Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Spotlight on the 2021 Supelco AOCS Research Award Winner: Eric Decker

Congratulations to Eric Decker for winning the Supelco AOCS Research Award. 

The Supelco AOCS Research Award, sponsored by MilliporeSigma, recognizes outstanding, original research in fats, oils, lipid chemistry or biochemistry.

This spotlight will help you get to know Dr. Decker, including an overview of his current research and how AOCS has helped develop his career.

Plan to attend Dr. Decker's award presentation on April 1, 9:30-10:30 a.m. CDT (Chicago, USA; UTC-5). You can join the livestream on our website, on FaceBook Live, or on YouTube Live. The abstract for this lecture is at the end of this blog post. 

A brief biography: Eric Decker is a Professor at the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.   Dr. Decker is actively conducting research to characterize mechanisms of lipid oxidation, antioxidant protection of foods and the health implications of bioactive lipids. Dr. Decker has over 430 publications and he has been listed as one of the Most Highly Cited Scientists in Agriculture since 2005. He has been recognized by numerous awards including the AOCS Stephan S. Chang Award for Lipid Research in 2008. Dr. Decker has been an active member of AOCS community since 2001. He served as AOCS President from 2019 to 2020 and is currently chair of the AOCS Foundation. He has also served on committees for institutions such as the FDA, National Academy of Science, Institute of Food Technologist, USDA and the American Heart Association. 

Can you tell us about current research?

My lab's current research is focusing on utilization of fundamental research in lipid oxidation mechanisms to develop practical antioxidant technologies.  This includes clean label antioxidants, synergistic antioxidant combinations and antioxidant mechanisms in low moisture foods.  We are also working on the impact of lipid oxidation products on health with Guodong Zhang.

What was your reaction when you learned you had won the award?

I was extremely excited to receive this very prestigious award.  I feel this is the top research award in my field and to be in the company with so many other amazing lipid scientists that have also received this award is the pinnacle of my career.

How has AOCS helped develop your career?

AOCS is the major meeting where my lab group presents their research.  Thus, AOCS has been instrumental in connecting us with our research peers and communicating our work to industry.  This has not only helped to promote my career but also that of the researchers in my lab group.

Award presentation abstract

Why does Lipid Oxidation in Foods Continue to be such a Challenge?

Oxidation of lipids continues to be a challenge in many foods even after over 200 years of research.  The inability to solve the problems of rancidity indicates that the process of lipid oxidation is extremely complex as it is influenced by many factors.   One example is oxygen whose removal in foods that are in direct contact with oxygen is an effective antioxidant strategy while in other foods where oxygen is dissolved in the food matrix, oxygen is difficult to remove and thus is not an effective antioxidant strategy.  The role of transition metals in oxidation are also complex as in some cases they have low reactivity (e.g. low moisture foods) and in others they are the major prooxidants (e.g. oil-in-water emulsions) and thus need to be the focus of antioxidant strategies.  Metal reactivity is further complicated as their reactivity is dependent on their physical location, ability to be redox cycled and solubility with the later two being influenced by other food components.  The efficacy of antioxidant is also hard to predict because their activity is influenced by physical location as well as their mode of action, stability and interaction with other food components.  Finally, the relationship between lipid oxidation and shelf-life is very difficult to predict which makes it difficult to develop effective antioxidant technologies.  This is because lipid oxidation typically has a lag phase where off-flavors are not present followed by an exponential increase in oxidation products were sensory detection of oxidation occurs quickly.  Therefore, in order to be able to predict shelf-life dictated by oxidation, more research is need on oxidation reactions during the lag phase such as loss of antioxidant and formation of early fatty acid oxidation products.   By better understanding these and other factors, novel technologies can be developed to decrease food spoilage by rancidity.

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