September 22, 2016

By Nuritas

7 Questions with Niamh Mohan

Team Member: Niamh Mohan

Position at Nuritas™: PhD student researching novel antimicrobials

Tell us about what you do at Nuritas:

As part of my PhD, I am involved in testing the antibacterial activity of Nuritas’ food derived peptides. Our aim is to find out how our peptides kill certain pathogens and explore their potential in a range of applications from food safety to novel, natural alternatives to antibiotics.

Why did you want to become a scientist? What inspires you?

I am from a very “foodie” family. I started off working in restaurant kitchens across the country. While I loved the rush of this, and the transformation of simple ingredients into beautiful dishes, I was always curious about how the foods which fuel our bodies impact on our health. I decided to keep cooking as a hobby and to take a more scientific approach to food, and in particular, to look at how it could be used to treat and prevent certain diseases. I carried out my undergraduate degree in Nutraceutical Science which greatly increased my appetite to explore the function of food beyond its basic nutrition function. So I would say that FOOD and my own natural CURIOSITY lead me down the road of becoming a scientist.

What do you think is the best scientific innovation? ?

Science and technology has accelerated rapidly in the last 50 years. Despite all the controversies involved, I am completely fascinated by the science behind cloning, genetically modified organisms and nanoparticle research. This is stuff that my grandmother would have considered Sci-Fi and maybe even magic, but nowadays are active areas of research.

If I had to narrow it down to the best of the best scientific innovations I would say firstly, the internet. I was a teenager when I experienced the amazing transition from dial up to broadband so this was a life changer for sure…iTunes had no limits!

Secondly, I would say that the Human genome sequencing project was a pretty major step in science. It was a great example of global team work and has opened up the huge area of genomic research which will ultimately lead to the next major advances in medicine.

Who is your favourite scientist and why?

I am not sure that I have a favourite, there are so many which are admirable. I guess for me the best scientists are the ones who are not selfish with their knowledge and who share what they learn with others. Being a young PhD student you are sometimes seen as a tiny little fish in an enormous pond. The best scientists are those who are patient with the tiny fish!

What interests you the most right now in the health and/or food arena?

I think it is a crazy time to be alive. Half of the world is starving, and the other half are obese. Food is such a powerful force which can be the poison, but when used correctly, can also be the cure. Nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics and personalised nutrition are very interesting areas at the moment; looking at how food interacts with genes and the knock on health effects.

Also another hot topic right now is the gut microbiome. Amazing research is being carried out analysing how the bacteria in our gut can actually impact so many other aspects of health, from allergies to skin conditions and even diabetes and obesity.
Obviously bioactive peptides are also close to my heart. The amazing potential of these tiny natural molecules is absolutely amazing…watch this space for more!!

What do you like most about working at Nuritas™?

Doing my PhD at Nuritas means that my research will see a final application in the real world. This is not the case for a lot of research so I count myself very lucky for this.

Nuritas are a strong team of diverse people from all different backgrounds. One of the best things is that Nuritas are open to all ideas (no matter how crazy) which means you have the freedom to think outside the box…this is when the magic happens.

I look forward to going to work every day 🙂

If you could be a peptide which peptide would you be and what disease would you target?

In the interest of my PhD, I would be the perfect antimicrobial peptide with action against both gram negative and positive bacteria, which affects a very specific target on the membrane. 🙂

Beyond this I would love a peptide which absorbed fat and sugar the second we consumed it and made it disappear…so you would still get all the enjoyment but none of the calories or health problems.

Any last comments?

One of my favourite quotes from Alice in Wonderland:
“Have I gone mad?” Asked the mad hatter, sadly. “I’m afraid so”, said Alice. “You’re entirely bonkers, But shall I tell you a secret? All the best people are…”