Monday, August 10, 2020

Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award Winner Feature – Dr. Phillip Vinson

Q&A with Dr. Phillip Vinson, winner of the Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award

A brief bio: I am a Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble's Fabric & Home Care Innovation Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I lead the Surfactant Innovation Technical Strategy for the Fabric & Home Care business.  I joined P&G in 1990 after receiving my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, where I studied surfactants and their microstructure using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy.  I received my BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University.  I am currently on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents and was previously an Associate Editor for the Journal.

I have several technical publications and over 70 granted US patents that have had an impact across all of P&G's laundry detergent forms, hand dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, and several surface care products.

1) How did it feel to win the Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award?

I felt both honored and delighted.  I have known and admired past recipients of this award, both for their service to AOCS and for their contributions to the science of surfactants and detergents.  It is truly an honor to be recognized as a member of this esteemed group.

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

I got my start during my Ph.D. research in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.  I was fortunate to have two amazing advisors at Minnesota, Professors Skip (L.E.) Scriven and Ted Davis.  My research was in their Enhanced Oil Recovery group (called the “Low Tension Group” for low interfacial tensions), where understanding surfactant and polymer physical properties with water and oil, phase behavior, microstructure formation and rheology are critical.  My focus was the study of surfactant and polymer microstructures using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy techniques.

At Procter & Gamble, I have been able to apply and build upon what I learned in graduate school to design better surfactants and surfactant-based detergent formulations.  This is especially important for Fabric and Home Care applications, where surfactants are the core component of many consumer products.

3) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

I came to P&G with a strong academic foundation in surfactants and colloid science.  This foundation was a tremendous help to quickly learn the many aspects of formulation, mechanisms of cleaning, etc. that are critical to a successful detergent product.  However, as a Chemical Engineer moving into a surfactant design and development role early in my career, my biggest gap was in my knowledge of the upstream industrial supply chain of feedstocks and associated synthesis and chemical transformations.  

Fortunately, over many years I was able to fill this gap by learning from experienced synthetic chemists at P&G and through external collaborations and interactions I have had with feedstock and surfactant suppliers.  That said, learning in this space is a journey where I continue to upskill my knowledge, both with fossil fuel-based materials and with the many new approaches being developed to provide renewable alternatives and increasingly circular options.

4) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

Lessons learned from my journey:

1. Own your future.  Master the science to become a recognized expert in your technical domain and use your expertise to deliver successes and build credibility.  As you build credibility, you can take on increasing levels of leadership in creating a vision for what is possible in your domain.
2. Learn how to work well with others and build trusting relationships.  Taking a product to market requires a multi-disciplinary team where team members can rely on each other.  Communication, time management and prioritization skills are key enablers for building trust.
3. Continue to upskill, because the skills required to be successful tomorrow will be different than the skills required today.  Supplement your growing expertise with new tools and capabilities to increase your effectiveness.

5) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

I have been involved with AOCS since the early ’90s. AOCS was important early on and remains so today in building my professional network outside of P&G and providing a source of scientific and practical technical information. The annual meeting has been a great way for me to stay connected with past colleagues, make new connections and connect with many current collaborators within a span of just a few days. AOCS has provided me with opportunities to share my research via technical presentations, and increased my external presence through various roles, such as technical session chair, JSD Associate Editor and JSD Editorial Advisory Board Member.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Protein and Co-Products Division Lifetime Achievement Award Feature - Keshun Liu

Q&A with Keshun Liu, winner of the Protein and Co-products Division Lifetime Achievement Award

A brief bio: Keshun Liu is a Research Chemist with United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), where he manages a Grain Chemistry and Utilization Lab within the National Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit in Aberdeen, Idaho. Born in rural China, he received a Ph.D. degree in Food Science from Michigan State University and did post-doctoral work at Coca-Cola Co. and the University of Georgia.  Before joining USDA in 2005, he was an employee at Monsanto Co. and the University of Missouri-Columbia.  In total, he has 35 years of research experience with academic institutions, industry, and the Federal Government. Dr. Liu is well known for his expertise in chemistry, processing, and utilization of soybeans, cereals, and legumes. 

Dr. Liu has authored or co-authored 132 publications, organized or co-organized six international conferences and 52 symposia for scientific meetings, and delivered 110 technical presentations to domestic and international audiences. He has written, edited, or co-edited four scientific reference books. He has also been active with AOCS and served as a board member, treasurer, chair-elect, and chair of Proteins and Co-Products Division. Currently, he serves as vice president of the AOCS China Section and a member of the AOCS Technical Leadership Committee.  He is the recipient of the AOCS Award of Merit (2010), AOCS fellow (2011), and IFT fellow (2014).

