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By Tim Mayo, University of Reading press officer for health research

Throughout British Science Week this week, University of Reading scientists from across the health research theme are presenting the ‘body of evidence’.

They are showcasing the areas where Reading research is tackling some of the global health challenges – from dementia and heart disease to nutrition and food hygiene.

The health of people in Britain has never been better. Yet with shifting patterns of disease, an ageing population, and rapid social and environmental change, the diagnosis has perhaps never been more troubling.

Reading has for decades been in the forefront of study into some of the most fundamental areas of human health. The University’s key research areas of biomedical science, psychology, mental health, food and nutrition, pharmacy, and language development inform some of the key issues facing the health of the nation, now and in the future.

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University of Reading coat of arms

Researchers at the University of Reading secured more than £3.3 million in research grants and awards in January.

A total of 25 research projects were confirmed in the first month of 2017, with a total value of £3,329,759 – an average of more than £130,000 per project.

Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research, said: “Another strong month for research grants shows that funders share our belief that Reading researchers are among the best in the world.

“Congratulations to everyone who is beginning work on new research projects. I look forward to hearing more about their work, and seeing how their research changes people’s lives for the better.”

Among those winning funding in January were…

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By Stephanie Bull, food scientist, Chemistry Food & Pharmacy

Reading is known as one of the world’s leading centres for the study of food and health. We have outstanding facilities and expertise to study the whole food chain – from climate, weather, soil, farming, food processing, nutrition, to human health and cognition.

Michael Mosley at the University of Reading

So it’s no surprise that TV producers beat a regular path to our door when they want to see the latest scientific research. And none does so quite as innovatively and beautifully demonstrated as BBC Two’s latest science documentary, The Secrets of Your Food

The programme, which has its final episode this week (Friday 10 March) at 9pm on BBC Two, shows the effects food has on our taste buds, brains, and bodies. Alongside the widespread locations and elegant CGI are, of course,  frequent shots of scientific demonstrations carried out at the University of Reading in the Department of Food and Nutritional Science, and in the Department of Chemistry.

In the first episode, We Are What We Eat, I helped presenter Michael Mosley to separate the various components of breast milk in our Food Pilot Plant; investigate how the proteins in egg unfold and denature at different temperatures to create the perfectly cooked egg; demonstrate the production of gas by yeast; and compare fats from different food.

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By Dr Robert Darby, research data manager 

One of the pillars of all empirical research is that the findings of experiments should not just be one-offs. Anyone with the ability to do so should be able to pick up a research paper, follow the same methods, and come up with the same result.

Yet a recent survey by Nature found that more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments. Not only that, but more than half have failed to reproduce even their own experiments. Analyses have reported reproducibility rates for published studies of just 10% and 40%.

News of the so-called ‘reproducibility crisis’ has even reached the BBC, so something must be going on.

So is there really a reproducibility crisis? And if so, what can you do about it?

Open Science may provide answers – and the University of Reading is hosting a free conference on the topic of Open Research this March.

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Food businesses and the public were given an insight into the research capabilities of the University of Reading in agriculture, nutrition and health at the Food Matters Live 2016 exhibition.

The exhibition took place at ExCel, London, from 22 to 24 November last year.

The event showed Reading’s world-class food science facilities and research capability, while the University asked visitors to their stand to share their future food challenges.

The University of Reading stand showcased real-world examples of its interaction with food businesses, highlighting how its research is helping to make food:

  • Healthier – by applying the latest nutritional science to real food and diets
  • Safer – by reducing risks to consumers
  • More economical – by streamlining processes and increasing revenues
  • Better for the environment – by understanding the impacts of the whole food chain, from farm to fork and beyond.

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By Katie Barfoot – Nutritional Psychology Lab, University of Reading

We all know that fruit and veg is good for us. But some new research from the University of Reading has revealed there is more than meets the eye with the little blue super fruits we call blueberries.

These berries, which are full of a type of nutrient called flavonoids, were shown in two separate studies to improve the positive mood of children and young adults just two hours after consumption.

The two studies, which were conducted by the University’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Science’s Nutritional Psychology Lab, were run in two populations – healthy young adults aged 18-21, and healthy schoolchildren aged 7-10.

After consumption of a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink, both groups rated their positive mood as being significantly higher than before the blueberry drink consumption.

What’s more, we know it was the flavonoids present in the blueberry drink that made the difference, because no such finding was observed in a group of study participants who consumed a placebo control drink, which was matched for sugars, vitamins and taste.

So how are these flavonoids working?

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Researchers at the University of Reading secured more than £3.9 million in research awards in December.

A total of 21 research projects were given the go-ahead in the last month of 2016, with funders from a variety of sources including government, research councils, charities and business.

Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research, said: “Congratulations to everyone whose research grants were confirmed during December. I am particularly pleased that Reading has continued to collaborate with a wide range of funders, including the European Horizon 2020 programme.

“I have no doubt that these awards represent an excellent investment in knowledge and will reap great rewards for society in the near future.”

Among those winning funding in December were…

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‘Food causes cancer’ stories can seem like a standard stock-in-trade. But it’s very often worth examining the science behind the sometimes alarming headlines.

Today there has been lots of attention on acrylamide (see this in The Sun and The Mirror), following warnings from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that some home-cooked food, such as over-done or burnt toast, fried chips, or well-roasted potatoes, contain more of the potentially carcinogenic chemical.

Chips cooked for longer at higher temperatures contain more acrylamide

Chips cooked for longer at higher temperatures contain more acrylamide

The fundamental research behind this story was spearheaded by the University of Reading back in 2002, when Professor Don Mottram published a paper in Nature showing the process by which acrylamide is created in some cooked food.

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Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of the Centre for Food Security at the University of Reading discusses the House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security, published this week.

The House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security is a comprehensive and challenging attempt to highlight some of the issues which confront us with this complex problem.

The report highlights: the potential of GM to contribute to food security but recognises that care must be excercised in promoting this as a solution; the importance of agricultural research; the importance of open international markets in protecting against shocks; and that a focus on malnutrition may be as, if not more, important than that of hunger.

However, while the aim of the report is to take a global focus, it is perhaps guilty of oversimplifying the issue of meat production and coming to locally-centred, rather than global, conclusions. It notes that the rate of increase in meat consumption is unsustainable and recommends that meat should be promoted as an occasional product. By highlighting the place of animals in ensuring global food security the report is to be applauded but the reality is that this area is complex and not well understood at the moment.

It is irrefutable that demand for meat globally will grow as populations become richer.  At a local level, it might be sensible for us to reduce meat consumption and the reality is that price increases will probably lead us to do this voluntarily.  At a global level, however, it is much more important to consider how the inevitable increase in demand can be met and what its implications are for human health. We should not solely focus our attention on repelling the tide.

The report correctly states that we need to identify sustainable livestock systems, but it is not necessarily true that extensive pasture-based systems are more sustainable. For example there is evidence to suggest that more intensive feeding reduces the emission of greenhouse gases caused by livestock.  The role played by livestock in providing a route out of poverty for some of the poorest farmers should also not be overlooked.

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