Women in Ag: Dr. Deirdre Purfield


Dr. Deirdre Purfield, a Researcher in genomics at Teagasc has not only collaborated with international research teams but her work has also been published in leading scientific journals.

Women in Ag: Dr. Deirdre Purfield

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Dr. Deirdre Purfield, a Researcher in genomics at Teagasc has not only collaborated with international research teams but her work has also been published in leading scientific journals.

Dr. Deirdre Purfield brings miles of technical knowledge and expertise to the Agricultural field.

The Dunleek, Co. Meath native has always relished the idea of combining her beef and tillage farming roots with her striking passion for the scientific world.

“Both my parents are from farming backgrounds so they had two different enterprises before marrying. My brother runs the tillage enterprise in Stamullen, Co. Meath whereas the suckler beef farm in Duleek is primarily run by mother.” Dr. Deirdre Purfield told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.

The Seed

A B.A. (Honours)in Biochemistry with Cell Biology from Trinity College Dublin became the first of many third-level degree programmes that Deirdre completed. Shortly after graduating in 2010, Deirdre enrolled in a PhD programme - a joint collaboration between Trinity College Dublin and Teagasc Moorepark under the supervision of Prof Daniel Bradley and Prof Donagh Berry.

“It was during the PhD that I developed my passion for genomics,” Deirdre explained.

“The PhD provided me with the opportunity to learn the skills and techniques for handling genomic data but also gave me the opportunity further upskill through training courses.”

Genomics

After Deirdre’s PhD in 2014, she obtained a Post-Doctoral researcher position in Teagasc Moorepark where she cooperated with leading research groups in Australia and the United States.

Deirdre later moved to fill her new position as a Research Officer at Teagasc Moorepark and it is here that she works on an EU project called GenTORE with a focus on the genomics of resilience and efficiency in cattle.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact with EU researchers on a large scale project. My main area of research focuses on exploiting whole genome sequence data.”

“This means that I analyse 40 million pieces of DNA per animal on over 600,000 animals and use statistical methods to identify DNA variants associated with traits like calving interval; carcass weight and milk production in both dairy and beef cattle.” Dr. Deirdre explained.

Dr. Deirdre also tests new statistical models for genomic predictions and assists with the development of Ireland’s custom genotyping SNP chip.

ICBF

As part of her research at Teagasc, Deirdre also works jointly with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) which grants her access to millions of animal records with detailed traits and over 1.5 million animals with genotypes.

“It’s a world-class database that really is the envy of many other research groups and helps keep Ireland at the forefront of international research developments. This database is also key to driving the genetic improvement of Irish cattle.” Deirdre explained.

Publication of Research

Dr. Deirdre has also published her research in the leading scientific journals; these publications have been the result of her own research and through successful joint efforts with other parties. Her first scientific paper focused on estimating inbreeding using a genomic measure called runs of homozygosity and has been very well received by the scientific community.

“This approach uses the DNA of an animal to accurately inform us on the level of inbreeding at a genome level and overcomes the limitations associated with traditional inbreeding measures such as lack of back pedigree.”

“It was one of the first studies to use this approach in livestock and as such became a template for many other research projects.” Deirdre outlined.

1,000 Bull Genomes Project
This spring a collaboration co-ordinated through the 1,000 Bulls genome project was published in the leading research journal - Nature Genetics. The project, a global initiative provides researchers access to high-quality whole genome sequences on thousands of key ancestral cattle.

“This was one of the largest collaborations to be undertaken in cattle research involving 57 researchers across 30 institutes, and successfully explained the genetic basis of a large proportion of the variability in cattle height.”

The Future

Looking forward to the future, Dr. Deirdre is satisfied in her current role and will continue her work in the area of scientific research with Teagasc. She also has plans to secure funding to establish her own research programme.

“A career in Irish agriculture offers a really promising future. As a woman in agriculture, I have had a really positive experience. I am part of a really supportive research team of excellent women and men.” Dr. Deirdre concluded.

If you are a woman in Agriculture and you want to share your story, get in touch - email catherina@thatsfarming.com and you may just be featured on That’s Farming next week.

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