1) How did you feel to win the Protein and Co-Products (PCP) Division Lifetime Achievement Award?

I felt greatly honored. It is rather special to me because this award reflects recognition of my achievements in the field of proteins and co-products from the very colleagues (PCP members) who have the same research interests as mine.  I hope that the PCP Lifetime Achievement Award can inspire all PCP members towards achieving our research goals with proteins and co-products.

2) Can you tell us about your current research?

As a research chemist with USDA-ARS, my goal is to develop and expand plant-based proteins for food and feed uses. Our research involves basic chemistry, quantitative analysis, and development of innovative methods to evaluate new and existing protein products, to process oilseeds, grains, legumes into value-added protein ingredients, and to better incorporate these ingredients into food and feed products  One of my current research projects deals with trypsin inhibitor assay.  Trypsin inhibitors are naturally occurring proteinaceous substances, which can be antinutritional and/or bioactive.  As increasing volumes of plant proteins are being used for human consumption in recent years, it is rather important to have a standard method that can measure trypsin inhibitors in various protein products with high precision and sensitivity.  In working with the AOCS Method Committee, we have proposed an improved AOCS standard method for measuring trypsin inhibitor activity not only in soy but also in other protein products, based on recent findings from my lab. The proposed method was a significant modification of the current AOCS Method Ba 12-75 for TIA assay in soy products.  We just completed an international collaborative study, which showed that the proposed method is rather robust, with good repeatability and reproducibility.  Another project relates to the development of innovative methods that can process small grains, such as barley and oats, into several value-added ingredients simultaneously, each enriched with protein, starch, beta-glucan, or fiber, and applications of these new ingredients.  Still, another current research project is to improve methods for determining acid insoluble ash content in proteinaceous products with high sensitivity and precision, so that fish scientists can use it as a reliable marker for digestibility studies on new ingredients and new feed. 

3) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

My undergraduate degree from Anhui Agricultural College (Hefei, China) was on horticulture. Initially, I got interested in the storage and processing of fruits and vegetables.  After entering the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, I chose Dr. Pericles Markakis as my advisor, whose research dealt with chemistry and processing of plant-based materials.  I started to work on soybeans for my graduate research. Since then, my field of interest has been related to chemistry, processing and the utilization of plant-based materials, mostly legume seeds and cereal grains.   

4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

Since English is my second language, the greatest challenge I have faced has always been the language barrier. I work to constantly overcome this barrier and at the same time strengthen my communication skills. The second challenge has been to find the right position that fits my interest and personal strength.  I love research and scientific engagement.  So, for many years, I wanted to become a faculty member in the food science department.  Instead, I landed my first job as a food chemist in a small seed company in Arkansas after fruitful postdoctoral work at the University of Georgia.  When the seed company was brought out in the later ’90s, I became an employee of Monsanto.  Unfortunately, there was a constant change in the biotechnology company at that time.  In the end, I landed a research chemist position at USDA instead.   I feel that this was the right career move for me.  

5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

My first advice is to have an objective (or dream), focus on it, and work very hard to achieve it, whether you are a graduate student, a faculty member, a researcher,  a chemist or a R&D leader and whether you like your current work or not.  The second advice is to join a professional society, like AOCS, and get actively involved as much as you can.  After a score of years, you will find that your involvement and volunteering service reward you and benefit your career in many ways.     

6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

Ever since my graduate study, my field of interest has mostly related to chemistry, processing and value-added utilization of oilseeds, grains, legumes and other plant materials. AOCS is a natural fit for my work and research interests.  So, I joined AOCS in 1992 and got actively involved with the PCP Division by attending annual meetings, organizing symposia, giving presentations, and serving a leadership role, etc.  My membership and volunteer experiences at AOCS have enhanced my knowledge, broadened my connections, and shaped my career in many ways.  

