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Elena Ibáñez: "Foodomics is one of the ways towards personalised nutrition"

23 marzo 2017

Elena Ibañez is a Research Professor at the Institute of Food Science Research (CIAL-CSIC) in Madrid. Her activity includes the development of environmentally clean processes and foodomics, an innovative discipline that studies food and nutrition to improve our health.

Elena Ibañez is a Research Professor at the Institute of Food Science Research (CIAL-CSIC) in Madrid. Her activity includes the development of environmentally clean processes and foodomics, an innovative discipline that studies food and nutrition to improve our health. She has been recently included in the first all-women Power List by the Analytical Scientist magazine as one of the 50 most influential women in the analytical sciences worldwide.

How would you describe green chemistry?


The traditional methods in analytical chemistry use a lot of toxic solvents with environmental consequences and waste management issues, and a huge amount of energy is normally required too. Green chemistry is a tendency born a few years ago that tries to replace all these procedures with greener environmentally secure options.

And how do you see green chemistry today and what do you expect in the next years?


I think research has a long way to go in this area, but we also require a much stricter regulation. Analytical chemistry is very much ruled by the official analysis methods, and only a few of them have been changed with a green chemistry approach so far. Regulation should promote and even impose the implementation of these new cleaner technologies. We won't really see the green chemistry boom if that doesn't happen, because otherwise many labs will choose to keep the validated methods, even if they are old and more pollutant, and not transition towards the greener ones.

Foodomics is one of your main research interests right now. What is that exactly?


Yes, I work at the foodomics lab in the Institute of Food Science Research, in Madrid. Foodomics is a discipline that was defined a few years ago as a new study of food and nutrition through massive technologies, that is, through the information provided through ‘omics' technologies, to improve human's wellbeing, health and knowledge. For example, a foodomics evaluation of some bioactive ingredient focuses on how that particular ingredient affects our genes. We go beyond trying to find out if some bioactive compound might prevent some kind of cancer. We don't just want to know if some compound diminishes the antiproliferative activity of some cell, but we try to understand why. And that is what we do through foodomics.

How far do you expect foodomics to develop?


There is a long way to go, but the final goal would be, in the functional food field, to achieve a personalised diet. Right now that is not possible and we still don't have the knowledge to develop it, but it is a goal. Everyone of us could have a personalised diet according to our genome so that it would contribute to prevent certain illness. And foodomics is certainly one of the ways towards personalised nutrition.

Where is foodomics being developed and what have you discovered so far?

We defined foodomics in 2009 and we have obtained a great response from the scientific community since then. Some other groups are working on it too, and there are specific conferences, special issues from scientific magazines… It has become a new framework that might integrate knowledge from food technology, nutrition, food safety… For example, we study the difference between transgenic food and their isogenic equivalent, that is, those which have been grown in the exact same way as the transgenic but lacking the modified gen. In corn, for example, we have seen that the produced metabolites are somehow different, but none of these differences implies any harm for the human health.

How did you feel after having been included in the first all-women Power List by the Analytical Scientist magazine?


I was very surprised, I didn't expect it at all. All I have done is work a lot and I try to do it as well as possible. I have felt very honoured. The list points out my interest in green chemistry, and I am happy to think that more people might get interests in that.

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