Global recognition motivates UP professor and winner of esteemed TB Osborne Medal to keep using his knowledge to improve food security in Africa

Posted on October 06, 2021

Professor John Taylor, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria's Department of Consumer and Food Sciences and the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being and an internationally renowned food scientist, has recently been awarded the prestigious TB Osborne Medal by the Cereal and Grains Association (formerly the American Association of Cereal Chemists).

"I am humbled that my peers believed me deserving of this amazing award and that they were prepared to put themselves out to motivate me for it. I am deeply grateful to them. However, I know that the award is not mine alone or even mine and Dr Janet Taylor's (my research partner for more than 20 years and a great scientist and original thinker in her own right). It is deserved recognition of the contribution and deep commitment of the staff and postgraduate students of the whole Department of Consumer and Food Sciences to applying our knowledge to improve the food security of our fellow Africans," Prof Taylor commented when asked how he felt about this esteemed award.

He elaborated, "I am also acutely aware that being an academic, particularly one living in a developing country like South Africa, is a great privilege. To be reasonably well paid to pursue one's passion is something that most people could only dream about. People in my position have a huge responsibility to our society. The TB Osborne Medal has further motivated me to use my scientific and technical skills in grain science to help people in sub-Saharan Africa to create successful food processing businesses for themselves and provide employment for others."

A major theme of Prof Taylor's research has concerned sorghum's kafirin prolamin proteins. His team has made significant innovations in utilising kafirin as a bioplastic polymer and as a functional replacement for gluten in non-wheat types of bread. He has also contributed to improving African grain food nutrition in sorghum protein biofortification and essential mineral fortification.

Prof Taylor's work on sorghum malting and brewing has substantially impacted the development of the sorghum beverage industry in Africa. In addition, he has played a significant role in uplifting grain science education in Africa, supervising more than 100 masters and doctoral graduates from across the continent. His professional service has included the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology presidency, a former associate editor of Cereal Chemistry, and current editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cereal Science.

Prof Taylor still has many aspirations. "Assuming that there is a lucid next for me, I am going to be part of a team advising the Rockefeller Foundation on opportunities for innovation in staple food processing technologies in sub-Saharan Africa, intending to improve community nutrition. I am also psyching myself up to co-edit another book, this one a handbook on 21st Cereal Science and Technology. Last and not least, I am trying to 'practice what I preach' by applying my food science and technology skills to assist local entrepreneurs in producing better quality convenience-type food products."

The prestigious Osborne Medal, established in 1926 to recognise distinguished contributions in cereal chemistry, was named after the outstanding protein chemist Thomas Burr Osborne, who received the first award in 1928. This medal is awarded to an individual whose research in cereal chemistry has contributed significantly to the progress of science.

- Author Martie Meyer
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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