Lectures

Mode of delivery: Lectures, field work and symposium.

The first section, Food quality: from farm to table, mostly addresses agro-food and socio-economic questions and topics, by developing four modules:

    • 1.1 The influence of production techniques on food quality
    • 1.2 Food regulation and information for consumers
    • 1.3 Market and food consumer perceptions
    • 1.4 Tools and strategies to educate consumers

 

Despite decades of research, there remains weak evidence that the yield from crops is either limited by plant ability to photosynthesise, or by the amounts of carbon acquired.  Instead, considerable research points to a general abundance of carbon with other constraints to converting carbon into crop yield.  Plant respiration is central to growth and yield. We know that respiration it is highly sensitive to temperature, but is also influenced by many other edaphic factors.  In this session, I will outline a few of the key “yield and quality” issues that seem likely to hinge upon how well plants regulate their respiratory processes, and how well directed are these processes w.r.t. yield and quality.

Content: Defining and facilitating sustainable and ethical food systems that contribute to human and planetary health is amongst the greatest challenges facing our world today. Broken food systems have delivered the triple burden of under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, contributed to degradation of ecosystems, resulted in farming families becoming the working poor and perpetuate women’s carrying the burden of health problems and poverty. By focusing on good nutrition and on nutrient cycles we can better understand and strengthen interrelationships between farmers, traders, regulators, consumers and policy-makers to determine policies and food systems that deliver appropriate, sustainable, diverse, ethical and nutritious diets nationally and globally.

To achieve sustainable food systems and adequately nourish 9 billion people by 2050, a paradigm shift is required and involves direct action from the soil level to the plate. During this session participants will review options for improvements that deliver sustainable, nutritious and safe food being produced and delivered with minimal waste. Such improvements will help consumers (re-) connect to the environment, with food gatherers and producers contributing to enhanced physical and mental human health and more resilient planetary health.

Format: Combination of presentations, group work and plenary session.

By the end of this unit students will be able to understand:

  • Food systems at local, regional and global levels in relation to history, market signals and governmental and international policy;
  • Nutrition-sensitive agriculture, value chains and food systems;
  • Approaches to creating sustainable, ethical and nutrition-sensitive food systems.

Content: The basics of food allergy will be briefly overviewed along with the main diagnostic tools; the main categories of food allergens along with the foods in which they are present will be described; some case studies will be show along with future perspectives about the possibility of reducing the amount of allergens in foods (i.e. hypoallergenic foods).

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students acquire skills on:

  • what food allergies are
  • the type of allergens that can be found in foods
  • how the amount of allergens in foods can be reduced.

Content: Availability of milk, current production and future demand and prospects. Role of milk as a source of macro- and micronutrients; production systems and factors influencing milk production and composition. The skills of the milk and differences in the composition of refined milk; milk and fortified dairy products; specific food safety. Environmental impact of milk and dairy products will be presented.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students acquire skills on:

  • the main factors influencing the production of milk and cheese and their composition as human food;
  • main methods for improving and enhancing dairy products and reducing environmental impacts.

Content: The European Union (EU) GIs framework for agricultural products, foodstuffs and wines is analysed. The main distinctive characteristics and the system of legal protection in the European Union market are explored. The conditions under which GIs are effective value adding and rural development tools are addressed. Finally the different system of valorisation and protection of the GI products in the international context are compared and the Union strategies for the EU GIs international recognition are examined.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • the functioning of sui generis EU quality scheme based on Geographical Indication
  • the management system of a collective GI and its value-adding potential
  • the main differences from the trademark systems of protection of the ‘new world countries and the existing agreement of mutual recognition and protection in the international context.

