The next course

Dundee academic David Boxer is moving on to pastures new by taking charge of the Institute of Food Research

January 22, 2009

Now that the results of the research assessment exercise are out, those responsible for their institutions' RAE submissions could be forgiven for taking things easy. However, David Boxer, vice-principal of the University of Dundee, is seeking fresh challenges.

Professor Boxer, a microbial biochemist at Dundee for more than 30 years, is moving to Norwich as director of the Institute of Food Research (IFR). The appointment was made jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the University of East Anglia, where he will be professor of microbial metabolism.

"Dundee is doing very well and I felt ready to move on," Professor Boxer said. "The directorship is the primary responsibility, but the bigger picture is that there's a collaboration with UEA, which has world-leading environmental science, a large university trust hospital and the John Innes Centre, a leading plant science institute."

The IFR aims to be a world leader in helping to harness food for health and controlling food-related diseases. Professor Boxer said its partnerships meant there is a critical mass of experts available to take the science forward.

"It should be a good platform for getting investment from other sources, (such as) the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency," he said. "Food has probably not had the investment it required in the past, but in the past two or three years there has been increasing awareness of the relationship between health and diet."

Professor Boxer said the IFR has "outstanding capacity" to research the human gut, investigating everything from food allergies to the mass of micro-organisms necessary to extract nutrition from food.

"There are a large number of things we don't really understand, such as food allergies. They require more work to understand the basic mechanisms. There's a lot of interest these days in foodstuffs that have a beneficial effect, (but) it's difficult ... to substantiate these things."

Professor Boxer said another key research area is food-borne pathogens and food safety to minimise risks in food processing. "A vast number of (working) days a year are lost from food poisoning."

The IFR is also researching ways of preventing the nutritional value of food from deteriorating.

"(It) is one of the few places in the world that has the infrastructure to address these things," he said.

Professor Boxer succeeds David White, IFR director since 2004, on 23 March.

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