Take 10 with... Rebecca Deed

Dr Rebecca Deed, from the School of Chemical Sciences, gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research into fermentation performance and what makes certain wines special.

Dr Rebecca Deed, School of Chemical Sciences
Dr Rebecca Deed, School of Chemical Sciences

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Understanding factors influencing yeast fermentation performance and wine aroma production.

2.  Now explain it in everyday terms!

My research looks to understand how different factors, such as temperature, impact on the ability of different yeasts to ferment and to understand the genes that influence fermentation performance. I am also interested in how aromas and other quality markers in wine are formed and how much of these are made by yeast during fermentation compared to those that arise through chemical reactions.

I am interested in understanding what makes certain wines special and how these characters can be increased using yeast and fermentation. I have research projects in many areas including grape wine (chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc), honey mead, synthetic wine, and even goji wine.

3.  Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

Day-to-day research activities include writing papers and grant applications, meeting with other researchers to discuss projects, designing new experiments, supervising research students and helping students and collaborators in the lab to set up fermentations and growth experiments.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

The end product is usually quite enjoyable! But seriously, I really enjoy working with a passionate group of colleagues and students.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

I was invited to a young winemaker’s lunch event where each invitee had to bring along a bottle of wine that they had made to give to the restaurant hosting the event. Since I am not the typical winemaker, the only thing I could find to bring was a wild sauvignon blanc wine that myself and another researcher made in our (food-grade) wine science basement! Not sure what the restaurant thought of it…

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

With challenges I always try to come up with alternative solutions and to think creatively and outside the box. I am also quite resilient and if an experiment needs to be repeated, it needs to be repeated!

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

There have been times when a specific instrument that is required for a component of my research is out of action – this can mean that new avenues of research open up. This can often lead to new research questions and areas of interest.

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I hope that my research will benefit the New Zealand wine industry and lead to innovations in the sector, as well as maintaining the quality of our wines and our exports. I also hope that my research is a great vehicle for building the careers of my research students and keeping young people interested in science.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I have many collaborators, particularly across the Faculty of Science, including several colleagues from the School of Chemical Sciences: Associate Professor Bruno Fedrizzi, Dr Lisa Pilkington, Professor David Barker, Professor Paul Kilmartin, Professor Brent Copp and Professor Siew-Young Quek, as well as Dr Sarah Knight from the School of Biological Sciences.

Working with many collaborators allows me to work out a diversity of projects and to carry out exciting interdisciplinary work that integrates many areas such as synthetic organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, chemometrics, fermentation science, microbiology, sensory science, microbial ecology, molecular biology, and even medicinal chemistry. I like to be involved in many fields and not restricted in my research.

10.   What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Make sure that your publications tell a story. Sometimes you have to be brutal when deciding what is important - and less is more!