Content: In this unit students will be introduced to advanced food processing component and the various conventional and emerging food processing methods available to maximise the food nutrition levels and functionality. Approaches that can be used to minimise the impact of process on health will be proposed. In addition, an insight is given to students for the traditional and contemporary methods for food preservation. More specifically preservation by fermentation, drying and dehydration will be discussed. Aspects of minimising food waste, valorisation, designing technologies to reduce energy and water consumption in food processing will be reviewed.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Explain some technologies available for processing food
  • Understand the principles of food packaging and concern for developing sustainable packaging techniques and materials
  • Obtain knowledge about food resources and management to reduce impact on environment and human wellbeing

Content: The concept of Hurdle Technology. Food quality attributes. Emerging technologies in food processing. Focus on food enzymology, natural antioxidants, functional food and valorization of agro industrial by-products.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students acquire skills on:

  • new trends in Food Science and Technology

Content: The traceability of the food sector has become a priority to increase quality throughout the food chain. It provides transparency and security to consumers (demanding healthier products with a higher quality) and to producers (demanding certification and accreditation of their products). This short unit presents main problems and implementation hurdles in food traceability, and briefly describes technologies and trends available for tracking and traceability of food, including optical coding systems, radio-frequency identification. Also blockchain technologies are discussed as an emerging approach for the realization of a decentralized and distributed digital ledger.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Understand the benefits arising from implementation of traceability policies
  • Identify the main technology for traceability in food chain

Content: In this unit, students will be introduced to the emerging topics of nanotechnology for food and agriculture. In particular, several applications of nanomaterials in food packaging and food safety will be presented including: polymer/clay nanocomposites as high barrier packaging materials, silver nanoparticles as potent antimicrobial agents, and nanosensors and nanomaterial-based assays for the detection of food relevant analytes (gasses, small organic molecules and food-borne pathogens). Emphasis will be devoted to the current commercial status and understanding of health implications of these technologies.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Explain some nanotechnologies for food packaging;
  • Identifying the outstanding challenges and risks of nanotechnology in food industry.

Content: In this short flipped presentation the importance of soil and soil security to human existence will be discussed and its relational to other existential challenges – food security, water security, energy security, biodiversity protection, climate change and human health. The biogeochemical cycles from soil to plants, animals and humans will be discussed. Finally, human health issues that relate directly or indirectly to soil will be presented, e.g., hidden hunger, valley fever.

Content: In this unit students will be introduced to the challenges of managing global supply chains in the context of delivering safe food to consumers. The unit will focus on the rise of trade between countries driven by consumer expectations of having year-round supply of many food items. With the divergence of production environments, food safety standards, infrastructure and culture, we will examine the implications for monitoring and ensuring food safety and traceability of product between trading countries. The unit will use case studies from the fresh produce industries to illustrate the challenges and solutions in delivering safe, affordable and nutritious food to the world. Topics will include new innovations for rapid detection of food borne pathogens in fresh produce as well as management strategies to minimize risk in both the pre and postharvest stages in the supply chain.

By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Identify the major food borne pathogens and their role in global disease outbreaks
  • Understand the challenges that global supply chains contribute to delivering safe food
  • Be able to identify the main sources and risks of managing food safety along the supply chain
  • Be aware of the latest innovations in pathogen detection, management and traceability within global supply chains.

Content: The seminar will provide an overview of potential applications in precision farming to increase the water and nutrient use efficiency and minimize the impact on the environment. Practical examples of variable rate irrigation and variable rate fertilization will be discussed.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • understand and manage the spatial variability in the field.

Contents: Compositional aspects of high quality extra virgin olive oil: the origin and maintenance of fruit and oil quality from the field to the mill, effects of cultivars and cultivation practices and impacts of quality on health beneficial aspects.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • compositional aspects of extra virgin olive oils;
  • the origin of fruit and oil quality in the field: effects of cultivars, environmental factors and cultivation practices;
  • beneficial impact of high quality extra virgin olive oil consumption and use on health related aspects;
  • eco- friendly olive oil production

Content: Main qualitative characteristics of some typical vegetables of the Veneto Region. The main focus will be on content of compounds able to affect consumer health and nutritional values. Agronomic techniques able to increase such aspects will be highlighted describing also the potential of some vegetables (traditional and innovative) in helping consumer to maintain and increase their health.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • different ways to evaluate vegetable quality;
  • techniques for increasing vegetables quality;
  • new approaches to add value on vegetables on the base pf their quality.

