Connecting food and health

- June 28, 2016

Agriculture student Brianna Downey. (Nick Pearce photo)
Agriculture student Brianna Downey. (Nick Pearce photo)

No matter what your age, your daily food choices can have a huge impact on your overall health and wellness.  But what if the food we ate also counteracted certain diseases like cancer or high blood pressure?

Research underway at the Faculty of Agriculture is looking at the components of food that could be used to promote and have a positive impact on human health. More specifically, the research focuses on short chains of proteins in food called peptides, and how those peptides affect certain areas of human health.

Peptides can have many positive effects on human health including lowered blood pressure, anti-cancer properties and much more. The challenge is in its absorption.

“The problem is we can’t consume peptides just as they are – our digestive process breaks them down too much,” explains third-year Bachelor of Science student Brianna Downey. “That’s where Nanoencapsulation comes in. Once encapsulated, peptides should be protected from the degradation of the digestive process.”

An aspiring nutritionist, Brianna will spend her summer studying Nanoencapsulated peptides, simulating the digestive process to ensure the peptides are released when they’re supposed to be.

Under the supervision of Chibuike Udenigwe, Department of Environmental Sciences, and his graduate students, the team will be researching peptides to ensure they remain in the capsule until they reach the location of absorption, the small intestine, to minimize the digestion of the peptides, as well as maximize their absorption into the system.

A focused summer

Brianna was one of three Ag Campus students to receive an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award for the summer of 2016. This award is meant to stimulate an interest in research in the natural sciences and engineering. They are also meant to encourage students to undertake graduate studies and pursue a research career in these fields.

“I was pretty nervous when I first received this award, but that’s how I knew I was on the right track. There’s enormous potential for the advances in food science to improve human health and the students in Dr. Udenigwe’s lab are all researching some really great things!”

Brianna recently completed her third year at the Faculty of Agriculture with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Animal Science. “I’m hoping to continue my education, specifically, I’m hoping to do my Masters in Human Nutrition and Food Science. I don’t have any plans set in stone yet. I just want to keep learning and exploring, and see where my studies take me,” says Brianna.

“My time at the AC has meant so much to me. I’ve made great friends and I’ve learned so much. I came here with the intent of eventually going to Vet school. But the last three years have opened my eyes to a much bigger picture. I don’t think interests are static, with every piece of information I learn, I’m taken in a new direction. I found a passion for agriculture almost instantly,” Brianna explains.

“The campus is large enough to offer so many opportunities, but it’s small enough that the sense of community is really strong. I love it here.”

Connecting producers and consumers

Brianna believes growing up in Gander, Newfoundland with very little exposure to agriculture actually may have influenced her love for it.

“A ‘hot topic’ in agriculture right now is the disconnection between producers and consumers. I’ve kind of been on both sides of that equation. I think it is so important for people to know where their food comes from, how it’s made, why certain technologies are used, etc. I really want to be a part of bridging that gap.”

Brianna has been involved in many events and groups during her time on the Agricultural Campus. In December, she joined the World University Services of Canada committee. “It’s been so amazing to be a part of something big, to facilitate change and make an impact,” says Brianna. “I’m so excited for all the learning and experience that is in store for the summer.”


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