Rowett Newsletter 2019

Rowett Newsletter 2019


Early career award for Dan Powell

Dr Dan Powell - a postdoctoral scientist at the Rowett Institute - has received the Early Career Award from the European Health Psychology Society (EHPS), recognising the outstanding research excellence that he does here at the Rowett. To qualify for this prestigious award, Dan had to be nominated by fellow EHPS members, and to demonstrate research excellence and contributions made to the society within 5 years of a PhD. As part of the nomination Dan has published several papers in top health psychology journals, as well as organising committees for the EHPS conference and providing training oppportunites for the society.

Dan was presented with his award at the EHPS annual conference in Dubrovnik earlier in September. More information on the award can be found here >>

Sylvia Duncan internationally recognised by bacterial species

Dr Sylvia Duncan has been an integral part of the gut microbiology research group at the Rowett for many years. This outstanding contribution to research on gut bacteria has been honoured by a novel genus of mouse intestinal bacteria being named after her. Duncaniella is described in a paper published from a group based in Germany. The laboratory were investigating the diversity and ecology of a family of bacteria found in the mouse gut which had not been completely characterised.

The German research group thought that this was a fitting way to acknowledge Syvia's significant research impact over her career.

The Rowett sponsors the Healthy Choice award at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards

The Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards were held on Thursday 23rd May at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange.  Recognised by both trade and consumers as an accolade of the highest quality, the awards highlight business excellence, innovation and best practice across the Scottish food and drink industry.

The Rowett Institute sponsored the Healthy Choice award, which celebrates companies and products whose very ethos has healthy eating at heart. Institute director Professor Peter Morgan presented the 2019 Healthy Choice award to Graham’s The Family Dairy whose Skyr yoghurt beat the other 17 competitors to the top spot.

Grant successes

Professor Paul Haggarty is deputy director of the Rowett and is one of the named investigators on a £19.5M Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) Action Against Stunting Hub led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The Hub is one of 12 Global Research Hubs funded by UKRI through the GCRF. Over the five year collaboration the Hub aims to reduce child stunting by up to 10% across communities in India, Indonesia and Senegal. Read more >>

Dr Silvia Gratz in the gut health research group, has been awarded a £50K Development Award under the MRC’s GCRF nutrition and disease call to study multiple dietary risk factors contributing to childhood stunting in India, with a focus on mycotoxins.


Eating like there’s no tomorrow

Jennie Macdiarmid, Flora Douglas and Jonina Campbell

A paper published by Professor Jennie Macdiarmid discussing the public awareness of the environmental impact of food and the reluctance to eat less meat as part of a sustainable diet is the second most cited paper in the journal Appetite.

The study found that public opinion around eating meat is still associated with important personal, social and cultural values, suggesting that individual dietary change will be difficult to achieve without addressing these values and beliefs. At the time of the study, there was a lack of awareness of the association between meat consumption and climate change among the participants, but even when presented with this concept there was a general resistance to the idea of reducing meat consumption.

Article >>

Tracking Snacking in Real Time

Julia Allan, David McMinn and Dan Powell

Identifying when and where people overeat is important for intervention design; so, in this study 64 adults used wearable electronic diaries to record snacking, location, social context and current activity every waking hour over 7 days. In addition to the electronic diary asking volunteers about snacking within a certain time-frame, it would also ask about activities, social context and location.

The results showed that while there were broad group snacking behaviours such as when socialising or watching television, there was a lot of variation between specific individuals. This suggests that potential interventions for behaviour change should be designed using a personalised, environmentally tailored approach rather than a traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach.

By detecting activities, social contexts and locations where high consumption is particularly likely, interventions could be targeted more effectively, increasing the chances that behaviour change is achieved.

Article >>

Rowett Scientist on Times front page

On October 10th Dr Viren Ranawana and his research were featured on the front page of the The Times. “Experts use their loaf to help Scots eat more greens” detailed Viren’s interest in using familiar products to help improve health; in this project he introduced various vegetables into bread. These “Disco breads” are so-called as the loaves take on the colour of the vegetable introduced.

Carrot, spinach and beetroot bread were the most successful, while other vegetables such as broccoli adversely affected the dough. He also introduced the work being done around developing high-fibre breads using underutilised natural products like broad bean hull.

Viren said

Familiar staple foods that consumers enjoy eating can be excellent vehicles for improving nutrition status. In this work we are using bread for increasing intake of essential nutrients such as fibre.

This approach has multiple benefits, on one hand it produces less energy dense foods that are more nutritious, and on the other hand it helps reduce waste by revalorising underutilised primary produce.

Highly cited Rowett research

Professor Harry Flint, Dr Sylvia Duncan and Dr Petra Louis (from the gut health research group) have all been included in the Clarivate list of highly cited researchers. This list recognises world-class researchers selected for their exceptional research performance. This is demonstrated by the publication of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year.

For the first time in this list, Clarivate introduced a new "Cross-Field" category to identify researchers with substantial influence across several fields during the last decade. Sylvia Duncan is listed in this new category, demonstating her breadth of knowledge, techniques and experience.

See the list here >>


The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report on saturated fats and health.

Professor Paul Haggarty chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on saturated fats and health that was published by Public Health England at the beginning of August. The report is concerned with the links between saturated fats, health and risk factors for non-communicable diseases in the UK population.

