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Michelle Colgrave: Bringing science to pub and plate

Michelle Colgrave leading agriculture 29

Pale ale loving hipsters of the world rejoice, a new ECU research team is bringing cutting edge technology to the world of brewing to make your beer taste better.

Professor Michelle Colgrave and her team are hoping to look deep into the process of brewing with equipment more commonly used in medical and pharmaceutical research.

They’ll be using cutting-edge mass spectrometry to figure out how to improve the taste of beer by looking at proteins produced or altered in the brewing process.

Mass spectrometers measure the individual proteins and their fragments in a food sample, allowing Professor Colgrave and her team to analyse the different types and amounts of proteins in each sample.

Professor Colgrave said the explosion of the craft beer market had introduced more experimentation in the production process.

“Brewers are bringing in different types of hops, yeast and barley and other ingredients and finding different ways to combine them,” she said.

”They’re looking to differentiate a product and that’s where our expertise in understanding how the proteins in beer affect flavour and other attributes is really important.

“There’s huge scope for this technology to be utilised in the craft market and to bring science to that process.”

Professor Colgrave has joined ECU to expand her research in proteomics (the study of proteins) in grain and other areas of agriculture and food science.

Improving food safety

The other focus of Professor Colgrave’s team will be developing better tests for food safety, particularly for food allergies and intolerances.

“We’re interested in coeliac disease and gluten intolerance and how we can use these advanced techniques to potentially improve the accuracy of tests for gluten in gluten-free products,” she said.

Coeliac disease affects about one per cent of the population but about 10 per cent suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity which is a related but different illness. There’s no accurate test for gluten in heavily processed food products according to Professor Colgrave.

Because of how gluten changes during the chemical processes such as in brewing or baking bread it’s difficult for traditional tests to pick it up. “We’ll been using mass spectrometry and advanced techniques to find out whether that gluten has in fact been removed,” she said.

Professor Colgrave also works at CSIRO where she was involved in the development of the world’s first gluten free barley. At ECU she’ll also be leveraging the University’s existing expertise in brewing, nutrition and dietetics to utilise mass spectrometry to answer questions that are important to the industry.

Professor Colgrave is the 18th appointment under the Professorial Research Project scheme, an ambitious project to recruit more than 20 professors from around the world to rapidly increase research activity and impact.

This article was first published in Leading Agriculture.

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