Ph.D. and M.Sc. Research Students

At any given time more than 15 PhD students and many more M.Sc students are doing their research at Matís and working on their theses in cooperation with the industry in Iceland and abroad.

This is important to Matís as the company focuses on bridging the gap between the academic environment and the industry. Of special concern to Matís is food science. In the last decade or so, enrollment into food science programs at university level has dropped drastically. Many of the top industrial leaders have expressed their concern for this development. One of them, Dr. Gregory L. Yep at Pepsico Inc., visited Matís a short while back and expressed his concerns for the matter during his speech.

Together, with the industry and universities, Matís can lend a helping hand in bridging the gap that sometimes exists between academia and industry.

A few noteworthy doctoral projects at Matís

Hélène Liette Lauzon, Ph.D., researched the role of microorganisms in cod farming, so as to improve the survival rate and to assist with larval growth in the early stages of farming. The big problems in cod farming are more often than not to do with these early stages, that is to say the hatching and development during larval stages.

Probiotics can play a key role in creating the environment that leads to increased growth, vitality, immunity and survival, for example by preventing growth of unwanted bacteria. In her research, Hélène was assisted by scientists at Matís and at the University of Iceland, as well as foreign probiotic experts such as dr. Birgitte B. Budde from Denmark and Prof. Seppo Salminen from Finland, who instruct on LGG research, Einar Ringø, professor of microbiology was one of Hélène's opponents in her doctoral defense.

Einar comes from Norway, a country at the forefront of cod farming. This collaboration has led to further collaboration with both Einar and other probiotic experts around the world in relation to the writing of book chapters and scholarly articles on probiotics. Hélène graduated in December 2010.

Sigridur Sigurdardottir is a Ph.D. student in industrial engineering at Matís, in collaboration with the University of Iceland. Sigridur's instructors are Sveinn Margeirsson, Ph.D., and Sigurjon Arason at Matis, Pall Jensson, Ph.D., professor of industrial engineering, and Birgir Hrafnkelsson, Ph.D., at the Science Institution of the University of Iceland.

Sigridur's research project has to do with creating models for fisheries management, and is a part of two international projects that Matís participates in; EcoFishMan and BADMINTON. The first is a collaboration of companies and institutions from around Europe, which aims to develop and contribute to the implementation of a new integrated fisheries management system in Europe. The resulting product will then be researched in three different case-studies and looked at in a comprehensive manner, that is to say from a biological, social, legal and political perspective, at the same time putting an emphasis on reducing by-catch and maintaining the diverseness of the species. Sigridur, in collaboration with other domestic and foreign participants in the EcoFishMan project, will work on solving this problem.

The BADMINTON project is a European research into by-catch. Collaborating with Bent Herrmann, Ph.D., and Niels Madsen, Ph.D., at DTU Aqua, Sigridur will build a model that will provide information on how much economic effect different methods of decreasing by-catch would have. In the fall of 2011, Sigridur attended the University of California where she took courses in simulation and biological modelling alongside her research with Lee W. Schruben, honorary professor at UC Berkeley's department of industrial engineering and operations research. They plan on publishing a scientific article to be introduced at the Winter Simulation Conference in Berlin at the end of this year.

The Ph.D. program of Asta Heidrun E. Petursdottir, has to do with developing a reliable method of analyzing inorganic arsenic in seafood. Inorganic arsenic, a poisonous form of arsenic, poses a danger. The European Food Safety Authority has handed in a scientific opinion, which will be taken into consideration in the legislation process, stating that it is important to put a limit on the amount of inorganic arsenic in food and feed, including seafood. However, from the point of view of chemical analysis it can be difficult to detect inorganic arsenic in marine products, which poses the challenge in Asta's doctoral program.

The research is mostly conducted at the University of Aberdeen, as Asta Heidrun received a SORSAS grant (Scottish Overseas Research Students Award Scheme), an award scheme to attract outstanding research students to Scottish Universities. A collaborative agreement was made between Matis and the University of Aberdeen. The project is guided by Jorg Feldman, Ph.D., a leading expert in arsenic speciation, and Helga Gunnlaugsdóttir, Ph.D., program director and an expert at Matís. Two scholarly articles have already been approved by peer-reviewed magazines in relation to the program. Asta plans on graduation in 2013 / 2014.

Sigrun Mjoll Halldorsdottir's, Ph.D, research was in collaboration with the University of Iceland and the University of Florida, in the field of bioactive peptides that are created from fish protein, but the results of the research indicates that bioactive fish peptides have a positive effect on people's health, even more so than the traditional nutritional value.

There are opportunities for bioactive peptides as an ingredient in food supplements, sold at high prices in the fast-growing health market. Sigrun has, among other things, produced peptides from isolated protein from fish muscle (isolates), isolated with using an acid-alkaline method. Thereby allowing for the production of protein out of otherwise underutilized raw material, and to increase its value significantly. Also, oxidization is a great problem when producing peptides, and Sigrun has focused on following the oxidization that takes place due to an enzymatic hydrolysis. A number of bioactive components of the final product are measured, such as the antioxidants, and the effects that lower blood pressure and improve the immune system. Isolated chemicals from Icelandic bladder wrack have been used as antioxidants to resist the oxidization.

Research and development of the antioxidant chemicals from bladder wrack have been ongoing at Matís for quite a while, stretching out to Norway, with Ingrid Undeland, Ph.D., leading the way. Sigrun's research has caused deserved attention in, among other places, India and China. Sigrun has been offered to hold lectures in conferences in 2012 in India (International Conference on Environmental Security for Food and Health) and in China (2nd Annual World Congress of Marine Biotechnology 2012). Also there have been requests for collaboration from Ph.D. students in the USA and Thailand. Sigrun plans to graduate early 2013.

For more information, contact Gudjon Thorkelsson, Director of Food Production and Education.