The Department is the largest academic unit of its kind in the UK, recognized internationally for the quality of its research. In the Research Excellence Framework 2014, Reading was ranked 4th out of 29 submissions for 'research power' in Food and Agriculture, scoring the maximum possible rating for research environment, with 45% of our overall research profile judged to be world-leading and 85% of the impact of our research on society judged to be of top international quality. Our Grade Point Average score is an outstanding 3.24, one of the highest in the UK within the sector.
Our overarching strategy is to improve the quality of food to deliver health benefits for society through improved nutrition and processing. This includes increasing the yield and/or quality of animal or plant products, contribution to food chain policy decisions, improvement of industrial processes, development of new products, use and applicability of food bioactives, and, consequently, improved human health. In all areas, we aim to understand underpinning mechanisms of effect. This approach is exemplified by projects relating to modification of milk composition, development of high value functional foods, use of waste streams and cutting-edge research examining mechanisms underlying the influence of nutrients on various biological systems.
The department has a critical mass of researchers ideally placed to conduct competitive, inter-disciplinary research on the role of food composition, the gut microbiota, food pathogens, immunology and the role of the nutrients in metabolic disease. We also have wide-ranging expertise in research on ageing, including nutritional modification of neurodegeneration, the effects of ageing on gut health and immunity, and sensory science aiming to improve food intake in elderly hospital patients.
Our facilities include a food processing plant, a human intervention suite and access to a state-of-the-art Chemical Analysis Facility. We make significant contributions to the University's Centres of Excellence, namely the Centre for Food Security (CFS), Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research (ICMR) and Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN) and we have an excellent track record of collaborating with academics, industrial partners and food and health professionals.
Our research is structured into three research groups:
Developing human nutrition research in the Department was a key aim when, in 1995, the Department was endowed with funds from the estate of Hugh Sinclair. Our Hugh Sinclair Human Nutrition Group is now well established and has an acknowledged international reputation. Our research includes development of cellular and human model systems to study mechanisms of action of diet at molecular, cellular and whole body level viz: dietary lipids, antioxidants, plant phytochemicals on atherosclerosis, inflammation, insulin resistance and obesity, neurodegeneration, including the influence of diet-genotype interactions.
These researchers are grouped into a multidisciplinary human nutrition team . They use molecular biology and human clinical trial techniques to examine the association between diet, genotype and chronic disease and gain an understanding of its molecular basis. Particular diseases of interest include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cognition and cancers.
Core facilities within the group include a full equipped clinical unit, which facilitates approximately 1000 volunteer visits per year, and access to a range of cutting edge, genomic, proteomic and other high throughput analytical techniques.
For mor details of our nutrition work and our facilities, see our dedicated nutrition pages: Hugh Sinclair Human Nutrition Group
Food and Bioprocessing Sciences
Our research includes food processing for health and quality based upon the application of laboratory scale science and engineering to pilot plant manufacturing and downstream processing, encompassing bioactive compounds, flavour science and sensory analysis, manufacture of novel products, chemical and biological analysis, biomolecular characterisation and macromolecular interactions.
This group focuses on the concept of processing for health. We provide expertise in the manufacturing of real food products designed to have innovative health benefits. The group has a strong background in food science and engineering which operates within a strategy focussed principally on health attributes of food ingredients and products.
Specific themes include food component functionality, flavour development, food processing for health and quality, functional food ingredients, fermentation technology for bioproducts, bioactive dairy products, bioactive products from plants and the extraction and separation of added value products.
Food Microbial Sciences
Our research includes gut microbiology, probiotics, prebiotics, clinical trials in sufferers of gut mediated disorder, in vitro fermentation studies, food safety, microbial physiology, molecular based detection procedures.
There is a biomolecular (culture independent) approach to gut microbial diversity studies – for example exploitation of the genetically conserved 16S rRNA molecule. Interventions are tested in model systems that replicate different areas of the gastrointestinal tract. Human studies are an important part of our research whereby certain dietary ingredients are fed to volunteers to assess their influence on gut flora e.g. biscuits, oat cereals, bran, fermented dairy drinks, blackcurrant juice, chocolate powder are recent examples.
We are also researching (in vitro and in vivo) the impact of the microbiota on certain clinical states and the rational for dietary intervention e.g. ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, colorectal cancer, peptic ulcers, autistic spectrum disorder sufferers, the role of gut bacteria in mammalian lipid metabolism, obesity and insulin resistance.