Group of fundi releasing spores

Earth Day: Dr David O’Connor – early warning system to aid those affected by fungal spores

Submitted on Friday, 21/04/2023

On Earth Day 2023, a day of global environmental awareness and action, we are exploring another Insight Sustainability research story. Dr David O’Connor, Insight DCU Collaborator, is leading an exciting project; FONTANA: Fungal Monitoring Network and Algorithm.

A major issue in Ireland is the lack of a biological airborne particle monitoring network that can provide specific health-related forecasts. As a result, individuals with asthma or allergies have no warning of upcoming days with high fungal spore counts, which can have significant implications for their health and quality of life. The agricultural industry can also be negatively affected by the spread of fungal diseases that impact crops each year.

The FONTANA project aims to develop novel methods for real-time detection of fungal spores using laser and fluorescence technology, as well as AI and machine learning algorithms. This will enable the creation of a robust fungal monitoring network that can provide real-time data on fungal spore counts, allowing individuals to mitigate their exposure and take necessary precautions.

“Ireland has the 4th highest asthma level in the world (380,000 asthmatics). However, many don’t realise that fungal spores can trigger their symptoms. This is of particular importance given that climate change is lengthening and intensifying the fungal spore season. Directly impacting this vulnerable group.” says Dr O’Connor.

In partnership with the Irish Environmental Protection Agency and Met Eireann, the Irish national meteorological service, the project will also develop models for forecasting and dispersion of fungal spores in the Irish and European context. This will provide valuable insights into the movement of fungal spores, allowing for more effective planning and management of their impact.

Prof Tomás Ward, Director, Insight SFI Research Centre, DCU says, “The Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics is keen to ensure the responsible use of data to benefit society using state of the art data technologies. This project is a perfect example of this. We are delighted to be able to support David and his partners in their pursuit of providing the Irish public with a monitoring solution that can protect health and raise awareness of our environment.”

The Fungal Monitoring Network and Algorithm is an exciting project that highlights the importance of environmental awareness and action. By providing real-time data on fungal spore counts, the project will help protect the health of individuals with asthma or allergies, as well as the agricultural industry. This project is an excellent example of the innovative use of technology to address environmental issues and promote sustainability. More information and some of the results from the project see the EPA Research Report.