Services Ltd. who have developed methods for the extraction of ceramides, we will investigate high-throughput methods and technologies for optimising the extraction of CM and other lipid soluble fractions.

This project will generate new information to address each of these knowledge gaps as follows:

  • What genetic and environmental factors influence the abundance of ceramides and other lipid classes in oats?
  • What methods and technologies can be used for the economic extraction of ceramides of different oat organs for use in the human food chain, cosmetic industries and animal health?
  • Segregate and isolate the polar fractions to assist with specific health abetting processes and/or the development of natural emulsifiers within food or cosmetic emulsion systems.

These questions will be addressed based on the following activities:

  1. Development and validation of high-throughput methods of the polar lipid fractions including subset isomers and analogues of commercial extracts ranging between 5 and 95% polar lipids including comparison with other species.
  2. The identification of pathways to allow the isolation and extraction of specific polar lipids fractions including pigmented material leading to the potential for upscaling.
  3. Sampling of varieties grown in multi-locational trials will be analysed for detailed polar lipid fraction content

The prospective applicant should have a minimum of a 1st or good 2:1 in a relevant degree, and be available to take up the studentship by 1st October 2018. The project is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the European Union’s Convergence programme administered by the Welsh Government. KESS II MPhil scholarships are collaborative awards with external partners. (Applicants need to only apply, they do not need to search for partners.)

To apply, please submit the following to the Postgraduate Admissions Office (address below) by 30th August 2018

  1. A completed Research Programme Application Form, two references. Application and reference forms may be downloaded from
  2. A completed KESS II Participant proposal form (put the reference number AUM30004 in the top right hand box of the application form) and an up-to-date CV. KESS II application forms are available to download at the link below.

  1. A MPhil proposal of up to 1,000 words where you expand on your experience and interests and describe why you are a good candidate for this research studentship. Please refer to the Project Description.

Value of Award: A stipend of £11,472. Each scholarship has an additional budget for travel, equipment/consumables and training to support your research. KESS II MPhil Scholarship holders do not pay fees.

Length: Full-time for 1 Year. (Theses must be submitted 3 months after the funded one-year study period.)

Training: The achievement of a Postgraduate Skills Development Award (PSDA) is compulsory for each KESS II scholar (The PSDA is based on a 60 credit award, which is an additional award to the PhD).

Eligibility: To be eligible to apply for a KESS II award, you must be resident, upon starting the scholarship, in the Convergence Area of Wales and you must be able to take paid employment in the Convergence area on completion of the scholarship.

The Convergence Area means the following counties of Wales:

Isle of Anglesey
Neath Port Talbot
Rhondda Cynon Taff

For further student eligibility criteria related to the individual projects, please view the details of the individual project above.

Informal enquiries should be made to Dr Ifat Parveen Shah at  or 01970 823216

Address for applications:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Recruitment & Admissions
Student Welcome Centre
Aberystwyth University
SY23 3FB

Quote Reference AUM30004

Closing date for applications 30th August 2018