Kati Hanhineva is newly appointed professor in food development at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Turku. We welcome the university as a new member in the Nordic Rye Forum with a fresh interview of Kati and her research.
What is your main research interest and how did you get into the area?
I did my PhD within plant biotechnology and got fascinated by bioactive plant-made secondary metabolites, phytochemicals, at that time. When I moved to a post doc position to University of Eastern Finland (UEF), I started to look at phytochemicals from a bit different angle, namely what is their importance in terms of human health when we eat plant-based, phytochemical-rich food. I have stayed in this field my whole career, and the key reason is that I have always found it very intriguing to resolve the structures of nice molecules, and more recently also to study how our gut microbiota is modifying them.
What is new and what attracted you with the new position?
Actually, within this position I feel that I am a bit closer back to my roots, as there will be strong emphasis on the (plant-based) food development and analysis. This is also the key issue that attracted me in the position, as it is not every day that you can read a perfectly matching job description, especially in your own country, in professorship level.
Has there been any surprises or challenges along with changes in affiliation?
Surely changes always bring challenges, and the least one is not the logistics, as I am happy to be able to continue also leading my research group at UEF, as well as collaborate within the EU funded MarieCurie position at Chalmers. But all of these offer great, complementary possibilities for cutting edge science very much involving Nordic rye research, so despite intensive traveling, I am very excited for the new situation.
What value can you bring into the Nordic Rye Forum from this new position?
Naturally the position is ensuring that I can continue contributing to the Nordic Rye and whole grain research, but also, I hope I can widen up the network and bring in complementary expertise via the new position.
What is next in your nearest future?
Setting up the new research group, and planning the research activities, as well as lot of grant applications to be able to conduct the research
What do you hope to accomplish in a long-term perspective in your new position?
My current focus is leaning more and more towards the direction of the importance of gut microbiota, and I hope that I can widen up our understanding in the area, especially when it comes to the healthy Nordic diet. Understanding the metabolic relationship would help us to develop food products that can modulate the gut flora in beneficial directions for our health.
What would you do with a € 1 000 000 grant – if it was handed to you today?
I would invest in a brand-new mass-spectrometer, an instrument that can measure very small compounds. The rest would go to the research of the importance of not only gut bacteria fermentation, but also the step before it - food fermentation – like the good old sourdough fermentation of rye for example!