AgriFutures™ Rice Program researcher spotlight: Esther Callcott

24.10.19

With funding from AgriFutures™ Rice Program, Charles Sturt University and Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains PhD student Esther Callcott is working with Functional Grains Centre Director Professor Chris Blanchard and her peers to investigate “Next Generation Healthy Rice”.

As part of this project, Esther’s PhD has identified the potential for using Australian-grown coloured or pigmented rice as a functional food to combat some of the health risk factors associated with lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Esther is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Centre Scholarship.

AgriFutures Australia sat down with Esther to learn about her research and the potential market opportunities for coloured rice in Australia.

Obesity is significantly correlated to the development of lifestyle diseases (such as type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer). Obese populations tend to higher levels of inflammation and free-radical damage making them more susceptible to developing lifestyle diseases.

Pigmented rice is rich in bioactive compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are micronutrients obtained through some plant-based foods and have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.

My study investigated if the polyphenols from pigmented rice can reduce obesity-related free radical (unstable atoms produced in the body that damage cells) damage and inflammation and increase antioxidant activity to prevent the development of lifestyle diseases associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What has your research shown?

The research profiled the polyphenol content and antioxidant activity in Australian grown rice varieties. I also tested the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in cell cultures and in clinical trials involving healthy weight and obese people.

Key findings:

  • Australian-grown coloured rice is rich in bioactive compounds called polyphenols
  • Red and purple/black varieties are most abundant in polyphenol content
  • Polyphenols from Australian-grown coloured rice has high antioxidant potential.
  • Polyphenols from Australian-grown coloured rice increases antioxidant activity in cell-culture based obesity studies
  • Polyphenols from Australian-grown coloured rice reduces inflammation and free-radical damage in biological cell-culture based models of obesity.
  • When consumed, one cup of red or purple/black rice increased antioxidant activity in healthy and obese populations
  • When consumed, one cup of red or purple/black rice decreased inflammation and free-radical damage biomarkers in healthy and obese populations.

Why is this research project important? 

This research will be able to provide consumers with scientific evidence that the consumption of pigmented rice can help reduce risk factors associated with obesity and the development of lifestyle diseases. This information would allow consumers to make healthier diet choices.

It’s hoped that this may lead to a rise in consumer demand paving the way for increased production and the cultivation of pigmented rice varieties rich in bioactive compounds that can be sold at a premium — delivering better financial return to the farmer. There is also potential for the Australian rice industry to expand into Northern Australia, as some of these pigmented rice varieties prefer the warmer Australian climate.

Why did you get involved in the project?

As a Medical Biochemist my passion has always been medical science and I have a great love for all things food! However, being a farmer’s daughter, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Australian farmers and understand the tough job they have in feeding the country. This project combines all three areas of science, food and agriculture into a PhD at the Functional Grains Centre. It was an opportunity that I was not going to miss.

What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice I got was “have a path BUT be flexible”. If I stuck to the medical science “genre”, I would have never encountered the opportunities I have experienced. By being flexible, I have had the opportunity to encompass, medical science, agriculture and food into my research and contribute to the Australian rice industry, which is made up of the most wonderful, welcoming people I have ever met. This advice has allowed me to keep an open-mind and visualise how my skills can assist research projects to provide beneficial research outcomes.

Read more about AgriFutures™ Rice Program agrifutures.com.au/rice

Lauren Sharkey, AgriFutures Australia, Manager, Communications & Capacity Building

lauren.sharkey@agrifutures.com.au | 02 6923 6916 | 0409 966 182