Professor Haggarty then hosted a webinar organised by the Nutrition Society in which he discussed the scientific evidence in the SACN report, its implications to many health outcomes as well as research reccommendations arising from the report.

Read the SACN report >>

Food Forever Exhibition

Dr Madalina Neacsu from the Rowett contributed to a new international exhibition hosted locally by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The exhibition includes 18 portraits of scientists, farmers and chefs all of whom champion diversity in our food. Max Coleman from the Royal Botanic Gardens said "Variety in our foods is part of the pleasure of eating, but there is also a more serious message in the exhibition about securing the foundation of our food, in the midst of a rapidly changing world"

SEFARI, the Scottish collective of environment, food and agriculture research institutes, is also supporting the exhibition and six of the 18 portraits feature people who work for SEFARI. Among them is Dr Madalina Neacsu, from the Rowett Institute, who is looking at the use and health benefits of unfamiliar crops that can be grown in Scotland. The aim is to encourage a greater diversity of plants in the diet, which in turn can encourage farm diversification.

Charles Bestwick, director of SEFARI Gateway, commented

SEFARI research aims to secure the supply of healthy and sustainable food through an integrated approach to agriculture, environment, food, health and the economy

RSA Round Table Discussions

Earlier this year the Rowett hosted one of the nationwide RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission round-table discussions.  (

Organised with the James Hutton Institute and SEFARI Gateway, delegates had talks from two of our scientists and were then treated to lunch.

Sue Pritchard – Director of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission said

The diverse variety of perspectives brought together for us was interesting and illuminating – from food and farming, to arts and culture, health and wellbeing, community development, to environment and land use.

As well as getting a fascinating tour of the Institute, a particular highlight was when Craig Wilson (the Kilted Chef from Eat on the Green restaurant in Udny) demonstrated and cooked a super lunch.

SEFARI Gateway Director

The SEFARI Gateway is the knowledge exchange AND Impact hub of the Scottish Environment Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI). The Rowett is one of the key institutes within this collective. The Gateway works across the Scottish Government funded Strategic Portfolio, which is is a c.£48 million p/a investment in research and national capability to deliver across Scotland’s Environment, Agriculture, Land Use, Food and Rural Communities and Economy agenda.  The focus for Gateway is on strengthening the collaboration and interdisciplinarity across the Scottish Government funded research institutes; ensure that a portfolio of expertise is available and resourced to meet stakeholder priorities and to work in partnership with stakeholders to enhance the impact of research to policy, sectoral representatives and civic society.

Dr Charles Bestwick is the director of SEFARI Gateway and leads on working across the portfolio to develop strategies to communicate research outcomes and respond to evidence needs. 

Amongst SEFARI’s aims is for “research to secure the supply of healthy and sustainable food through an integrated approach to agriculture, environment, food, health and the economy”.

Community Engagement

Design and Diversify your diet

At the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April, the Rowett asked visitors to their workshop to “Design and Diversify” their diet. Held at the Royal Botanic Gardens and as part of a SEFARI programme, participants could design their own healthy plate, find nutritious foods in our shopping basket and play “Snacks and Ladders”. Our healthy eating activities complemented the “Number Muncher Diets” calculator developed by BioSS and the Rowett, allowing visitors to work out what a healthy diet looks like.

It was a busy day, but all our visitors engaged with our games and activities and had a great time.

Pancake Toppings and Tastings

On Sunday 23rd June Professor Alex Johnstone was involved with a University of Aberdeen Alumni event at Baxters in Fochabers. Pancakes were cooked by two of the staff at Baxters and Alex was on hand to provide health and nutrition information; and a little history. The alumni who attended were able to try some of the pancakes being cooked up. These included spinach and goats cheese, banana and cinnamon as well as frozen Nutella.

There was time for refreshments afterwards, including more Baxters treats. The children also had the opportunity to design their own pancake as well as an activity choosing what they would like on a healthy plate. The lucky winner of the best pancake design won a hamper with lots of cooking ingredients.

Doors Open Day

On September 7th, the Rowett opened its doors to the public as part of the annual “Doors Open Day” event. People were invited to tour around our new facility highlighting our superb human nutrition unit, our highly specified laboratories, as well as the state-of-the-art analytical chemistry department and seeing some of our heritage artefacts incorporated into the new building.  We had a very successful day; despite a quiet run up to the day, we nevertheless had approximately 200 interested members of the public through our doors! 

Some of the feedback from visitors was very encouraging. 

This was a very worthwhile visit. Thank you very much.

I will adjust my diet to suit me and the planet.

First visit and thoroughly enjoyed it.


Volunteering for a nutrition study

Would you like to contribute to science? Vounteering for one of our nutrition studies is an easy way to contribute, and it is very beneficial to our volunteers. 

Established to provide a metabolic research centre to study the relationship between diet and health in humans, our new human nutrition unit is a superbly equipped, one-of-a-kind facility. We can measure your resting metabolic rate and body composition in the clinical area; there is very comfortable overnight accommodation should a study require it, and we have a bright volunteer's dining area adjacent to a fully equipped kitchen.

There are many different studies running at any one time, and we are always looking for volunteers to take part. Two of the most recent studies for which we are recruiting are the Fruit Bar study (looking at whether a concentrated fruit bar could change blood sugar levels), and the Fibre for Health study in which we are investigating high levels of fibre and how it effects gut health. Our volunteers always find taking part in a study worthwhile, let them tell you in our volunteer story video: