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Auckland Uni Appoints Food Chemistry Professor

University of Auckland appoints first Professor in Food Chemistry

The University of Auckland has appointed its first Professor of Food Chemistry to lead research in food sciences in New Zealand.

Professor Laurie Melton has been appointed to the position and brings many years of experience as a researcher and lecturer both in New Zealand and overseas. His distinguished career includes a stint as scientist for Unilever in the UK.

Professor Melton is recognised internationally for determining the chemical structure of xanthan gum – used in toothpastes to give a clean mouth feel and also as a thickening agent in gravies and soups.

Dean of Science Professor Dick Bellamy says the Faculty is pleased with the appointment.

“The appointment of a researcher and lecturer of Professor Melton’s calibre to this important position is significant. Professor Melton is recognised internationally in the food sciences field and is also the founder of the Food Science programme at this University,” says Professor Bellamy.

Professor Melton started the Food Science programme for postgraduate students at The University of Auckland in 1996. Based within the Department of Chemistry, the Food Science Group now includes programmes for undergraduate students as well as a strong cohort of researchers.

For Professor Melton foods are “fascinating”.

“It’s the ultimate chemical problem. There are a huge number of natural chemicals in foods and they are not all free to interact with one another. I’m very much interested in how different compounds within foods interact – it’s very complicated,” says Professor Melton.

Professor Melton’s research interests include antioxidants and their activity in foods and how plant cell walls function.

“Foods differ in the type of antioxidants they contain and in the proportions of antioxidants present. I’m interested in how they interact with other food components and whether their quality is enhanced or whether it deteriorates.”

Plant cell walls are the source of dietary fibre and Professor Melton is intrigued by how they work to make strawberries soft and lush and apples crisp.

He is also working on a branch of chemistry called “green chemistry”.

“We are working on attaching sugars to proteins to change the properties of the proteins. It’s a very controlled process and only safe substances that occur naturally in foods are used, hence the term green chemistry.

“By attaching sugars to proteins we can make them twenty times more viscous. This has implications for proteins used as thickening agents, because if they are more viscous, you can use much less of them and achieve the same results.”

Professor Melton has published more than a hundred refereed scientific and technical papers as well as more than a hundred book reviews.


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