A screenshot from Erin Goldberg’s winning entry to the NSERC competition.
The public has voted, the judges’ scores have been tallied and the results are in. The 15 winners of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Science, Action! video contest have been revealed. Jewish community member and University of Manitoba student Erin Goldberg joined McGill’s Ira Sutherland and University of Guelph’s Morgan Jackson in the top three.
Goldberg, a survivor of childhood cancer, is now 26. She has always gravitated to the sciences, she said. “I especially love biology and chemistry so, naturally, that was always a part of my education. I was able to take my first nutrition course at the U of W [University of Winnipeg], which solidified my interest in the subject. After switching to the U of M [because of their nutrition program], I fell in love with it.”
Goldberg is an animal lover who enjoys doing yoga in her spare time. She began taking university courses at the age of 15 at the U of W Collegiate, and graduated a year early by doing course work through the summers. She is currently preparing to defend her thesis at U of M.
Goldberg has always been a creative person and enjoys translating her research in a way that is understandable to laypeople, she said, so she was ready for the NSERC competition. She also had participated in the 2013 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis) competition at U of M, which involved explaining her research in basic terms in three minutes. Regardless, she said she was still apprehensive about the NSERC competition; it is open to any student in Canada holding an NSERC grant, which numbers in the thousands. “I didn’t know what to expect,” said Goldberg, who said she was ecstatic when she learned that her video was one of the 32 chosen to move to the second round.
On April 7, she received notification that she was a winner. The email read, “After careful consideration by our panel of judges, your video was selected as one of the top three entries (English submissions). They felt your video told a compelling story and exhibited an exceptional grasp of quality science communication.” Besides the recognition, Goldberg will receive a $3,000 prize.
Goldberg’s 60-second video explains her latest research project, which was funded through NSERC. It involved feeding hempseed and hempseed oil to hens to enrich their eggs with omega-3. “Ironically, humans are allowed to consume hemp, but we can’t feed it to livestock, due to concerns over THC accumulation [the psychoactive compound in marijuana],” said Goldberg about the hempseed feed. “There is actually a very miniscule trace of THC in most hemp products, so there is really little risk, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires several research trials to prove this, which is what our lab group is doing.”
Goldberg’s research proved that these two ingredients are safe and effective, even at the highest possible dose, and that there is no risk in feeding hempseed to chickens. In subsequent research trials, Goldberg designed different vegetable oil blends to boost the levels of DHA in eggs. “We found that feeding a higher ratio of saturated fat, called linoleic acid (an omega-6) and oleic acid (on omega-9), can reduce the competition between omega-3 and -6, leading to greater deposition of these critical fatty acids.”
In her thesis, Goldberg examined the impact designer diets have on the fatty acids and sensory properties of the eggs of laying hens. She was able to create omega-3 eggs using novel ingredient blends (like hemp, canola and flax), and then test the egg yolk for fat profile, aroma and flavor. The egg white remains the same regardless of what you feed the bird, so the changes only occur in the yolk, she explained.
Goldberg’s interdisciplinary research was conducted at U of M’s Fort Garry campus, in the poultry barn in the animal science, food science and human ecology buildings. She completed some of her research at the Saint Boniface Research Centre, as well.
“I love that it is interdisciplinary research,” said Goldberg. “I combine my interest in sensory with analytical work. I’m fully involved from start to finish, and like that I can combine my love of animals (i.e. taking care of my birds) with my analytical work.”
Although the cancer that Goldberg had as a 6-year-old was spontaneous, she said she believes that diet plays a major role in the development of many diseases, including Type-2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, such as colon and breast cancer. “I believe in disease prevention through maintaining a healthy lifestyle, (including a proper diet), which would also ease the burden on our medical system,” said Goldberg. “Because I love educating people, I also teach an undergraduate nutrition course at the U of M, called Food – Facts and Fallacies.”
Goldberg feels is it critical to focus on omega-3s. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in our diet,” she said. “We must consume them in our food. They are critical for normal growth and development, and have a large impact in reducing inflammation in the body, which can prevent the development and progression of numerous diseases.
“A lot of research has focused on the health benefits of the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA in particular, which play a key role in brain and eye health, as omega-3s contribute to membrane fluidity. These fats are especially critical in a child’s proper development.”
The benefits spread across the lifespan, but in infant/child development, they are mainly related to cognitive/visual function and, in adults, the major benefits are mostly in the progression or prevention of Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Omega-3s can also lower triglycerides.
Research has shown that the best source of available omega-3 comes from fatty fish, like wild salmon; farmed fish have significantly less. Omega-3-enriched eggs are an excellent source for those who cannot or do not consume fish, for example, if someone is allergic to fish or is vegetarian. They are a safe, economically viable alternative.
“You can also get omega-3s from plant foods, like hemp, flax, walnuts, canola oil and chia seed,” said Goldberg, of those who prefers to get their omegas through vegan sources. “But, your body must convert a proportion of ALA into the longer-chain EPA and DHA, and this is inefficient (and possibly insufficient) in most adults.
“In omega-3 eggs, if you choose eggs from hens fed both flax and fish oil, you’re getting a great source of both ALA and EPA/DHA. My dietary blends help to eliminate the need for fish oil in the hen diet (which is expensive), because the laying hen can convert more ALA to EPA/DHA than can humans.”
Goldberg feels it is critical to encourage women to enter the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and to pursue advanced education. She believes the payoff is well worth the investment. “I’d also encourage people to think critically about the nutrition messages they hear in the media,” she said. “When in doubt, look to the research or consult a dietician for nutrition advice.
“I also recommend people use supplements with caution. Sometimes it’s necessary (like taking Vitamin D3 supplements, because we do not get enough sunshine) but, in general, I recommend people consume whole foods first and use supplements to supplement a healthy diet, not to replace it.
“Functional foods, like omega-3 eggs, are a great way to consume foods that are enhanced with certain nutrients to protect against diseases and maintain a healthy body.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.