For example, by attending AOCS annual meetings and interaction with AOCS colleagues, I learn what peers are doing on oilseeds and protein products relating to my research. This in turn helps me identify new research areas and use the most up-to-date research tools.  The supports and encouragement I received from AOCS colleagues over the years have also been very important for my career development. Furthermore, the achievement awards I received over the years, including the AOCS Award of Merit, AOCS Fellow Award, and the present award, the Proteins and Co-Products Division Lifetime Achievement Award, have brought much-deserved recognition to my employer, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, for supporting scientists to succeed in their fields.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Processing Division Distinguished Service Award Winner Feature – Scott Bloomer

Q&A with Scott Bloomer, winner of the Processing Division Distinguished Service Award

A brief bio: Scott Bloomer started his research career in 1973 in the laboratories of Honeywell, Incorporated doing research in humidity sensors. Since then he has been privileged to do research on smoke detectors, biosensors, enzymatic interesterification, basic oilseed processing, and the application of enzymes to milk compounds. He spent several years drafting and defending patent applications and performing freedom-to-operate studies in the fats and oils field. He has written a dozen peer-reviewed papers and is a contributing editor for the AOCS trade magazine, INFORM.  Bloomer is the Director of Technical Services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society. Bloomer’s hobbies include martial arts, old British cars, and growing elderflowers.

1) How did it feel to win the Processing Division Distinguished Service Award?

I was pretty surprised. I knew there was a movement afoot because when you work at AOCS, you hear things. People that you have not heard from for a while suddenly ask you for your resume. I have been on the nominating side a number of times, so I knew something was cooking. I thought, “surely there are people that are much more deserving than I,” so I was very surprised. You know the funny thing about is when you get to be a certain age or certain level of experience, it is terrifying because you realize that the real experts have retired. So, it is like you are a tree growing up in this forest and you see all these great tall trees and you admire them and admire them. They slowly get cut down and suddenly you are one of the tall trees and you think, “We are in trouble now.”

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

I consider biotechnology my home. I spent much of my career there and it is very close to my heart.

I got started in the field when I was working at a university in Sweden many years ago in the 80s. I came to that job, because they were advertising for a research assistant and I had more experience than anyone else. It was for a biosensor project, an ethanol sensor, and I had done research with smoke sensors and humidity sensors back in my misspent youth. I was hired there, and I worked there for about six or eight months and the professor told me he had heard good things about my work and asked me how would I like to do a Ph.D.? So, I thought that was a pretty good idea and I was then given the choice of three different areas to work with. 

The professor had me work for six weeks in fermentation, six weeks in aqueous two-phased separations, and then six weeks in enzyme engineering. It was very clear by the end that I should really do the enzyme engineering, using enzymes to catalyze reactions that are commonly catalyzed by chemicals. So, that is the field in which I got my Ph.D. I was then hired and worked at Cargill doing different things. 

3) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

Most of my career was spent working in industry, but grad school prepares you poorly for working in industry. Grad school prepares you for working in academia. From there, it is a short jump to working in government, as many of the goals and imperatives are the same. In industrial research, figuring out what really was important when given a project was very difficult. One of the keys that made me a successful scientist was developing that ability, but there was no one who really could tell you how to do that. 

What most people coming out of grad school do is, “This is what my boss told me needs to be done, but this other thing is what I want to do. So, I am going to figure out how to get done what I want to do and what I am really interested in, in the context of what my boss wants.” Grad school didn’t teach me to stop and think how this fits into the bigger picture. It is really key to consider what questions your boss is being asked and the imperatives for your boss – that was a major challenge I had to overcome. 

4) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

Anybody that knows me knows that this is my main thing that I push; “ask the right question,” If you ask the right question, you are halfway to the answer. If you take a brand-new researcher, just out of university, and you give them a problem, they will get the answer, but if you take somebody else who has learned how to ask the right question, you give the problem, they will get the same answer. The difference is, the first person will do 50 experiments, the second person will do five experiments because they take the time to figure out the right questions. So, that is one key. 

Another is you must read the literature. There is this common phenomenon, that is common to humans, that we start out in a field, we start learning it, it is all new and exciting to us so therefore it is new and exciting to the world. We discover something and it is really cool. I had an experience where I was reviewing a PowerPoint presentation for the annual meeting. Presumably, research done in the last year, showed certain results as if the discovery was new, I took a binder off my shelf,  opened it and found a paper from 1991 that taught the same thing. You have to read the old literature, to avoid reinventing the wheel. It may mean reading bound books, not everything is digital, but just because it is not digital does not mean it is not real.

