Investigating the molecular structure of foods

Wednesday, 05 July, 2006

Under an agreement signed between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and CSIRO, scientists will seek to determine the molecular structure of the foods we eat.

"This research will provide Australian scientists with the ability to design new foods with improved taste, texture and health-improving qualities," says ANSTO's executive director, Dr Ian Smith. "We will be conducting cutting-edge research to understand the structure of ingredients that go into food and aspects of food safety."

Initial projects will study the structure of starch in relation to its long-term nutritional benefits in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer and the incidence of diabetes.

Smith says that while using neutrons to study food may seem unusual, neutrons have the unique ability to identify the location of different atomic components in food, particularly water molecules.

"ANSTO's contribution will be to take neutrons produced by its OPAL reactor to conduct sophisticated measurement science via advanced neutron scattering techniques," Smith says. "This will allow us to unlock the secrets of complex food structures, how these are altered by food processing and how such modifications affect nutrition and long-term health. The work will be complemented with state-of-the-art X-ray scattering facilities."

"CSIRO brings to this project detailed knowledge in food, nutrition, food processing and the methods to solve the problems associated with manufacture while ANSTO will provide the physical understanding of structural events in processing and the changes that occur in foods," says CSIRO group executive for Agribusiness, Dr Alastair Robertson.

The partnership brings ANSTO's capabilities in characterising materials together with CSIRO's broad food research capabilities through its Food Futures and Preventative Health flagships.

Food Science Australia " a joint venture of CSIRO and the Victorian Government " and the University of Queensland are also partners in the project.

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