Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.
This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!
Monday, 25 January 2016
When we hear the word "seaweed" in the context of food, we might only think of sushi but if researchers at Newcastle University have their way, it could soon have more of a starring role in our mealtimes.
With the NHS straining under an ever-increasing obesity burden, there is considerable interest in effective and easy methods that can help us loose weight. In this case, researchers tested over 60 different natural fibres in an artificial gut, specifically looking for ones that could reduce fat absorption. And what was the clear winner? Alginate, the natural fibre found in kelp. Amazingly, this reduced fat absorption by up to 75 %, significantly better than many "weight-loss" solutions you can buy at the chemist! Further tests indicated that alginate works by inhibiting the enzyme lipase, which breaks down the fats we consume into the component fatty acids, which are small enough to cross the wall of the intestine and be absorbed.
To move this from the lab to real life, the team collaborated with Greggs the baker to produce proof-of-concept bread containing alginate extract. Encouragingly, the novel product was found to have no adverse side-effects (unlike many weight loss treatments), with many people actually preferring the taste! So who knows when alginate-bread will be landing on our shelves...
"Amazing Science" or "Health by Stealth" (to quote BBSRC)? Whatever you decide, it seems sure that biotechnological innovations will play an increasing role in shaping the food we eat. Talking of which, apparently a protein has been discovered in bacteria that can help stop ice creams from melting...
(Ok, Ok, seaweeds aren't really plants, but still - green and leafy and powered by the sun!)
To learn more about alginate bread, click here.
Intrigued about bacterial ice cream? Click here.