Saturday, August 14, 2010

Carotenoids, Sweet Potatoes, Davis.

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. Well, you know how the end of school is... First we have all the end of year activities, then we have to study for finals, and then summer vacation is so busy that it seems to not even really be a vacation.
This summer I participated in a summer program to do research at Davis. It was a wonderful experience; I made great friends and I got to see what life in a lab really is. I was assigned to a lab working with carotenoids (think: beta-carotene) and vitamin A in food. My parents thought this was perfect for me :)
I expected to just be a lab helper for other researchers, but my lab professor actually gave me a project of my own to work on. My project was to develop a method to determine the effect of the pH of digestive juices on the bioaccessibility of beta-carotene in sweet potatoes using in vitro digestion. Sounds cool, eh?
In normal-speak this means: try to find a way, using a simulated digestion, to see whether making saliva or gastric juice more acid or basic would affect the amount of beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor) that comes out of the sweet potato during the digestion. I hope that makes more sense.

Anyways, this project was cool. I got to take sweet potatoes and boil them and mash them (and stick 'em in a stew?) Then I pretty much much spent my days doing in vitro digestion, which is digestion in a glass vial that simulates human conditions. My data at the end was rather terrible, but I did find one thing: beta-carotene degrades REALLY fast when it is in a water based solution.

And when I say sweet potatoes, I mean both orange- and white-fleshed sweet potatoes. Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are generally referred to as "yams" in the US, but they are not yams. Yams are a completely different type of plant.

Above is a yam. Below is an orange sweet potato. They are different.

And here are some pictures of my lab:

The electronic balance


Some of my samples

Digestive solutions

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