I am professor in food development with special focus on Nordic foods and health effects at the University of Turku, Department of Biochemistry, Food Chemistry and Food Development unit since beginning of 2020. Part of my research group is situated at the School of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland. Since fall 2019 I am also affiliated as visiting scientist (Marie Curie MoRE2020 Fellow) at the Division of Food and Nutrition Science, Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden. I have the docentship in nutrition and food metabolomics at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland.
I completed PhD in biotechnology at the University of Kuopio 2008. During years 2008-2014 I conducted post-doctoral research at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, at the University of Eastern Finland with several research visits to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Since 2014 I have been the principal investigator in food and nutritional metabolomics research group and led and participated in several national and EU-funded research projects including Academy Researcher fellowship 2014-2019.
Research My main research focus is within the biochemistry of foods, especially phytochemical compounds and the effect of food processing such as fermentation on their composition. Likewise, molecular level understanding of the role of nutrition in maintaining good health, and food-microbiota interaction are within the core of my research. The key analytical technology at the different stages of research is the mass-spectrometry based metabolic profiling that I have developed and utilized for various food and nutrition related applications, in particular within projects related to the beneficial health effect of whole grain rich diets.
List of publications can be found at https://www.utu.fi/en/people/kati-hanhineva
1. When and why did you start using metabolomics in your investigations?
During my PhD studies. I generated transgenic strawberries and despite obvious differences in the phenotype could not find out any explanation based on traditional targeted chemical analysis. Then I contacted Prof Asaph Aharoni at Weizmann Institute, Israel, and was able to visit his lab several times to get accustomed to LC-MS based metabolic profiling. I eventually received the answer to my biggest question in the PhD project, and since then have always used this fascinating technology in all my research.
2. What have you been working on recently?
The most recent projects relate to my new position at University of Turku, Finland, where establishment of analytical platforms for various metabolomics approaches is currently ongoing. The research topics revolve around diets, mainly plant-based, and role of gut microbiota.
3. What was the most challenging aspect of developing analytical tools to study phytochemicals??
It is clearly the same issue that is a challenge for any metabolomics work, but especially relevant for phytochemicals – namely the identification of compounds. When analysing plant-based foods the plethora of various chemical signals is simply overwhelming since the plants are the most efficient chemical machineries on earth. On the other hand, this same aspect is also what makes the work with phytochemicals so interesting – what do all these potentially bioactive little creatures do when they arrive to our body and metabolism, and how do they interact with our gut flora?
4. How do you think your research on food-microbiota interaction can be applied today or in the future?
Currently, the research in this area is still very much basic research to widen up our understanding on the mutual interaction between diet and gut flora in general, there is so much to learn still here! If we think about potential future applications, at least the monitoring of the function of gut flora by measuring the metabolites they produce in easily obtainable sample material such as plasma, urine, saliva, is regarded as very potential tool for the assessment of personalized nutrition schemes, for example.
5. One of the aims of your professorship is to collaborate with the food industry. What are the key elements for a successful collaboration between basic research laboratories and industries?
Collaboration with industry is essential as no matter how healthy some plant or other food raw material is, it is meaningless unless someone produces a tasty food product from it that is well accepted by the consumers. In this sense, the active discussion on the health relevance of the different food materials and impact of food production methods on it is very important, ad requires intensive, multidisciplinary collaboration between various stakeholder groups – including academia and industry.