March 22, 2022, by Lexi Earl

Improving animal feeds for the future: An interview with Noriane Cochetel

Noriane Cochetel is a PhD candidate with the Future Proteins Platform. Her supervisors are Ying Zhang, Tim Parr, John Brameld and Andrew Salter. Prior to beginning a PhD Noriane was completing her six-months placement in a research institute, Nofima, in Ås, Norway, as part of the programme from her MSc in Nutrition and Food Science.

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

I have always been interested in research work, lab work in particular. During my studies, I did four internships in different research labs and was keen on the idea of planning lab work and exploiting the results. Before the PhD, I completed a MSc in Nutrition and Food Science at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Montpellier, France.

Why did you choose this particular PhD project?

I have already worked on digestion in the past, although it was on carbohydrates. This sense of familiarity gave me some confidence and I wanted to extend my knowledge in this area. I believe the alternatives sources of protein to be the future food that everyone will need.

Weighing the samples into tin capsules to measure their protein content, an important value before doing the in vitro digestion.

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

My work focuses on the digestibility of alternative sources of protein to be used as food components for animal feed, such as single-cell proteins (microbes and the like). With the global population growing, it is crucial to meet the challenge of an increased food supply. Soy is the most common plant protein used, but alternative sources of protein that are more environmentally friendly need to be explored. Bacteria, yeast, and fungi are listed among the possibilities.

How do you explain your research to ordinary people? 

The idea is to find the most suitable proteins which have a high nutritional value and are easy to produce. Reproducing digestions in the lab on a range of proteins will allow us to decide which ones can be used. Some proteins are more easily digested than others, therefore the body gets access to important nutrients more efficiently. The selected proteins results will then be given to chickens to validate the data obtained in the lab on real digestions.

pH adjustment step for the salivary phase of the digestion

How is your first year going?

Starting a PhD during a pandemic is quite challenging. I was able to access the lab for the first time six months into my PhD. This gave me some time to read the current research that has been published on this topic. Then, I was trained on several techniques, and it is pleasant to be back in the lab. The first year is mostly about learning and being taught, which is fundamental to planning the next years.

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

A well-known expression regarding a PhD is that it is similar to running a marathon. Planning is essential, as well as being organised and reaching out to people in case of an issue. The main difference is that independence is the keyword. Taking initiatives and adapting to a situation are necessary. It is all about spending the right amount of time between doing the lab work, analysing the results, writing, reading, and exchanging ideas with supervisors so that the project moves forward and that everyone is on the same page.

Samples taken at the end of the digestion process

What have you learnt through your first PhD year?

I am glad I am being trained on the LCMSMS, as it is a piece of equipment that I find quite complex but fascinating. I haven’t done many presentations yet, but I would like to change that. I worked a lot on myself these last few years from a personal point of a view. This has allowed me to be pragmatic, determined and steady, despite the obstacles I can face.

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

I try to stick to a healthy routine. I volunteer every Saturday at a bookshop, I hang out with friends and visit cities over the weekends. I also love reading and playing video games, just to name a few of my hobbies. I enjoy walking and doing some yoga to release some steam.

Anything else?

I am looking forward to doing the in vitro digestions on my samples so that I can compare the results of their protein digestibility. It’s difficult to realise that I am already starting my second year of PhD, time really flies by.

Posted in Meet the Beacon