Some that really brought this home to me happened when I did my Ph.D. defense., The field I was working in, enzymatic interesterification of lipids, was very new at the time. There were only five labs in the world working on it, but now it has become a billion pounds a year industry. I got to be there in the very beginning – this was kind of fun because anything you do is publishable. So. at my defense I was talking about all this new stuff and my opponent is talking about the new stuff.
I had made friends with an old professor in an adjacent department focusing on physiological responses to lipids and I asked him to be on the review board for my thesis defense. Near the end, he stood up to say something. He put  an overhead onto the projector and said, “You all are talking about this like this is something new, but I just want to show you that this has been done before.” He flipped on the light and showed a figure from one of his papers.  I recognized the figure because I had read the paper – it had been accepted for publication the day I was born. So, I said, “Yeah, you are right, we all act like it is brand new”, but the lesson is you have to reach the old literature. 

5) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

One of the things that happens when you are working for a company, university, or government is you are kind of in a tunnel. Your research group is so big and by its nature, it must be very focused and so it is very easy to go feel isolated. AOCS gives you a platform where you can speak about some of your work. At the annual meeting, for example, you can give a lecture on your work and of the people that attend, half of them will be interested, and many of them will know something about the topic and some of them will speak with you after or at a later event. The attendee may approach and say, “You said this about this particular temperature, have you tried this temperature?” or “That was a really great experiment, I’m going to go try that with this other matrix.” It liberates one from the limitations of your own context and it puts you in a world context. 

To expand on that, you see what other scientists are doing and somewhere, at least the industrial scientists have an economic driver. For me, I am very mercenary and always have been in my research. I always want to do something that can generate a product that can be sold. I do not want to just know more about how changing this particular type of lipid makes a different kind of emulsion. You have to be able to translate that into something practical and saleable. So, when you attend an AOCS meeting, you can listen to these talks and ask yourself or the speaker, “Why are they talking about that? Are there any commercial applications?” 

Another benefit is, I really like reviewing and editing papers. Being with JAOCS for so many years, I was a reviewer first, then an associate editor and then I was asked to be a senior associate editor for Biotechnology for a year when the senior associate editor became the AOCS President. Working on the journals gives you the opportunity to see a lot of science. 

6) Can you tell us about your work at AOCS?

There are three pieces that must be managed. One of them is the Laboratory Proficiency Program, another is the Certified Reference Material program, and the third is the AOCS Official Methods. The rest of the Technical Services team manages the first two and they do an outstanding job. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Corporate Member Spotlight Series - CI Sigra

Welcome to the next addition to our new series, “AOCS Corporate Member Spotlights”!

Learn more about different AOCS corporate member companies and what they do to improve the science and technology of oils, fats, surfactants, detergents and more!

This week, Sterling Bollman, the head of Advertising and Sponsorship Sales at AOCS, talked with Jorge Montenegro, the Technical Director of CI Sigra based in Bogotá, Columbia. In this conversation, AOCS learned about innovations CI Sigra has developed and what really sets them apart from their competitors. Enjoy our next installment in the Corporate Member Spotlight series and learn more about CI Sigra.

Nice meeting you Jorge and thank you for sitting down with me to do this Spotlight. My first question is a basic, background one. What type of services and products does CI Sigra provide?

Nice to meet you as well and thanks for the opportunity! CI Sigra is a company that, with more than sixty years in the market, offers solutions based on vegetable oils and fats to meet the needs of all its customers in the Bakery, Hospitality, Retail and Industrial industry segments. In addition, it has a top-notch team of Technical Advisors who provide personalized support in the execution of new developments for all our clients. 

This strikes me as a field that has a lot of competing companies. What differentiates CI Sigra from these other companies competing in the same space? 

For our company, quality is not an added value, but it is the normality that we guarantee in all our products. Customer service is essential for us, seeking to always focus on our developments, responding to the real needs of our customers, accompanying them in their developments, ensuring a timely supply of our product and its functionality at the time of its application. 

With so much emphasis on the quality of your work, I can imagine new innovations are important to CI Sigra. What’s one recent innovation that CI Sigra is most proud of? 

We recently launched a 100% vegetable-based butter substitute. This allows us to have those unique flavors and textures that the use of butter provides in our client’s applications, but with all the benefits of a 100% plant-based product. 

For many companies, the rise of COVID-19 has made 2020 a difficult year. How has the recent pandemic affected your company?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected all economic sectors. We are fortunate to belong to a sector (the Food Sector) that has always had the authorization of the National Government to continue operating in compliance with all biosafety protocols. This has created a new challenge by having to incorporate new work measures to ensure that our employees can carry out their tasks safely, in order to continue to fulfill the supply of our products to each client, with the quality guarantee and functionality that they expect of us. 

