Bringing molecular nutrition to the population: How micronutrient profiles influence health in children and adults

Project Code: 10381690

Faculty: Liggins Institute

Department: Liggins Institute

Main Supervisor: Professor Martin Kussmann (mkus786)

Principal investigator: Professor Melissa Wake (mwak005)

Application open date: 06 Jun 2017

Application deadline: 28 Feb 2018

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


Nutrition is key to improving and preventing metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. To date, technology and study designs have limited research to studying nutritional factors in isolation – a reductionist approach that does not reflect how physiology actually works. In fact, nutrient requirements and health outcomes are determined by the (individually subtle, yet concertedly strong) effects of multiple factors interacting across the life course to jointly exert an important health impact.

This PhD sits within a new strategic partnership between the Liggins Institute (University of Auckland) and Australia’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), aiming to advance the field to a new level of knowledge and capability regarding molecular nutrition and physiology, combining molecular phenotyping with epidemiology. We will develop and apply both bioanalytics, and combine these with advanced data analysis, biomathematics and computation to holistically understand how molecular nutrition influences health.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant

To apply for this PhD you need a BSc (Hons), MSc degree or equivalent, and a strong academic record with a GPA (Grade Point Average) of at least 7.0.  THE PHD IS FULLY FUNDED, ie comes with a stipend.

This project will suit a person with qualifications in analytical biochemistry and/or molecular biology and could lead on to a career in human health science, at the emerging interface of clinical research, nutrition and systems biology.

**Please include undergraduate and any postgraduate transcripts with your application.**


Aim: Analytical development and population health application of a multiplexed panel of lipo-soluble vitamers.

Description: Micronutrients comprise vitamins, essential fatty and amino acids, and minerals (trace elements). Health depends on both micronutrient content of foods and micronutrient bioavailability in humans. These vary by genetics, environment and context. ‘Vitamers’ is used as a term to cover the “parent” vitamin molecules plus their bioactive derivatives and metabolites. The PhD student shall develop, validate and apply an analytical approach for the quantification of lipo-soluble vitamins and their main circulating forms in human plasma. This multiplexed bioanalytical method can be developed and implemented on an already installed and functional LC-MS/MS systems at the Liggins, and should come as one integrated, high-throughput run for the analysis of clinical samples from ‘Growing Up in Australia’, i.e. the longitudinal child health study conducted at MCRI. PhD supervisor Professor Kussmann has developed similar molecular phenotyping platforms in his previous research laboratories. Once the vitamer data are generated, the PhD student will interpret these micronutrient profiles in view of the rich clinical and phenotypic data available for 11-12 year olds and their parents in the ‘Growing Up in Australia’ study.

Other information

This project uses data collected for the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (Growing Up in Australia) and its Child Health CheckPoint.