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Top European Award for Lipid Research

20 May 2014

Prof John Harwood

Professor John Harwood from the School of Biosciences has been awarded the 2014 Chevreul Medal by the Société Française pour l’Etude des Lipides.  This is regarded generally as the top European award for lipid research.  It is given to ‘Internationally renowned scientists from academic or industrial sectors who have greatly and significantly contributed to a better knowledge of lipids, oils and fats through their outstanding research activities.’

Michel Chevreul was a giant amongst French scientists.  Amongst other achievements, he elucidated the chemical structure of soaps, discovered cholesterol and proposed the theory of the simultaneous contrast of colours.  The latter observation was exploited spectacularly by the French impressionists.  Chevreul was active in his laboratory at the age of 100! (http://lipidlibrary.aocs.org/history/chevreul)

Professor Harwood will present his medal lecture at the European Federation of Lipid Science and Technology meeting in Montpellier later in the year.

Professor Harwood’s research also attracted recognition earlier in the year when he was made a 2013 Fellow of the Institute of Biocatalysis and Biotechnology (ISBAB), the international organisation that highlights the contributions of basic research to biotechnological applications and advances, and an Academian of the World Academy of Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology. He has also been elected a Fellow of the American Oil Chemists Society 2014, a rare honour as numbers are strictly limited.

Professor Harwood was recognised for two aspects of his research; his work on improvement of oil crops and the role of dietary lipids for good health.

​Oil crops are a very important agricultural commodity and Professor Harwood’s group have studied how regulation of oil accumulation is controlled using novel quantitative methods. Their application of flux control analysis to key crops like oil palm, oilseed rape and soybean has been world-leading with major international commercial and governmental bodies adopting the methodology for enhancement of oil crop strains. These three crops alone produce oil worth $135billion and are of vital economic importance.

Plants (and algae) produce polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which are essential components of our diet.  Harwood's lab have studied the efficacy of n-3 PUFAs in the prevention and/or treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases - Alzheimers, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.  This research has delineated some of the molecular mechanisms involved.

​Professor Harwood said: "It is an honour to receive these prestigious awards in recognition of my continuing work in lipid biochemistry. Our studies demonstrate the importance of this type of research to the challenges of food security and nutritional health worldwide."