Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan and Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, world leaders in food protein science, have won the premier science award in New Zealand, the Prime Minister’s Science Prize, worth $500,000.
The two professors, whose careers in fundamental and discovery science span over 30 years, have been awarded the prize jointly.
Professor Singh’s expertise is in food protein structures and how they interact in food systems while Professor Moughan’s work focuses on how proteins are broken down and absorbed in the digestive system and the resulting physiological benefits. Between them they cover the whole spectrum of food protein science, which is a rare and effective combination.
Working closely together since 2002, Professors Moughan and Singh set up the Riddet Institute, a centre of original research and scholarship, whose science underpins the development of innovative foods that promote health and wellness. In 2007 the Institute was accorded national Centre of Research Excellence status and is one of seven such centres in the country established within universities to maximise the value of research and research training.
Since 2003, the Institute has trained 80 postgraduate scholars and 30 postdoctoral fellows, creating a sustainable pipeline of fresh thinkers, who will influence the future of world food research.
“A lot of new ideas and new ways of thinking are generated at the Riddet Institute and graduates take that knowledge out into industry,” says Professor Singh.
In addition to their focus on fundamental research, the two co-directors of the Riddet Institute have established strong linkages with the food industry including the Riddet Foodlink network of more than 100 New Zealand food companies interested in food innovation.
Examples of innovation resulting from their work include the development of a highly efficacious probiotic, ProBioLife; establishing the health benefits of kiwifruit, which is giving ZESPRI an edge globally; and a technology that allows high doses of fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acids to be added to food products without a fish smell and aftertaste.
Fonterra has also commercialised a number of products and processes that build on their work.
Other recent innovations include developing a novel process to isolate proteins and peptides in low cost meat waste for use in a food product that has been shown to have health benefits for older people. The product is being commercialised by a New Zealand meat company.
The Riddet Institute will use the prize money for on-going research to commercialise its own discoveries.
“We have a lot of bright minds that come up with really good ideas,” says Professor Moughan. “The prize money will allow us to screen those ideas and take the most promising through to the next stage.
“Food is New Zealand’s biggest industry and there is a great opportunity to leverage it further through advanced scientific understanding to grow the economy and improve our standard of living. We are privileged to be at the heart of that opportunity.”
Radio New Zealand interview (17 mins)
Radio Interview National Programme with Kathryn Ryan (18 mins)