Queen’s University secures UKRI funding for Transformative Centre for Doctoral Training

Queen’s, in collaboration with University of Lincoln, University of Aberdeen and University of Strathclyde, has secured £10.6M in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to establish SUSTAIN, a transformative Centre for Doctoral Training.

SUSTAIN will provide a cross-disciplinary, multi-institution doctoral training program to support innovative research in the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to sustainable agri-food. It will cover technical and social science aspects of AI, alongside training in plant, animal and/or biosciences, tailored to individual students’ needs and interests.

Whilst the agri-food sector is a key driver for the UK economy, it is also responsible for a significant proportion of Greenhouse Gas emissions and biodiversity loss. With the UK committed to achieving Net Zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050 there will be a huge challenge to make the sector sustainable while also ensuring that everyone in the UK has access to food that is nutritious, delicious, affordable, and safe.

AI will help the sector achieve the rapid transformation needed to meet this challenge and SUSTAIN will train the scientists who will help make it happen. SUSTAIN will also be highly industry-focused and it is planned for every PhD project to be co-created with industry stakeholders leading to wider engagement with AI, and greater inclusion in its development and use.

Bringing together the expertise and resources of the four academic institutions, SUSTAIN will span the entire landscape of UK agriculture, critical AI research areas, and the national geography of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Queen’s University Belfast lead on the project, Professor Ilias Kyriazakis said: “Queen’s University Belfast is delighted to be involved in this exciting initiative to train the next generation of industrial, academic and enterprise leaders in matters that have the potential to transform UK Agri-Food systems through the introduction and use of AI.”

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “The UK is in a strong position to harness the power of AI to transform many aspects of our lives for the better. Crucial to this endeavour is nurturing the talented people and teams we need to apply AI to a broad spectrum of challenges, from healthy aging to sustainable agriculture, ensuring its responsible and trustworthy adoption. UKRI is investing £117 million in Centres for Doctoral Training to develop the talented researchers and innovators we need for success.”

SUSTAIN students will benefit from world-leading facilities and expert supervision. At Queen’s University, the students will have access to the Global Innovation Institute (GII) which is a nexus for co-innovation between researchers and industry in secure connected intelligence to realise the benefits of digital technologies within health and agri-food sectors. GII is one of three impact focussed innovation centres being delivered by Queen’s and partners through Belfast Region City Deal, funded by the UK Government and NI Executive.

Dr Niall McLaughlin from the GII at Queen’s University Belfast said: “We are delighted to share our world leading expertise in secure computing, wireless connectivity and data led technologies within GII and the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EEECS), alongside the deep domain knowledge in the Institute for Global Food Security to grow and strengthen the extraordinary talent that will lead our future food system. It is an example of a truly multidisciplinary PhD programme co-created with industry to deliver real-world impact for the sector.”

SUSTAIN's commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and environmental sustainability will ensure a comprehensive and impactful approach towards training the next generation of AI scientists dedicated to sustainable agriculture.


Ankisha Rana (