Continuing off this, what do you foresee being the biggest challenges to CI Sigra moving forward? 

Many of our collaborators started working from home because of the pandemic. Getting back to the face-to-face routine after being away for so long may be one of the challenges we face moving forward and in 2021. 

Well Jorge, thank you so much for the time you’ve given me today. This series is giving people a chance to learn a little bit more about our corporate members. Before you go, I have one more question. Why is being an AOCS corporate member important to you and CI Sigra?

AOCS is the main source that the players in the fats and oils sector must interact. AOCS membership guarantees a constant networking strengthening exercise that allows us to be updated on the main, scientific news related to our products. In addition to this, it is a fundamental support system that guarantees all our analyses are standardized and aligned, according to the regulations defined by the AOCS. 

Thanks for reading. Thank you to Jorge Montenegro and his colleagues at CI Sigra for taking part in our AOCS Corporate Member Spotlight Series. Make sure to visit their website, subscribe to their YouTube page, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram! Join us next time to see who we feature next!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Edible Applications Technology Division Outstanding Achievement Winner Feature - Lorin DeBonte

Q&A with Lorin Debonte, winner of the Edible Applications Technology Division Outstanding Achievement

A brief bio: Lorin Debonte is the leader of the global Food Service Oils Category R&D team in Cargill’s Global Edible Oil Solutions business. He is passionate about combining health and functional oil solutions to meet the demands of today’s restaurant operations and food complexity. Lorin leads the global R&D team in bringing deep-frying and food expertise to customers supporting the optimization of their frying systems and the introduction of new products.  

Over a 25-year career at Cargill, he contributed to establishing the high oleic canola oil genetics and production base to deliver high stability frying formulations without trans fats in North America, Australia, and China.  Lorin was a key developer in high oleic and low saturate oils frying oils, and omega-3 canola oils into the market. Since 1990, he has been a contributor to more than 21 patent families with over 100 patents in oils, seeds and genetics.  In 2018, Lorin was named Cargill Corporate Fellow, which is the most prestigious technical designation that a Cargill R&D employee can receive.  

Lorin earned a B.S. degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, and a Ph.D. in Botany from Miami University in Ohio.  Following post-doctoral work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture joined DNA Plant Technology in 1986, Lorin went to work on the nutritional improvement of plant oils for the consumer market. He was also a founding member of InterMountain Canola in 1991, which lead to the introduction of canola based high stability frying and ingredient oils to the market.  

1) How did it feel to win the Edible Applications Technology Division Outstanding Achievement Award?

I could not believe it! Over the years, I have watched outstanding colleagues receive this recognition. Their contributions to our core understanding of oil chemistry have demonstrated their leadership in the EAT Division. To be counted among them is truly an honor. My career in the food industry seems like it started just yesterday when we were creating high oleic oils.  Reflecting over the years, I felt overwhelming joy in what the teams I have been part of accomplished.   

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

I always enjoyed the study of plant biology and wanted to harness the power of plant genetics to bring healthier food solutions to the world. Joining DNA Plant Technology in the late 1980’s I found the path forward with visionaries in food science that shared my passion. After landing in Cargill, the commercial opportunity was clear for high oleic oil solutions on a global scale.   

3) Can you tell us about your current research?

We are developing functional oil solutions around the globe to meet the demands of restaurant operations, food complexity and nutrition.  The new commercial introduction of high oleic low saturated canola oils provides new development opportunities to solve the demands of consumer health and food performance.  Connecting the kitchen operations back to breeding and the field is driving the next generation low saturate products building on the performance need we are seeing.  We are looking at the future of frying and how oil formulations will need to evolve to deliver functionality. 

4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

There have been many ups and downs in my career. A challenge was how to adapt from an entrepreneurial mindset to creating commercial value in a large commercial company that was focused on commodities.  Securing long-term commercial commitment and investment in new seed and oil products to the world such as high oleic low linolenic, very high oleics, low saturate high stability frying, and the new Omega-3 oils during a 10-year R&D vision was challenging. Turning science into commercial value does not come easily.
5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

a. You must stay true to your passion keeping the focus on key opportunities ahead. Put your whole heart and mind into it, make it happen.  
b. Reinvent yourself by pushing new boundaries that drive what is next. Continue an active learning journey in your life.  
c. Make the time to develop the people around you for their career success.  
d. Be part of great teams as no one can accomplish great things alone. 
e. Seek honest feedback and do something with it.  
f. Build internal and external networks that you can rely on for support and guidance.  
g. In your product development stay focused on the real consumer need.  
h. In the business world, communicate as a businessperson, not as a scientist.

