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: