Tuesday 7 March 2023

Toxins 2022 Young Investigator Award

The scientist Paz Otero Fuertes, from the Agricultural and Food Research Group of the University of Vigo, has just been distinguished by Toxins magazine as the best young researcher of the year 2022. This award, the Toxins 2022 Young Investigator Award, is given each year to a scientist or junior scientist in recognition of her excellence in the field of toxinology, the branch of toxicology that studies biological toxins, that is, produced by animals, plants or microorganisms.

The jury values that the candidates have developed innovative research and made an important contribution to the advancement of toxinology and knowledge about all types of toxins and, in the case of Paz Otero, they emphasize that he has participated in multiple research projects and published 56 scientific articles, from which 20 are as first author or corresponding author; ten book chapters, four of them as main author; ten conference proceedings, as well as having a Hirsch index of 27.

This award is a recognition of his entire professional career, developed first at the University of Santiago de Compostela, then at the Limerick Institute of Technology and the Autonomous University of Madrid and, finally, at UVigo. His work focuses on the field of food safety, toxinology, pharmacology, marine bioactive compounds, microalgae, purification or phycotoxins, cyanotoxins and mycotoxins. Although this is the first distinction she has received since she arrived at the University of Vigo, she was previously the recipient, during her stay in Ireland, of an award from the Irish Research Council.

At UVigo since 2020

Paz Otero has been, since December 2020, a researcher in the Department of Analytical and Food Chemistry, specifically in the Agricultural and Food Research Group (AA1), where they are managing "a new laboratory to be able to continue growing as a research group and being able to develop new projects and lines of research", as the scientist reports.

Before his arrival at UVigo, Otero worked on two European projects of the Espazo Atlántico Program focused on discovering new marine compounds on the Atlantic coast (Pharmatlantic 2009-1/117 and Atlantox 2008-1/), both at the University of Santiago de Compostela. In addition, she was selected by the Irish Research Council (IRC) with the project Dettox: Production, extraction, and detection systems for new marine phycotoxins in Europe, of which she was the main researcher, focused on the detection of marine toxins.

He is currently working on the development of a sustainable and profitable production process for the recycling of by-products of olives, grapes and almonds into four natural and healthy ingredients for nutraceutical and cosmetic applications, in the context of the "ambitious" European project UP4Health. This initiative is driven by a consortium of ten European institutions, in which, in addition to UVigo, Isanatur (coordinator), Contactica, Laboratorios Amerex, Aurora Intelligent Nutrition and Indukern, from Spain, participate; Zade Vital, from Turkey; Biozoon, from Germany; the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, from Portugal, and the Technological University Dublin, from Ireland. As the researcher explains, "the by-products generated as a result of the processing of these foods are a valuable source of bioactive compounds and have demonstrated interesting antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties". These four ingredients that researchers look for in these products are natural polyphenol-rich aqueous fruit extract, polyphenol-enriched dietary fiber, natural fruit oil extracts, and oligosaccharides.

Impact of climate change on food security

Paz Otero values the reception of this award as "something very positive to give visibility in society to the impact of natural toxins" and, in general, to put the focus "on the research that is carried out in the area of toxinology", since from his point of view in view "there is a lack of knowledge about mycotoxins, biotoxins and how they reach seafood and crops and their impact on health". In this sense, Otero points out that climate change is expected to "affect the safety of food and feed, including the appearance of new emerging natural toxins", so this is precisely "a 'trending topic' in the area of nutrition and technology of food”.

Receiving this award means for the UVigo researcher a cash prize of 2000 Swiss francs as well as the publication of a work in the journal Toxins after peer review before the end of December 2023 and an electronic certificate.