Position: Team Leader, Field: Sensory and consumer science, Organisation: Plant & Food Research.
Dr Richard Newcomb simply ‘followed his nose’ when entering the field of scientific research. He is a Team Leader in the Molecular Sensing Division at the Plant & Food Research in Auckland and Associate Professor in Evolutionary Genetics at the University of Auckland.
It was almost by chance that Richard became involved in his present area of interest. At the end of his first year at university, he told the Medical School interview panel that he wanted to be a medical researcher and their reply was that he should go away and study Zoology instead – which he did.
Research is about the discovery phase, where questions are asked about what’s not known, and the application phase, where we work on what is known.
Richard completed a BSc and MSc at the University of Auckland before heading to the Australian National University in Canberra to complete his PhD. The focus of his doctorate was insecticide resistance in flies. This research led to the development and commercialisation of bioremediation enzymes.
At the present time Richard’s research focuses on the way biological systems produce and recognise odours. This involves the development of an olfactory biosensing device (this monitors and transmits information about smell) using insect olfactory receptors. These could one day be used to “sniff out” foods, disease or even explosives! A second major research area is investigating whether an individual’s genotype (genetic make-up) has an influence on their ability to smell flavour compounds and on their food preferences. Richard is involved in important collaborative projects in both of these research areas.
Find out more about our sense of smell.
Away from the challenging and very busy world of science Richard is interested in walking, tennis, music and ‘containing’ his active preschooler!
Nature of science
Collaboration with other organisations is an important way for scientists to pool their intellectual and research resources. This enables them to conduct more substantial projects that may be of international benefit.
This article is based on information current in 2011.