research related to food for health, and Patil has headed up the
organization for five years.
“Through the collaborative work of scientists, we can gain
knowledge about how to prevent certain diseases by eating
more fruits and vegetables,” Patil says. “Most of us already know
that we need to eat more of these foods, but generally, we are
not told how it works.”
Patil’s background is in horticulture. He earned his doctorate
at Texas A&M and had post doctoral experiences looking into
pre- and post-harvest effects on health-promoting compounds.
When he began exploring flavonoid levels in onions, he started
to understand how they help in preventing cancer. From this
stemmed his interest in working on the isolation of different bio-
active compounds in fruits and vegetables. “Just trying to quanti-
fy the bioactive compounds may not be enough,” Patil says. “We
need to understand the levels of all the compounds.”
But using chemistry to explore the health benefits within
foods is only one side of the equation.
“I think you can apply chemistry in a lot of different ways,”
LSU’s Finley says. “There’s all the analytical stuff,
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using biotechnology chemistry techniques to understand which
genes are being expressed in the body when you eat. It’s either
going to upregulate or downregulate a chain, and we’re at the
point where we can track that.”
Getting in the mix
For students interested in pursuing careers in food science,
Patil underscores the interdisciplinary nature of the field. “Try to
explore your possibilities,” he says. “Don’t focus on one thing or
For Alongi, shadowing helped her narrow her professional
interests. “There are many different avenues involving food sci-
ence, and sometimes finding out about them is half the battle,”
she says. “The food industry is very small, so networking is key.”
“I never took a food science course as an undergraduate or
graduate student,” USDA researcher Tunick adds. “I wound up
in this field because that’s the way my career
went. Don’t be surprised if you end up doing
something you didn’t expect to do.” iC
Wendy HAnkLe is a freelance writer and communications professional who lives in Ithaca, NY.