Interview with Agata James

18 October 2010

18 Nov 2010

Agata James joined SCI in 2010. She is currently a PhD student in Professor Robert Edwards’ group based at the Centre for Bioactive Chemistry at Durham University. Agata is a member of the BioResources Group’s committee and has a keen interest in industrial biotechnology, innovation, and sustainable food production with a particular focus on developing enzymatic processes.

What is the primary focus of your research?
My work focuses on the development of natural catalysts to produce High Impact Aroma Chemicals for the flavour and fragrance industry, and commercialising the end products in collaboration with Frutarom Ltd. I am particularly interested in naturally-derived thiols and in optimising the catalytic processes required. I am also investigating the sulfur-methylation enzymes involved in secondary plant metabolism.

Are there commercial applications to your research?
Yes, partly because customers are increasingly conscious about food quality and are more likely to buy naturally-derived flavour compounds. Also recent changes in European legislation over the labelling and production of food mean that producers need to be even more specific about additives. Novel biocatalysts have a massive potential to meet this need and are safer and 'greener' alternatives to oil-derived synthetic chemicals.

What (if any) are the barriers to commercialisation? 
Inevitably not every bioreaction is going to make business sense. Cost, complexity, quality and yield are crucial factors for any successful project. And of course all products need to meet rigorous standards to be classified as completely safe and natural.

What will be your next career move?
There are a huge variety of ways to enter the professional world of biotechnology, so I'm spoiled for choice. But I'll definitely be looking for a position where I can use my biochemistry background, as well as my innovative nature and business expertise. I hope to explore some exciting innovations in applied biotechnology and bring them to the market.I also will continue my role in the BioResources Group at SCI. I am particularly keen to build up links with young researchers, increase business awareness among scientists, and deliver some exciting events.

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