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USP student scoops Young Scientist award

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USP Master of Science student Prayna Maharaj during her presentation at the 47th Annual Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) conference in Melbourne, which was held on 22-25 June, 2014.

A Master of Science student at The University of the South Pacific scooped the Young Scientist award at the 47th Annual Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) conference in Melbourne which was held on 22-25 June, 2014.

Prayna Maharaj was awarded the first prize in the Young Scientist Session which saw young scientists of various prestigious universities competing including Phd students. She received $300 AUD as part of her award. 

The title of her presentation was “Folate content of local vegetables and loss upon cooking: Enhancing Nutrition Security In Fiji/South Pacific”.

The presentation was part of her MSc. research which is the first comprehensive study on folate in local vegetables, especially in terms of cooking effects. 

Lecturer Dr Romila Gopalan said this is an achievement for the School of Chemistry and the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment at USP.

“This is an indication of the quality of work we do here at USP,” she stressed.

Miss Maharaj is thankful to the University Research Office and The Research and Graduate Office (FSTE) for the support provided for the conference visit.

Her Masters research focuses on folate, a biologically significant, water soluble vitamin of the B complex, found in a variety of foods especially green vegetables.

Folate is vital for many biological functions including the biosynthesis of DNA bases, formation of red and white blood cells as well as the epithelial cells of the digestive tract and the healthy development of an unborn baby’s spine, brain and skull.

Folate has also been linked to a number of diseases such as, neural tube defects, anaemia, Alzeihmer’s disease, cancer, depression as well as cardiovascular ailments. The daily intake of adequate folate is thus essential.

Since reliable information was lacking on the folate content of uncooked/cooked vegetables in Fiji, her research being the first comprehensive project on folate analysis of local vegetables in terms of cooking effects, provides a valuable source of data for public health purposes.

The data obtained from this study may serve as a foundation for the upgrade of Pacific food composition table (which currently has very limited data on the vitamin) and for National Awareness campaigns. 

Ms Maharaj hopes to collaborate with the National Food and Nutrition Centre (NFNC) in the near future to allow her research findings to be incorporated into their awareness campaigns.

“This will ensure that the data obtained is not confined to the scientific community and lab, but reaches the people it was intended for in the first place so that they have a better understanding of nutrition, which they can incorporate in their daily lives in making better dietary decisions,” she said.

Ms. Maharaj is a previous recipient of double gold medal (in Biology and Chemistry) for her undergraduate studies at USP.

She had received an award for another presentation earlier this year in March at the International Conference on Applied Chemistry for the research presentation on “The Antimicrobial Activity of Essential Oils of Some Plant Leaves”.

This news item was published on 4 Aug 2014 01:24:23 pm. For more information or any High-Res Images, please contact us on email

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