Food Scientist Credits UGA Instructors for Her Success
By Sharon Omahen
Photos by Kevin Liles
When Anna Resurreccion was a University of the Philippines student, she discovered her academic strong suit. "I was good at chemistry and math, and I wanted to become a chemical engineer," recalls Resurreccion, now a professor in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' Food Science and Technology Department.
So why isn't she a chemical engineer?
A native of the Philippines, Resurreccion was the daughter of a civil engineer and a university professor. Her mother's position as dean of fi ne arts at the University of the Philippines allowed Resurreccion and her five siblings to attend middle school and high school on the university campus.
It was no surprise that she would pursue a career in academe. "My mother was the first female full professor of fine arts at the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts," she said. "And I was the first female full professor in the UGA Food Science and Technology Department. I am told, but have not verified, that I may well be the first female full professor in the CAES."
To academically prepare their children, Resurreccion's parents taught them to speak English as their first language. "We learned English before we learned Pilipino," she remembers. "English was the medium of instruction, and my mother knew that if we spoke (English) at home, we'd think in English."
In college, Resurreccion's mother's male colleagues discouraged her from pursuing a career as a chemical engineer, despite her aptitude. "My mother's good friends who were professors in the chemistry department told me it wasn't a field that was open to women," she said. "They said I wouldn't be accepted as an equal by the male graduates, so they suggested I try food technology. And I'm very glad they did."
Becoming a food technology student required, and allowed, Resurreccion to take the chemistry classes she loved. After earning a bachelor's degree in food technology, she worked in the food industry for a few months before being lured back into academe.
"There was an opening at the University (of the Philippines) as an instructor," she said. For two years, she taught courses while continuing to focus on her ultimate goal of attending graduate school in the United States.
While awaiting word on U.S. assistantships, Resurreccion received a Colombo Plan Fellowship and enrolled in a food technology graduate diploma program at the University of New South Wales in Australia. When the two-year program ended, she packed her bags and headed back to the Philippines.
"When I arrived at the airport, my husband said, 'Don’t unpack your bags. We're going to the U.S.,'" she said. Resurreccion's husband, Reynaldo, was also studying in Australia while applying for assistantships in avian medicine. He was awarded a Cornell University Fellowship and Cornell allowed him to attend UGA. He knew Georgia was the best place to go to study poultry.
"Fortunately, the Cornell program recognized this and allowed him to attend UGA," she said. "And I knew UGA had a very strong food science department, even as early as 1969." So the couple headed for 'Dawg Country.'
A member of the Philippine chapter of the Institute of Food Technologists, Resurreccion knew that IFT leaders like John Ayres and John Powers were UGA professors. "I had read about them in journals, and I was in awe," she said. "They had published extensively and were some of the most famous food scientists in the country and the world."
Once at UGA, Resurreccion completed a master's degree in nutrition from what was then the College of Home Economics. She fondly remembers her major professor, William Caster.
"He took a chance on me and gave me an assistantship to synthesize triglycerides and work on fatty acid metabolism," she said. "He was very precise and demanding, but he had five sons, and always treated me like the daughter he never had. After I proved to him that I knew chemistry, I couldn't do anything wrong in his eyes — so much so that he encouraged me to pursue a PhD in food science."
Resurreccion followed his advice and earned a food science doctorate, working with Phillip Koehler on a project on toxicity of a mold from country-cured hams. "I was Dr. Koehler's first PhD student, and since he worked with Dr. John Ayres' group, so did I," she said. "Dr. Ayres had a $1 million grant from NIH (National Institutes of Health), and he became the president of IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be working under him. I felt really grounded by his knowledge of the field."
In 1983, after four years of teaching and extension work as an assistant professor at Penn State, and a year as a human nutrition specialist with Auburn's Cooperative Extension Service, Resurreccion returned to Georgia as a researcher in the CAES Food Science and Technology Department. "The faculty members who educated me gave me the preparation in nutrition and food science to handle any job that was out there for me," she said. "They gave me the tools to be able to regroup and build a research program."
That’s exactly what Resurreccion does for the college in consumer sensory science. She credits the creation of the program to her former department head, Tommy Nakayama, who led the Griffin Food Science and Technology Department.
At the time, much of the research on new food products was conducted due to oversupply of certain crops, or the new products were created to get rid of industry by-products, Resurreccion said. "No wonder, few of the products were successful in the marketplace.
"Dr. Nakayama had the foresight to realize this wasn’t the right way of thinking," Resurreccion said. "He claimed we should first ask the consumers what they want and need, then use this information to create products that will be successful in the marketplace."
Nakayama mentored Resurreccion a few minutes a day for six months while she developed her new program. "A department head's job is to make sure his or her faculty members are on the right track," she said. "And every single one of Dr. Nakayama's faculty members was successful. Drs. Beuchat, Chinnan, Shewfelt, Hung and I are all IFT Fellows."
Building the program from the ground up, Resurreccion has become world-renowned in the field. She has published two books widely used by the food industry and has written 130 refereed journal articles and more than 500 scientific and technical articles. She has led or co-led grant-funded projects of more than $8.5 million.
Looking back over her 23 years of food science research, Resurreccion says the projects that mean the most to her are those that have helped children and the impoverished. "The projects that have helped people who can’t help themselves are the ones that are dearest to my heart," she said.
- Research that has placed Vitamin A-fortified peanut butter on store shelves, providing an affordable way to deliver Vitamin A in countries where over 35 percent of pre-school children are deficient, causing many to lose their eyesight.
- A new process for peanuts that increases the amount of resveratrol, an antioxidant proven to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's Disease. The peanuts Resurreccion modifies have up to 12.3 times as much resveratrol as red wine.
- A sorting process for peanuts that reduces the level of aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen. Aflatoxin contamination is a food safety threat in countries such as Africa and South Asia. The sorting process eliminates aflatoxin from peanut products.
- A new peanut beverage that contains 50 times the antioxidant capacity of blueberries. The new product has twice the antioxidant capacity of green tea.
Projects like these have immediate worldwide impact, she said, because they have direct health benefits and dramatically increase the value of peanuts. They're attracting new industries into Georgia, too, she said, because of the quantity and quality of the peanuts grown here.
Resurreccion and other members of the CAES Griffin campus Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center will display their newest food products during this year's Sunbelt Expo Oct. 17-19 in Moultrie, Ga.