Content: the main mycotoxins that can potentially contaminate foods and the risks for human and animal health associated with the consumption of contaminated foods will be described. For each mycotoxin, the producing fungi, the conditions favoring their growth, the foods potentially contaminated and the maximum levels of mycotoxins permitted by European regulation will be presented. A section will be dedicated to the main methods of physical decontamination and detoxification allowed to reduce mycotoxins contamination.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • the main mycotoxins that potentially contaminate foods and the health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated foods
  • the main methods of decontamination and detoxification allowed to reduce mycotoxins contamination

Content: Health status is affected by dietary habits, which in turn, are influenced by food and wine choices. Being able to modify unhealthy diet habits involves a clear understanding of the cognitive process and behavior of consumers. What are the drivers and the mechanism of food selection? Food quality attributes such as certification of origin, geographical indication and organic production method are elements that should play a major role in food choice. At what extent does consumer perceive and appreciate high quality attributes of products? The unit will provide a description of the profile of consumers within the market from an economic viewpoint, with a focus on differences across segments.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • understand the (quality) attributes that play a major role in food choice
  • obtain knowledge about the methodological approaches that can be used in economics
  • describe various profiles of consumer behaviors

Content: Main mycotoxins in wheat and corn; abiotic and biotic factors predisposing mycotoxin contamination; agricultural practices for preventing fungal infection and mycotoxin contamination; varietal choice and irrigation for minimizing contamination; quick methods for estimating mycotoxin contamination; mycotoxin carry-over in animal productions.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • risks of in-field contamination of cereal grains and derived foods with mycotoxin
  • prevention of mycotoxin contamination and post-harvest management

Contents: Health effect of moderate consumption of wine (survey of main epidemiological studies); negative effects of alcohol; adverse reactions to wine; role of sulfur dioxide in wine and possible ways to reduce its content; biogenic amines in wines; allergy to wine.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will acquire skills on:

  • main adverse reactions to wine
  • prevention of risks related to wine consumption

The second section, Food quality and human health, follows the first, by addressing bio-medical issues and topics that are related and determined by the quality of food and dietary habits. There are four modules:

  • 2.1 Physiology of energy balance and pathophysiology of related diseases
  • 2.2 Gastrointestinal control of food intake and metabolism
  • 2.3 Nutrition related human disease
  • 2.4 Nutrition in different periods of life

 

Content: In this unit students will be introduced to the worldwide problem of overweight and obesity. A brief overview of the global epidemiologic data will be presented, with a specific emphasis to their medical and economic impacts. The link between changes in global nutrition, urban lifestyle and obesity epidemic will be explored with a focus on possible preventive intervention. The possible therapeutic strategies for the management of overweight and obesity will be briefly analyzed with a focus on compensatory mechanism and chronic care.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Understand the global burden of obesity epidemic
  • Understand the possible causes of obesity and the population level
  • Obtain knowledge about the complexity of obesity management in the long-term

Content: Eating disorders are serious mental illness with life-threatening physical and psychiatric complications. The pathogenesis of eating disorders is multifactorial. A genetic predisposition and specific environmental risk factors have been implicated. The physical complications of eating disorders are a consequence of disturbed eating patterns and malnutrition. Psychiatric and psychological therapy is the cornerstone of treatment, and a multidisciplinary approach is the recommended model of care.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Understand the physical consequences of disturbed eating patterns in subjects with eating disorders
  • Understand how to prevent and treat medical complications of eating disorders
  • Obtain knowledge about the multidisciplinary approach in the clinical care of eating disorders, focusing on the role of nutrition.

