Highly cited researcher upcycles fruit by-products for natural, sustainable preservatives

In November each year, we celebrate the exceptional performance of some of the most cited researchers on the planet. Our Highly Cited Researchers™ 2020 announcement is fast approaching, and in anticipation of this prestigious event, we reached out to some of the influential researchers named in previous years.


In this interview, we speak with a leading food engineer, Renata Valeriano Tonon, from Embrapa Agroindústria de Alimentos in Brazil. Renata works with raw vegetable materials and agro-industrial residues to create natural, sustainable ingredients for the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.


How does it feel to be one of the most highly cited researchers on the planet?

I was very happy to know that my work and dedication for so many years have been recognized worldwide, and it was very gratifying to see my name on the same list of renowned researchers that I have always considered as references. In the current scenario of the country, with all the obstacles that we have faced in research and the devaluation of the science we are experiencing, this recognition, besides being gratifying, is an incentive. It shows Brazil’s potential in quality science.


Why is your research important and how does it affect the general public? 

Food research tends to attract a lot of interest from the general public. Nowadays, consumers are increasingly aware of the effects of food on their health and, consequently, are more demanding. In my research group, we have been working on the development of natural ingredients with antioxidant and antimicrobial capacity, such as extracts obtained from fruits or their by-products. These can be used as natural preservatives by the food industry, replacing synthetic preservatives, and also as functional ingredients, with potential benefits to the consumer’s health.


“Nowadays, consumers are increasingly aware of the effects of food on their health and, consequently, are more demanding.”


Was there a specific moment that sparked your interest in this topic? 

My interest in studying the effect of processing on fruit quality was sparked in my scientific initiation, which I did between the third and fifth year of graduation. At the time, I studied the effect of the osmotic dehydration process on the quality of cashew slices, focusing on vitamin C content. From that first experience, I became interested in the potential for adding value that could be conferred on fruits through different processing. I did my masters in that same line of research. At the beginning of my doctorate, I studied microencapsulation and fell in love with the subject. So, I developed my thesis on this topic, using açaí as a raw material to obtain a powdered product with high antioxidant potential. These papers were widely disseminated and, since then, this has been one of the main focal points of my research.


How has the scientific landscape in your field of study changed over the years – and where do you predict it will go? 

As I mentioned earlier, consumers are more and more concerned and conscious about their food. Thus, I believe that studies focused on the effect of food processing on human health is a trend that will continue to grow. There is also a greater awareness by the general public in relation to the environment. With this in mind, the use of more sustainable processes, with less energy expenditure and less polluting waste generation, has been gaining prominence. This is both in the scientific community and in the industrial sector.


“The use of more sustainable processes, with less energy expenditure and less polluting waste generation, has been gaining prominence.”


What qualities do you look for in a doctoral student? 

Two characteristics that I consider very important for a doctoral student are initiative and scientific curiosity. I think it is essential that the student work hard to get to know the subject in which they are going to be a doctor, and be able to propose solutions to the “problem” that they intend to solve in their thesis, as well as defend their ideas. It is also important that the student has writing skills, as these are essential to publicizing their work and arousing the interest of the scientific community. This practice can be acquired naturally when one has the habit of reading.


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At Clarivate, we believe that human ingenuity and research like Renata’s can change the world and improve our future. Learn more about the Clarivate commitment to sustainability, or read our recent analysis of the bioplastics innovation landscape.