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Gordon McDougall

Staff picture: Gordon McDougall
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
Research Scientist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Current research interests

There is increasing evidence that non-nutrient components of fruit and vegetables (FAV) may have key roles in providing the health benefits associated with diets rich in FAV. The main thrust of my research examines the possibility that phytochemicals in plant foods can influence human health. The focus has been on soft fruit, particularly on polyphenols in berries, as there is already evidence for the effectiveness of these components from other foods and beverages and berries are a particularly rich and palatable source.

My research has four main overlapping and interdependent areas:

  • Establishment of bioactivities relevant to human health for berry polyphenols
  • Analysis of the composition of polyphenols in bioactive extracts to confirm structure-activity relationships for effectiveness and to assess the stability and bioavailability of active components in the human body
  • Development of high through-put methods to analyse the inheritance of bioactive polyphenols in berries, to link the ‘health' phenotype to the genotype of The James Hutton Institute’s elite germplasm collection.
  • Assess environmental influences on the accumulation of levels of bioactive components.

To accrue evidence that berry phytochemicals have bioactivities that can influence human health or mitigate disease progression, I have initiated collaborations with a range of biomedical experts who have relevant model systems for cardiovascular health, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and cancers. These model systems range from in vitro enzyme screens, ex vitro cell or tissue studies to animal or human trials. I also developed key in-house screens and assays. In each case, extracts with closely defined compositions have been used and the studies include analysis of the metabolic fate of the components to define the mechanisms of action and the candidate active ingredients. In human trials, bioavailability studies of the levels of metabolites in blood, urine and faeces have been completed.

Through these studies, I have confirmed that different polyphenol components from berries can have different effects in different model systems and that overall efficacy is often decided by a combination of bioactivity, stability and longevity/bioavailability in the system. These cross-disciplinary collaborations have led to close associations particularly with the University of Ulster and the University of Dundee. These approaches are currently being applied to studies on Alzheimer’s disease through the EU-funded BrainHealthFood project.

Along with Ilka Abreu and Sean Connor, I have established novel MS based methods for following polyphenol diversity. This has enabled us to begin to link polyphenol inheritance to the genetic maps being developed for raspberry and blackcurrant by the Genetics Programme (with Rex Brennan and Julie Graham). Through this approach, we hope to enable accelerated breeding of improved varieties with elevated levels of healthy components. Importantly, I have also directed research to establish if environmental conditions influence polyphenol levels, which has informed us that certain genetic markers are consistently associated with enhanced polyphenol content across years with widely differing climatic conditions. The high-through-put methods developed have been employed to track the diversity of polyphenols from growing berries under different agronomic conditions, in different latitudes or after different processing methods with collaborators from across Europe (ClimaFruit Project). These areas form part of the new programme of work planned for the Scottish Government.

Past research

I have also been involved in studies that correlate the metabolic and molecular changes associated with aspects of food quality. For example, through close working with Mark Taylor and Rob Hancock and collaborators from the University of Colorado, we correlated changes in metabolite profiles and gene expression in coloured and non-coloured potato tuber tissues.

With industrial and University partners, I have applied our analytical capacities to solve problems associated with berry flavour, juice manufacture and the effects of processing and cooking on bioactive components from diverse sources such as seaweeds and oats (see Quoats project).

I have also applied expertise in cell wall chemistry and biochemistry to studies on potato flavour and texture led by Mark Taylor within PPFQ. We are assessing the genetic and biochemical basis of potato tuber texture by comparing differences in textural properties between Solanum tuberosum and Solanum phureja varieties. These varieties have consistent year-on-year differences in texture and cooking properties, which are correlated with differences in cell wall structure and cohesiveness. We have identified that these differences are mainly associated with subtle differences in pectin structure and localisation which directly influence cell-to-cell adhesion. Indeed, microarray analysis has identified candidate genes involved in pectin methylation and decoration whose expression has subsequently been manipulated to provide evidence for their involvement in the textural traits.

This work has involved collaborations with British Universities including Bath, Glasgow, Ulster, Dundee, Reading, Abertay, Queen Margaret, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, Strathclyde, Aberystwyth, University of the Highlands and Islands and St Andrews. International collaborations are in place with scientists from Universities and Research Institutes in, for example, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, USA and New Zealand. We also have a number of research partners in UK and European companies.


  • Logie, L.; Bacon, S.; Middleton, P.; Harthill, J.; Coats, J.; Stewart, D.; Sakamoto, K.; McDougall, G.; Rena, G. (2013) How does glucophage (metaformin) work? Investigation of the cellular action of chemical analogues., Diabetes UK Professional Conference, Manchester Central, Manchester, 13-15 March 2013.
  • McDougall, G.J.; Dobson, P.; Jordan-Mahy, N. (2010) Effect of different cooking regimes on rhubarb polyphenols., Food Chemistry, 119, 758-764.