6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

AOCS is a foundational pillar in my career success.  It is a community of knowledge that is indispensable for learning and exploring new ideas. The journals provide real science that we discuss and learn.  As a global leader in Foodservice oils at Cargill, the global connection to other oil scientists is extremely valuable.  The AOCS annual meetings have been a place to bring people together to share ideas and build external technical opportunities. This fuels the innovation pipeline in your work.  

Friday, July 31, 2020

AOCS seeks applications for the AOCS Governing Board

AOCS is accepting applications for service on the Governing Board. Interested members should review the position profile and to apply, fill out this Google form or this downloadable PDF by Friday, September 18, 2020.

Please note, that the Google form application does require you to log in to a Google account to complete it. For those, who do not have a Google account, please use the downloadable PDF.

AOCS Governing Board Nominating and Election Process

The AOCS Nominating & Election Committee is responsible for proposing to the AOCS Governing Board for its approval a slate of candidates for election in accordance with the Society’s policies. The Committee will evaluate information submitted by applicants and interview top candidates believed to be the best fit based on current needs before finalizing the proposed slate. The Committee develops a proposed slate and submits its recommendation to the Governing Board for approval at its winter meeting. The final slate of candidates is presented to the AOCS membership for approval by February 15, 2021.  New members will be installed at the AOCS Governing Board meeting that takes place during the AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo.

Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research – Surinder Singh

Q&A with Surinder Singh the recipient of the 2020 Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research

A brief biography: Surinder Singh, Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Canberra, Australia, has pioneered the successful genetic modification of fatty acid composition in oil crops to provide improved nutritional value for human health and improved functionality for novel industrial end uses. He has also developed new varieties of oilseed crops (canola and safflower) as well as increasing the oil content in leaves of conventional crops (eg. sorghum) and has provided the science underpinning the commercial development of these new crops. 

In his work, Dr. Singh combines a unique blend of gene discovery, which enables him to transform scientific concepts into agricultural products for commercial applications. The canola producing large amounts of the long-chain omega-3 oils that are essential for human health, and the modified safflower oil for industrial applications have been deregulated in Australia and licensed to commercial companies. Surinder Singh has more than 100 granted patents. He is elected as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and fellow Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering in 2019.

1) How did it feel to win the Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research?

I am extremely proud to have been awarded the 2020 Australasian Section Award for Scientific Excellence in Lipid Research. I consider this a great recognition of the work done by my team over the last 25 years in the Plant Oil Engineering Group at CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Canberra. 

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

I have always been interested in how plants work.  My Ph.D. focused on plant membrane responses to low temperatures and hormones.  This is how I got interested in plant lipids and the important role storage lipids, like triglycerides (plant oil), have in providing reduced carbon both for nutrition as well as industrial end uses.

3) Can you tell us more about your current research?

Over the last 25 years, my research focus has been on translational research in the field of plant lipid biotechnology and am a holder of more than 100 patents.  I was cited by Nature Biotechnology as one of the world's top ten translational researchers for 2014.  In 2019, I was elected as a Fellow of The Australian Academy of Sciences as well as a Fellow of The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. For the last two decades, I have been at the forefront of developing new genetically engineered oilseed crops.  Two new crops, Omega-3 Canola and Super-high Oleic Safflower, are ready to enter global commercial production through licensees in 2020/2021. Currently, my lab is harnessing the power of synthetic biology to create new platforms for lipid production. 

4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

The biggest challenge I have had to face in my career as a research scientist is the uncertainty of funding.  Research dollars are scarce which sets up fierce competition these dollars.  This leads to funding being cut off at most inopportune moments.  

5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

The key to success in having a productive and sustained research career in science is to plan ahead and always try and catch the next wave of excitement and hence funding in your particular field of research.  Risk-taking is also a very important part of breakthrough research.  Above all, it is important to be passionate about science and what you are trying to achieve.

6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

AOCS has been a very important element in my career.  My research has been focused on developing new products for the fats and oils industry.  AOCS membership provides me very valuable insights into the needs and new developments in the fats and oils industry.  I have also found attending the AOCS meetings and journals extremely useful in networking and interacting with industry players.