LAS CRUCES – Gone are the dated counters and cabinets that made up a former lab room in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Family and Consumer Sciences department, housed inside Gerald Thomas Hall at New Mexico State University.
Where students once crammed inside what was mainly a kitchen-type environment is now a clean, white, spacious science lab where graduate students can now conduct their research and have new equipment within their reach.
Departmental research is also benefitting from the new lab, said Efren Delgado, assistant food science and technology professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“We used to call it the orange kitchen,” said Delgado jokingly. “It was more geared towards the concept of home economics classes at that time, so students learned cooking. It’s a totally new concept now.”
Renovations started in February 2019 for the new food microbiology lab, which houses classes for the food science and technology and human nutrition programs. The renovations were completed in time for classes beginning in fall 2019.
Funding for the renovations came from the university, but the department is currently searching for a donor who is interested in naming the lab and providing funds for new equipment.
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“Students have access now to pressured gas and a vacuum that they can use for class and for research,” Delgado said. “We have more space because before we were sharing one lab for food chemistry and food microbiology. Now, we have separate labs so students can do different types of research in the different labs. We prevent cross-contamination from the food microbiology lab into the chemistry lab and the other way around.”
The lab has also helped Delgado work with students on some of his research. Currently, Delgado and his research team are working with the cotton and chile industries on extracting bioactive compounds from industrial waste.
“We take waste that these industries produce and extract phenolic compounds, such as proteins from the cottonseed,” Delgado said.
Their research has led to the development of a new, non-GMO protein that may be used as an animal protein substitute in food products. Delgado is also conducting research with aquaculture, developing new feed products for shrimp.
“We substitute all of the shrimp meal with plant protein from the cotton. We have positive results right now,” Delgado said. “We have really good growth in the shrimp. Now that we’ve reached that level, we’re going to analyze how the new plant protein affects the microbiota of the shrimp, if it changes or not, and if it affects the fatty acid content of the end product of the shrimp and the amino acid distribution within the muscle of the shrimp.”
A project Delgado and plant science Ph.D. student Govinda Sapkota are working on is extracting phenolic compounds of the jujube fruit, which is native to Asia, to create new functional foods that can help prevent certain types of cancers or even high blood pressure.
“We take the phenolic compounds of the jujube fruit, which is one of the fruits with the highest amount of the phenolic compounds, we extract them, and we microencapsulate those compounds to protect them from oxidation so they can be active through a long period of time,” said Delgado. “Once they are protected, we can incorporate it into food products such as salami or burger type of meats, and bread products or even tortilla products, which will have a high amount of phenolic compounds, antioxidants and healthy products.”
Sapkota has been working with Delgado on his research since he started his Ph.D. two years ago. Sapkota says the jujube is a new crop to New Mexico, and is very beneficial to human health.
“My project basically deals with the dynamics of nutrients in the jujube with different maturity status, what stages of maturity the nutrient is highest in jujubes,” Sapkota said. “I’m also comparing the nutrient content of jujubes from different locations in New Mexico, which includes Leyendecker, Los Lunas and Alcalde.”
The research project is being conducted in cooperation with NMSU associate professor and Extension fruit specialist Shengrui Yao.
“EYE ON RESEARCH” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Adriana M. Chávez of University Communications. Adriana M. Chávez can be reached at 575-646-1957, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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