Content: A healthful eating pattern, regular physical activity, and often pharmacotherapy are key components of diabetes management. For many individuals with diabetes, the most challenging part of the treatment plan is determining what to eat. There is not a “one-size-fits- all” eating pattern for individuals with diabetes. Thus, each person with diabetes should be actively engaged in self-management, education, and treatment planning with his or her health care provider, which includes the collaborative development of an individualized eating plan. Therefore, it is important that all members of the health care team be knowledgeable about diabetes nutrition therapy and support its implementation. The goals of nutition therapy that apply to adults with diabetes are: To promote and support healthful eating patterns, emphasizing a variety of nutrient dense foods in appropriate portion sizes, in order to improve overall health and specifically to: Attain individualized glycemic, blood pressure, and lipid goals, Achieve and maintain body weight goals; Delay or prevent complications of diabetes; To address individual nutrition needs based on personal and cultural preferences, health literacy and numeracy, access to healthful food choices, willingness and ability to make behavioral changes, as well as barriers to change; To maintain the pleasure of eating by providing positive messages about food choices while limiting food choices only when indicated by scientific evidence; To provide the individual with diabetes with practical tools for day-to-day meal planning rather than focusing on individual macronutrients, micronutrients, or single foods.

Content: Globally, the leading causes of preventable deaths are nutrition-related. Why has nutrition science not done a better job of improving this situation? One reason is that nutrition is a massively complex problem, driven by many “moving parts” that interact in complex ways to influence consumer behaviour and health. To deal with this complexity, new approaches are needed that help identify the most important parts of the system, the roles they play in influencing health and disease and ways to manage them for positive outcomes. I will show how nutritional ecology, the branch of biology that applies evolutionary and ecological theory to the study of animal nutrition, provides powerful tools for unravelling and managing the complex human nutrition system. I will illustrate the argument using nutritional ecology studies of non-human animals, as well as studies that have applied the same approach to human nutrition.

The Studium Patavinum medical garden was founded in the mid 16th century with the aim of implementing those local species considered, rightly or wrongly, therapeutical and growing on site some specimens from the Near East and the Venetian territories overseas, such as Candia and Cyprus. Thanks to the intelligent management of the Serenissima political authorities on culture, and teachers who were designated Prefect, the Garden soon became the ideal introduction and acclimation point especially for species from the New World, until then unknown in Europe. Some of these plants proved to be, right away or after long and attentive "experiments", provided with nutritive qualities, and contributed to improve a poor and limited diet, subject to climate or even political conditions. We can get a rough but realistic idea on the nutritional regime of rural populations in the 18th century Veneto from the Esame intorno le qualità del vitto dei contadini del territorio di Padova (Padua, 1783) written by the noble Antonio Pimbiolo degli Engelfreddi.

