July 1, 2020, by Lexi Earl

Reducing protein malnourishment: an interview with Joe Godrich

Joe Godrich is a PhD candidate with the Future Proteins Platform. Joe’s project is titled: Natural protein ingredients – the impacts of reduced refinement. Joe is supervised by Dr Jo Gould, Prof Tim Foster, and Dr Peter Rose. The project investigates the structure-function relationship of protein produced without high refinement. Prior to joining the Future Proteins team, Joe finished his BSc in Food Science.

Why did you decide to do a PhD? What were you doing before?

I graduated in July 2019 with a BSc in Food Science at the University of Nottingham. I chose to do a PhD because I thoroughly enjoyed my final year research project and decided I would like to pursue further studying instead of going straight into the food industry.

Why did you choose this particular PhD project?

I developed a real interest in sustainable protein sources after studying black cricket protein in my research project as a potential foaming agent substitute of egg white protein. I also get the opportunity to work with my final year project supervisor again, who specialises in protein and has various insect protein projects with different countries. The area of science for my PhD creates an opportunity to make a difference and help many people on a local and potentially global scale, with the aim of helping to process food ingredients that will reduce protein malnourishment and improve the overall nutrition of people in developing countries. 

How is your first year going? Any highlights or successes?

First year has been very contrasting so far, I began the academic year with a broken wrist so couldn’t use the labs. Due to this, I used the first few months to gather literature as it was a new area of science for me. Before Christmas I had written a draft for the literature review that will hopefully form part of my thesis. My first experiment was then planned at the start of 2020 and I got into the labs in February up until the university shut. I’d say a highlight and success would be my literature review draft, which I will now make changes,  and add more literature to, over the coming weeks working from home, as well as having a few other potential papers to write to prepare me for going back into the labs to run experiments.

Has undertaking a PhD been different from other degrees you have done? How so?

Doing a PhD has a lot more responsibility than my undergraduate degree, I need to organise meetings and choose when I go into the labs and read literature. Although there are training modules, not much is taught to you and most of it has to be done by yourself, you are only guided by your supervisor and other academics. Working at a desk in an office-style building is different to working from home or in the library. However, I find it easy to concentrate and there are plenty of friendly faces that are always happy to help you with your research and answer any questions you might have.

What have you learnt through your first PhD year?

I’ve attended a variety of training modules in my first year so far. These modules have helped me to improve skills when it comes to planning my research, scientific writing, being a more effective doctoral student, writing a literature review and helping to decide which practical methods are applicable to my research. On a personal level, not getting consistent results with my first analysis experiment and now not being able to use the labs have improved my resilience and productiveness. I am a lot more self-motivated than I was on my undergraduate course, meaning searching and reading new literature has also been made much easier.

Tell us about your research. What do you study? Why is it important?

I am currently studying the effects of antinutritional factors (ANFs) in legumes, a very sustainable protein source. ANFs can bind to nutrients and digestive enzymes, reducing their bioavailability and utilisation in the body when consumed and consequently wasting vitamins, minerals and essential sulphur-containing amino acids. Processing methods can reduce ANF levels without altering the product quality or nutritional value. However, many common processes use high refinement like soaking and thermal treatment. There is potential to use lower refinement and therefore more sustainable techniques such as extrusion, popping and high-pressure processing to reduce the ANF content in legumes.

How do you explain your research to ordinary people?

My work aims to increase nutrient bioavailability, utilisation and protein digestibility of plant-based protein sources such as legumes using more sustainable refinement techniques. This research could then help to reduce protein malnourishment in poorer parts of the world such as Africa, as plant protein is cheaper and more abundant than animal protein in many developing countries. Although I am currently studying ANFs in plant material, the research might move on to the effect of ANFs in insects, which are another sustainable protein source.

How do you cope with the pressure of doing a PhD?

In my free time, I enjoy socialising with my friends in a number of ways. Football, squash, lacrosse and badminton are a handful of sports and societies that I regularly play with people inside and outside of the university. As a group in food sciences, we try and do as many team-bonding and socialising activities as possible, including bowling trips and going for meals. I also play the bass guitar and lead guitar, which help me to unwind if I’ve had a stressful day.

Anything else?

I am enjoying PhD life and cannot wait to get back in the labs when we can return to the university. I have lots of experiments lined up and am excited to read lots of new literature to help expand my knowledge in this research area, as well as communicating with people in food sciences and the Future Food beacon, whilst we have to work from home.

Posted in Meet the Beacon