Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Biotechnology Division Award Winner Feature: Siyu Zhang

Q&A with Biotechnology Division Award Winner: Siyu Zhang 

Bio: Siyu Zhang is a third-year Ph.D. student in food science from the University of Georgia, in Dr. Akoh's lab. Previously, he received his master's degree in food science from Drexel University. Currently, he is working on synthesizing novel antioxidants by incorporating phenolic compounds to lipids.

1) What was your reaction when you learned you won Biotechnology Division Award?

I was excited and felt honored when I first saw the email.

2) How did you get started in the area of focus that you are studying?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in food science with a focus on lipid chemistry. After two years of study for my master’s degree at Drexel University, I moved on to the University of Georgia in pursuit of a Ph.D. under the supervision of the world-renowned lipid chemist Dr. Casimir Akoh. I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Akoh who also introduced me to AOCS and encouraged me to participate in its activities.

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

My research is focused on using enzymes as the catalyst to incorporate phenolic acids into glycerol. Due to the nature of these reactions, selecting appropriate enzyme and reaction conditions are crucial. I have tried many times without any product formation but have had to keep trying in the face of trials and tribulations.

4) Do you have any words of wisdom for other AOCS student members?

It has been a great pleasure and honor to be a part of the AOCS community. The members of the community have diverse backgrounds, each one of them can provide unique perspectives. Presentation and poster sessions at annual meetings offer great opportunities for members to share their knowledge and experience with each other. In general, my advice is that student members should try to attend the annual meeting and participate in its activities.

5) How has winning the AOCS Biotechnology Division Award helped you develop as a young scientist?

The AOCS Biotechnology Division Award helped my work get recognized and offered me a chance to present it to the AOCS community. It was a great pleasure and opportunity to share my work.

6) Can you tell us about your current research?

My research focuses on the inhibition of lipid oxidation, including modification of natural phenolic compounds to enhance their efficacy. Phenolic acids are potent natural antioxidants with many proven health benefits, but due to their solubilities, the applications in foods are limited. Structuring glycerolipids with phenolic acids could potentially result in novel structured phenolic lipids with enhanced oxidative stability/antioxidant activity and potential health benefits. The glycerol esters of phenolic acids are naturally occurring compounds and exist in many plants. Moreover, the hydroxy groups of the glycerol could provide two extra sites for adjusting the hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity of the novel molecules.

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