  • McDougall, G.J. (2019) The potential role of polyphenol-enzyme interactions on human health., In: Varelis, P., Melton, L. & Shahidi, F. (eds.). Melton, L., Encyclopedia of Food Chemistry, Elsevier Reference Work, Volume 2, pp578-582.
  • Hancock, R.D.; Petridis, A.; McDougall, G.J. (2018) Raspberry fruit chemistry in relation to fruit quality and human nutrition., In: Graham, J. & Brennan, R. (eds.). Raspberry. Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland, Chapter 7, pp89-119
  • Foito, A.; McDougall, G.J.; Stewart, D. (2018) Evidence for health benefits of berries., Annual Plant Reviews, No.1, April 2018.
  • Taylor, M.A.; McDougall, G.J.; Stewart, D. (2007) Potato flavour and texture., In: Vreugdenhil, D., Bradshaw, J.E., Gebhardt, C., Govers, F., MacKerron, D.K.L. Taylor, M.A. & Ross, H.A. (eds.). Potato Biology and Biotechnology: Advances and Perspectives. Elsevier, Amsterdam, Chapter 24, pp525-540. ISBN: 978-0444510181
  • McDougall, G.J. (2000) Cell-wall-associated proteins and wall biogenesis in developing compression and non-compression woods., In: Cell and Molecular Biology of Wood Formation (eds. R. Savidge, J.R. Barnett and R. Napier). SEB Experimental Biology Reviews. BIOS Scientific Publishers, Oxford, pp411-424.
  • Richardson, A.; McDougall, G.J. (1998) Coniferyl alcohol oxidases as target enzymes for the genetic manipulation of lignin content in trees., In: Tree Biotechnology: Towards the Millennium (eds. M.R. Davey, P.G. Alderson, K.C. Lowe and J.B. Power). Nottingham University Press, pp301-313.

  • Stewart, D.; McDougall, G. (2012) Potato: a nutritious, tasty but often maligned staple food., Commissioned Review for the Food and Health Innovation Service (FHIS).
  • Stewart, D.; McDougall, G.J. (2012) The Brassicas - an undervalued nutritional and health beneficial plant family., Commissioned Review for the Food & Health Innovation Service (FHIS).
  • McDougall, G.J.; Stewart, D. (2012) Berries and Health: A review of the evidence., Commissioned Review for the Food & Health Innovation Service (FHIS)
  • Powell, C.; McDougall, G.J.; Hughes, A. (2011) Extraction and analysis of antioxidant pigments from sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris shells from intertidal and subtidal habitats., Nuffield Bursary Reports.
  • Ross, H.A.; Morris, W.L.; Ducreux, L.J.M.; Hancock, R.D.; Verrall, S.R.; Morris, J.A.; Stewart, D.; Hedley, P.E.; McDougall, G.J.; Taylor, M.A. (2011) The role of pectin methyl esterase in determining potato tuber textural quality., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2010, pp32-33.
  • McDougall, G.J.; Dobson, P. (2011) Antioxidant, polyphenol and vitamin C content of a novel juice mixture., Thomas Thomson (Blairgowrie) Ltd.
  • McDougall, G.J.; Allison, F.; Dobson, P. (2010) Antioxidant capacity of potatoes: effect of processing and cooking., Albert Bartlett Website, 5pp.
  • McDougall, G.J. (2010) Fruit components and their impact on fundamental disease mechanisims., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2009, pp29-30.
  • Stewart, D.; McDougall, G.J.; Dobson, P. (2004) The relevance of soft fruit to human nutrition., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp138-139.
  • McDougall, G.J.; Ross, H.A.; Swanston, J.S.; Davies, H.V. (2004) A novel activity for a starch debranching enzyme., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp142-143.
  • MacKinnon, L.; McDougall, G.J.; Aziz, N.; Millam, S. (2001) Progress towards transformation of fibre hemp., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2000/2001, pp84-86.
  • Richardson, A.; Deighton, N.; Duncan, J.A.; McDougall, G.J. (2000) Oxidases participate in the formation of wood., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1999/2000, pp129-131.
  • McDougall, G.J.; Morrison, I.M.; Stewart, D.; Kerby, N.W. (1995) The potential for the establishment of a centre of excellence for industrial and energy crops in Tayside., A Feasibility Study Commissioned by Scottish Enterprise Tayside.
  • Baty, A.; McDougall, G.J.; Stewart, D.; Weyers, J.R.B.; Morrison, I.M. (1994) Control of plant fibre quality: identification and characterisation of key enzymes in cell wall synthesis., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1993, pp73-77.

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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.