Content: Mitochondria are vital for life, since they play a central role in a plethora of cellular processes, including energy conversion, apoptosis, nutrient oxidation and iron-sulfur cluster synthesis. They possess their own genome (mtDNA), which encodes for few but essential proteins, while most of their proteome is encoded by nuclear DNA. Accordingly, mutations in genes encoding organelle proteins causes severe cellular dysfunctions leading to a variety of human diseases. Based on the chemiosmotic principle, the electron flow through the mitochondrial electron transport chain is coupled to proton pumping out of the organelle matrix, thus generating a large membrane potential. The potential energy is stored as capacitance and used for different activities, including ATP synthesis, heat production and cation transport, especially for Ca2+. Among these functions, the latter has been historically poorly appreciated, mainly because of the lack of molecular information on mitochondrial channels mediating Ca2+ entry. This deadlock was suddenly broken few years ago thanks to the identification of the key component of mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake machinery, the Mitochondrial Calcium Uniporter (MCU), by our group. Two features of mitochondrial calcium signaling have been known for a long time: i) mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake widely varies among cells and tissues, and ii) channel opening relies on the extramitochondrial Ca2+ concentration, with low activity at resting [Ca2+] and a steep activation as soon as cytoplasmic [Ca2+] rises. This sigmoidal relationship prevents on one hand mitochondrial Ca2+ overload and ion vicious cycling in resting cells, and on the other hand it concurrently ensures a prompt response to cellular stimulation that leads to an increase in energy production. This complexity requires a specialized and highly dynamic molecular machinery, with several primary components that can be variably gathered together in order to match cellular energy demands and protect from death stimuli. In line with this, MCU is now recognized to be part of a macromolecular structure known as the MCU complex that can include at least MCUb, EMRE, MICU1 and its isoforms. The ongoing elucidation of the identity and the genuine function of the MCU complex components is now providing the molecular understanding of the biophysical properties of mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake. Most importantly, from the physiological point of view mitochondrial Ca2+ is emerging as pleiotropic signal, with different cellular outcomes that depend on the investigated cell type, the metabolic state and the concomitant presence of other stress signals. On one hand, calcium plays a regulatory role within the organelle itself ranging from the regulation of ATP production to the release of caspases cofactor with consequent cell death. On the other hand, mitochondrial calcium can exert its function at the whole cell level, e.g. by regulating cation homeostasis both locally and globally. Accordingly, genetic ablation of MCU in mouse models impairs the flow of metabolites through the TCA cycle and triggers a global metabolic reprogramming towards preferential fatty acid oxidation. Overall, Ca2+-dependent control of mitochondrial metabolism could represent a novel target of utmost pathophysiological relevance.

Content: Obesity is a major global epidemic and a burden to society and health systems due to its metabolic and cardiovascular complications. Obesity is the result of energy intake chronically exceeding energy expenditure. Classical treatments against obesity do not provide a satisfactory long-term outcome for the majority of patients. After the demonstration of functional brown adipose tissue in human adults, great effort is being devoted to develop therapies based on the adipose tissue itself, through the conversion of fat-accumulating white adipose tissue into energy-dissipating brown adipose tissue. Anti-obesity treatments that exploit endogenous, pharmacological and nutritional factors to drive such conversion are especially in demand. I will summarize the current knowledge about the various food ingredients that can be applied in promoting white-to-brown adipose tissue conversion and energy expenditure and the cellular mechanisms involved.

Content: The discovery of adipokines has revealed adipose organ as a central node in the interorgan crosstalk network, which mediates the regulation of multiple organs and tissues. Adipose organ is a true endocrine organ that produces and secretes a wide range of mediators regulating adipose tissue function in an auto-/paracrine manner and important distant targets, such as the liver, skeletal muscle, the pancreas and the cardiovascular system. In metabolic disorders such as obesity, enlargement of adipocytes leads to adipose tissue dysfunction and a shift in the secretory profile with an increased release of pro-inflammatory adipokines. Recently, it was reported that several cytokines or peptides are secreted from muscle (myokines), bone, heart, and liver (hepatokines) in response to certain nutrition and/or physical activity conditions. Cytokines exert autocrine, paracrine or endocrine effects for the maintenance of energy homeostasis. The present review is focused on the relationship and cross-talk amongst muscle, adipose tissue , bone , heath and the liver as secretory organs in metabolic diseases. Adipose tissue dysfunction has a central role in the development of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. We provide an overview of the role of adipose tissue in metabolic homeostasis and assess emerging novel therapeutic strategies targeting adipose tissue, including adipokine-based strategies, promotion of white adipose tissue beiging as well as reduction of inflammation and fibrosis.

Content: The impact of nutrition on immune responses is terrific: undernutrition, malnutrition and overnutrition impair the immune system suppressing protective immune functions and inducing harmful responses. This is due to the fact that metabolism and immunity have co-evolved with bidirectional communication and thus share sensors, effectors and signaling pathways. In addition, a complex network of interactions exists between the immune system and the gut microbiota and alterations in microbiome-associated metabolites are implicated in the pathogenesis of a growing number of diseases.

Learning outcomes - By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Explain the cross-talk between immune system and metabolism
  • Explain the cross-talk between immune system and microbiota