Malaysian researcher Dr Noor Liyana Yusof is fast becoming an internet phenomenon, thanks to the research findings from her PhD thesis, which made headlines in Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan earlier this month. Pic by NSTP

MALAYSIAN researcher Dr Noor Liyana Yusof is fast becoming an internet phenomenon, thanks to the research findings from her PhD thesis, which made headlines in Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan earlier this month.

Noor Liyana, 30, who recently completed her doctoral studies in food technology at Lund University in Sweden, sought for a way to make spinach safe to be consumed by young children, particularly infants.

The article on her findings is quickly gaining viral status on social media platforms, including Facebook.

Spinach is a nutritious vegetable, but is not recommended for infants because of its nitrate content. Noor Liyana's thesis - Vacuum Impregnation of Spinach Tissue: Metabolic Consequences and their Potential Industrial Applications - presents a simple method capable of reducing the nitrate content by up to 70 per cent.

Nitrate is a common nutrient for plants and is therefore also present in other leafy green vegetables, such as arugula and chard. Nitrate can be converted into toxic substances when processed in our bodies which reduce the transport of oxygen, especially in infants.

Noor Liyana developed a method via the use of sugar and vacuum, which modifies the metabolism in the spinach leaves in such a way that nitrate is broken down.

The method, the newspaper report said, stimulates the metabolic activity by which the leaves convert nitrate into proteins. The energy needed to do this is normally retrieved from the leaf’s store of ordinary sugar.

“Placing the leaves in a sugar solution and then vacuum-treating them forces the sugar molecules to get into the leaves, stimulating their metabolism, so that the nitrates are reduced”, said Noor Liyana in the interview.

The process does not make the spinach more calorific, as the sugar molecules are metabolized together with the nitrate. The type of sugar used is of no consequence.

Noor Liyana said the technique is cost-efficient, and vacuum treatment is already used in some cases to pre-treat fruit and vegetables.

Noor Liyana's study of the metabolism of spinach were conducted in collaboration with supervisor Federico Gomez, food technology senior lecturer, and Allan Rasmusson, plant physiologist at the Department of Biology, Lund University.

Noor Liyana hails from Kuala Terengganu. She went to Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sultan Sulaiman in Kuala Terengganu and later attended Kolej Matrikulasi Negeri Sembilan in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan. She obtained a degree in Food Science And Technology from Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Noor Liyana has a masters degree in food technology from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

She is now back in UPM as a lecturer and researcher.

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