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NDSU graduate student receives top award

NDSU graduate student Maneka Malalgoda won first place in the Best Student Research Paper competition at the American Association of Cereal Chemists International centennial meeting held in Minneapolis Oct. 19-23. She was one of six finalists from around the globe who competed for the distinguished award.

Other competitors were from Texas, Kansas, China and Canada. Her adviser, Senay Simsek, Bert L. D’Appolonia Cereal Science and Technology of Wheat Endowed Associate Professor of Plant Sciences, said. “Maneka was able to present her work in a clear and succinct manner to the audience, which was made up of scientists in many different areas of cereal science research.”

Malalgoda and Simsek collaborated with Steven Meinhardt, associate professor of plant pathology, and Jae-Bom Ohm, USDA adjunct professor affiliated with the cereal science graduate program, when conducting the research.

Malalgoda’s research is titled “Spring wheat gliadins: Have they changed in 100 years?” The study looked at 30 hard red spring wheat cultivars released in North Dakota during the last century. In her research, Malalgoda focused on how protein composition changed over the years and how wheat quality changed in relation to protein composition. She also looked at protein fragments or “immunogenic peptides” related to celiac disease.

According to Malalgoda, the results indicated that a certain protein fraction called omega-gliadins may have a positive influence on dough quality. This is an intriguing finding because the role of the protein fraction in dough quality is debated and has not been clearly established. With regard to the “immunogenic peptides”, they discovered the protein fragments are found in both historical and modern spring wheat cultivars, which dispels claims that breeding practices have changed wheat protein chemistry and claims that modern wheat cultivars are more immunogenic in terms of celiac disease than older varieties. Malalgoda is continuing work on the quantitative analysis of these peptides, and hopes to publish results early next year.

Malalgoda plans to complete her master's degree next spring and will pursue her doctorate under the guidance of Simsek.

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