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Advanced spectroscopy techniques to improve the bioavailability of nut. Sport and Health Science PhD Studentship

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Dr Luciana Torquati , Prof Mike Gidley , Monday, May 24, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Project Description


Phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables have known antioxidant activity and cardiovascular health benefits. However, their health effects depend on our ability to absorb the nutrient (bioavailability) and its availability to leave the food matrix during digestion (bioaccesibility). New characterisation techniques are required to characterise phytochemical changes during food processing (i.e. post-harvest storage, thermal treatment) so that their bioavailability, bioaccessibility and health promoting effects are optimised.

Key aims are:

Assess how emerging techniques for infrared (IR) spectroscopy [1], a powerful analytic technique that can be used to characterise phytochemicals [2], can be applied to the manufacture of plant based foods

Provide a toolkit that can be used by industry to develop products with improved bioavailability of nutrients to benefit human health and wellbeing (UN sustainable goals 2030, target 3.4)

Approach - Key task are:

1.      Computational chemistry study of polyphenols found in plant foods to create reference for experimental studies and toolkit

2.      Use of IR spectroscopy to determine how the amount/state of polyphenols vary through the manufacturing process

3.      Measurement of bioaccesibility and gut-derived metabolites through in vitro simulated digestion and fermentation. Validation of IR spectroscopy to measure in-vitro gut-derived metabolites

4.      Measurement of bioavailability of polyphenol in vivo (humans) using IR spectroscopy, including its validation as a tool to measure gut-derived metabolites in human samples

5.      Development of an analytical toolkit

Expertise and Capability

UoE: Spectroscopy will be undertaken in Prof. Nash’s newly refurbished laboratories, which include workstations running the computational chemistry package Gaussian. Sport and Health Sciences has a state of the art kitchen lab facilities for food preparation and tasting, phlebotomy and biochemical analytical lab of clinical markers associated with dietary interventions.

UQ: Bioaccessibility models are well-established at UQ in Prof Gidley’s Centre, and there is long-standing expertise in the use of In vitro digestion models to measure microbial metabolites of phytochemicals as a function of fermentation time [3]. Molecular analysis of polyphenols and metabolites will use HPLC and GC-based methods to quantify bioaccesibility and gut metabolism.

Studentship plan

Months 1-12: Study design and training at UoE with the expertise of Torquati (task 1) and Nash (task 1 and 2).

Months 12-24: Validation of the IR technique at UQ, with the expertise of Gidley and Cozzolino in food matrix effects (task 3), making use of complementary facilities to UoE

Months 24-36: Complete tasks 4 and 5 with Torquati, Nash, and industry partner (PepsiCo). Approximate three month visit to UQ analyse biological samples (task 4) with gold-standard methods at UQ, validating infrared measurements taken at UoE.

Months 36-72: writing up main publication in a high-impact journal and completion of a PhD thesis.


1. B. H. Stuart, Infrared Spectroscopy: Fundamentals and Applications, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2005.

2. J. Johnson et al, “Potential for Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy toward predicting antioxidant and phenolic contents in powdered plant matrices”. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy 2020, 233, p.118228.

3. D. Y Low et al, “Microbial biotransformation of polyphenols during in vitro colonic fermentation of masticated mango and banana”, Food Chemistry, 2016, 207, 214-222.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of: Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 24 May 2021 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 July 2021. The start date is expected to be 10 January 2022.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Funding Notes

The QUEX Institute studentships are available for January 2022 entry. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend of £15,609 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £10,715 over the life of the studentship. The studentship funding is provided for up to 42 months (3.5 years)

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