Scientists secure €6m to find pharma treasure trove in Irish bogs

10 Nov 2020

Image: © MurielleB/

A project led by TCD scientists will look to harness the untapped pharmaceutical potential of Ireland’s historic boglands with €6m in new funding.

A project entitled ‘Unlocking Nature’s Pharmacy from Bogland Species’ has received €6m in funding today (10 November) under the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) at the Department of Justice.

Led by Dr Helen Sheridan, director of the NatPro Centre for Natural Products Research and a fellow of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the project will look to identify potential therapeutic and commercial uses of native Irish bog plants, bog waters and the microbiome of unique bogland species.

With peat harvesting for energy use set to fall dramatically in order to meet the country’s emissions reduction targets, Ireland’s bogs could provide a new source of income for nearby areas.

Combining phytochemical, metabolomic, molecular biology and botanical approaches, the researchers will aim to identify key chemical entities or compounds. These could be used in the treatment of inflammatory, auto-immune, viral and neurodegenerative diseases.

The project will also look to identify potential natural insect repellents and pest control solutions for mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus.

‘An incredibly exciting journey’

“The general public are aware of the threat to the world’s rainforests … This same threat to biodiversity applies in Ireland, particularly to our boglands, which constitute an enormous natural national resource and heritage,” Sheridan said.

“We are at the beginning of an incredibly exciting journey. We have the opportunity to apply the lens of modern science to ancient tradition, and to transform those learnings into future scientific practice, all through the exploration of this fertile uncharted territory in our own backyard. As Seamus Heaney said, ‘Our pioneers keep striking inwards and downwards’.”

Research last year warned that 31 peatlands across Ireland, England, Scandinavia and continental Europe are experiencing substantial change as a result of the climate crisis.

While Britain and Ireland are estimated to hold 20pc of the world’s blanket bog, 40pc of the 31 peatlands surveyed were found to be drier than they have been in the past 1,000 years, while 24pc were drier than they have been in the past 2,000 years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic