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Academy student’s research on sea urchins features in prestigious journal

Psammechinus miliaris pigments have been found to have anti-oxidant qualities
"Pigments extracted from the urchin shells were found to have anti-oxidant qualities, with the potential to be used as all-natural, food-grade preservatives, to prolong the shelf life of food

A young scientist has got his career off to a flying start by having his work from a summer project published in renowned journal LWT - Food Science and Technology. Connor Powell, from Breadalbane Academy in Perth, was supervised by Dr Gordon McDougall, from the James Hutton Institute Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group, in collaboration with The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), and investigated the presence and properties of pigments found in Scotland’s sea urchins.

The project was part of a Nuffield Research Placement Scheme, in association with Steminspire, an organisation that aims to inform young people of available opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Connor was able to extract pigments of various colours from the urchin shells; these pigments were found to have anti-oxidant qualities, with the potential to be used as all-natural, food-grade preservatives, to prolong the shelf life of food.

Connor took extractions from the shells of urchins from a variety of locations and tidal levels, to determine the effects of these factors on the colour of the pigments. From this, he was able to define the reasoning for the different pigments, for example, the need for camouflage, or protection from solar radiance and varying water levels.

Dr McDougall, who supervised Connor’s work, said: “He was the ideal Nuffield student – enthusiastic, committed and talented. He did a great job, got some really nice data and I’m pleased to see that he has gone on to specialise in Chemistry at University”.
Not only was Connor’s work published on a prestigious scientific journal, but his report was also chosen as an exemplar for chemistry and biology by Steminspire.

Dr Frances Chapman, Steminspire’s website manager, commented: “I chose Connor's report as an excellent example of a "cross-discipline" project between chemistry and biology, highlighting the link between two of the major research institutes in Scotland, the James Hutton Institute and SAMS.

“The aim of Connor's project is clearly set out in the report, with the introduction, methods and results and discussion sections written very well, with good use of photographs and graphs. I also felt his report was an excellent showcase of the very high standard of work that the majority of the Nuffield students can achieve in a short period of time.”

Notes to editors

Paper: “Extraction and identification of antioxidant polyhydroxynaphthoquinone pigments from the sea urchin, Psammechinus miliaris,” LWT - Food Science and Technology, DOI: 10.1016/j.lwt.2014.05.016. In collaboration with The Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Dunbeg, Oban, Argyll PA37 1AQ, Scotland, UK.

Steminspire is an organisation that aims to inform young people of Scotland of the opportunities available in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Scheme aims to provide post-16 year old school or college students with an opportunity to carry out research or development projects in any STEM-related disciplines. 

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.