Professor Michelle Colgrave is tackling one of the biggest challenges the world faces: making sure we have enough food to go around.
“I joined Edith Cowan University in 2018 after being offered the role of ‘Professor of Beer’,” jokes food research scientist Michelle Colgrave.
Though her actual title is Professor of Food and Agricultural Proteomics, Michelle’s success in studying one particular protein gave her a reputation as a beer science expert. It led to an ultra-low-gluten barley that is now being used to make beer. More than a good brew Michelle’s work on proteins, the building blocks of life, is much more than beer science. She’s pinning down proteins involved in how plants, animals and insects are impacted by genetics or the environment. She hopes this understanding will help us produce more food – but better, safer and less harmful to our environment.
Michelle’s passion for food science developed when a love for science was sparked by “an inspiring science teacher, Mr Bruce” at her first high school in Batemans Bay, NSW. She then made the link between science and food at the agricultural high school she attended in Sydney. Finally, a science degree and PhD mentored professor of chemistry – gave her the skills she needed to succeed as a protein scientist.
Fast-forward to today and Michelle is involved in a range of cutting-edge food science research. Some days she can be found testing foods involved with food allergy or intolerance to make sure it’s safe for people. Other days she’ll be looking at insects to see if they have the same proteins as seafood that cause allergy.
Changing food systems
Michelle’s latest project is looking at why wheat seeds sometimes sprout at the wrong time. Understanding the proteins involved could help farmers improve wheat quality and avoid wheat losses. With 10 billion hungry mouths to feed around the globe by 2050, farmers will need ideas like this to help them produce 70% more food.
“We need to make more from less, upcycle waste into new ingredients and ensure it’s safe for all,” says Michelle. “It’s an exciting time to be in food research.”
Michelle’s study and career pathway to becoming a food research scientist
- Bachelor of Science (Analytical Chemistry), University of Wollongong
- PhD (Bioanlytical Mass Spectrometry), University of Wollongong
- Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Queensland
- Proteomics Research Scientist, CSIRO
- Professor of Food and Agricultural Proteomics, Edith Cowan University
Author: Ben Skuse
Ben Skuse is a UK-based former mathematician turned professional science writer, who has written for the Careers with STEM magazines for over 5 years. You can follow him on Twitter @BenSkuseSciComm.