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News from the UTU FCFH seed funded research scene: Diverse Research Endeavours and Research Journeys at the University of Turku

Exploring human milk lipids: Timo Seitz’s research journey on maternal obesity, gestational diabetes mellitus, and dietary influences 

Timo Seitz, with German-Finnish roots, is passionate about winter activities, such as cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and enjoys a hot sauna on a cold day in Finnish winter. Timo is conducting research in Turku, Finland focusing on human milk with the aims to determine the lipid composition of human milk from overweight and obese mothers influenced by gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and a diet composed of probiotics and fish oil. Timo aims to gain an understanding on how maternal obesity and GDM influence the composition of human breast milk and how this further modulates the health and wellbeing of infants. Currently, the mass spectrometry method development and subsequent data analysis is about to be finalised, and will be soon ready to be applied onto the clinical human milk samples. The research will likely lead to identification of biomarkers in the lipidome associated with maternal adiposity, GDM, and/or dietary intervention. These novel findings will produce new insights into the metabolic consequence of maternal adiposity, supporting the management of maternal and infant health. 

 From Apples to Vinegar: Qizai Wang’s innovative bioprocessing research for sustainable resource utilisation 

Qizai Wang is a doctoral researcher at the University of Turku currently researching Bioprocessing of Fruit Vinegar from Apples and Side Streams: A Novel Approach to Maximize Resource Utilization. The aim of this research is to sustainably develop apple cider and vinegar from local fruits and their different fractions, promoting the use of Finnish and Chinese apples and the comprehensive utilization of all parts of the fruit. This endeavour aims to enhance the economic value of local apples, reduce production costs, and offer valuable insights for potential industrial applications, with the ultimate goal of achieving zero waste. The goal is to explore the value of by-products from juice production in vinegar manufacturing, analyse changes in activity and metabolomic profiles throughout the entire process, and customise the flavour profiles of apple vinegar products. The work is conducted at University of Turku in collaboration with the Shanxi Agricultural University and Zhejiang University of Technology. The first part of the research was completed as part of Qizai’s master’s thesis, demonstrating the ability to use non-Saccharomyces yeast and Acetic Acid Bacteria from commercial vinegar to ferment apple pomace into apple vinegar. The current phase of the research focuses on analysing changes in activity and metabolomic profiles throughout the entire process, covering apple juice, cider, vinegar, and three solid residues. A manuscript is aimed to be submitted in 2024. 

 Bridging traditional medicine, innovation, and global food industry: Ye Tian and the MEDIFOODS project focusing on Gardenia Jasminoides 

Ye Tian is a postdoctoral researcher in food sciences and has been involved with the MEDIFOODS project, a collaboration between the University of Turku and Zhejiang Agricultural and Forestry University in China, which focuses on Gardenia jasminoides, a medicine herb commonly found in China and other Asian countries. G. jasminoides fruit has a long history of therapeutic application in these regions. It is often used in human foods as a natural colorant for centuries. In 2003, the Ministry of Health of China listed G. jasminoides fruit as “plant for both medicines and food”. Yet, up to date, the application of G. jasminoides fruit in human food is still stagnant. Meanwhile, in Europe, G. jasminoides is recognised only as a garden ornamental. The MEDIFOODS project aims to introduce G. jasminoides fruit in human diet and provide new business opportunity to food industry of both China and Finland. The research teams are currently studying the bioactive compounds in G. jasminoides fruit and its potential of being utilised as functional food. The current study aims at obtaining preliminary results of converting the study material into innovative food products. University of Eastern Finland is going to be invited as a research partner to help in revealing the digestion of the G. jasminoides-derived food products and the mechanism of which modulating human gut microbiota. Food companies in both Finland and in China are being contacted to join the collaboration as industrial partners. The results of MEDIFOODS project will enhance behaviour changes in food producers and consumers, promoting sustainable production, consumption, and food choices. In the long term, it will bring new business to food industry, and improve the food safety, health, and economy in both Finland and China.