Position: Science Group Leader
Field: Food Innovation – Food and Nutrition
Organisation: Plant & Food Research, Palmerston North

Dr Juliet Ansell grew up in England and has a doctorate degree in human tropical parasitology from Oxford University, which involved fieldwork with school children in Tanzania, East Africa.

Juliet has also worked in laboratories in the UK, Africa, Australia and New Zealand on a diverse range of research questions including transmission of HIV from mother to baby, malaria in pregnant women and cattle ticks on European breeds in Queensland, Australia.

Juliet now leads research exploring the interactions between food, the human gut and the resident microbial ecosystem. Of particular interest is discovering the role of microbes in biochemical and physiological processes essential to the development and maintenance of healthy digestive and immune systems.

Part of this research is investigating potential functional food ingredients from fruit, vegetables and grains. The knowledge gained will be used in future development of elite cultivars and leading-edge food products.

I find the discovery side of science really exciting. Designing an experiment to test a theory and being able to find out the answer is still what motivates me.

At Plant & Food Research, she leads major research programmes with government and industry support involving in vitro, in vivo and human clinical trial work.

The research aims to better understand the interactions between micro- and macronutrients, their digestion, absorption and fermentation as they pass through the gut and the downstream effects of foods and their metabolites on human health throughout the body.

In terms of health endpoints, she is interested in gut health, chronic inflammatory conditions, weight management and energy use.

Juliet enjoys her work as a scientist. She says, “Having a degree of uncertainty and risk in my job is also what keeps life exciting, and knowing that what I do and find out is going to have a real impact on people’s quality of life is very rewarding.”

This article is based on information current in 2011.

    Published 12 July 2011