When Life Gives You Grapes
Roi Alford is a second-year graduate student in the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environment program at the Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Roi grew up in the lower Galilee and has always loved nature. He was drawn to sustainability long before climate change was in the headlines, and thus pursued an undergraduate degree in biology. When he began exploring opportunities for graduate studies, he contacted Prof. Yael Mishael at the Hebrew University’s Smith Faculty.
From his first visit, Roi felt at home. The environment was welcoming, and the students and researchers immediately made him feel comfortable. Prof. Mishael’s lab works with nano-scale clay composites and polymers to remove pollutants from water; Roi is applying this technique to remove one particular toxin – Ochratoxin A – from wine and grape juice.
Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a naturally occurring toxin that is produced by certain molds, and it often plagues food. While a single dose is harmless, continued exposure may be carcinogenic and has been linked to kidney problems. In fact, current regulations ban anything more than the scantest traces of OTA in food. Since the toxin is capable of surviving pressing and fermentation, wineries are often forced to discard entire batches of grape juice and wine – wasting resources, time, and money.
Roi’s is working on developing a material that would filter out the toxin, resulting in a clean, healthy, and marketable product. One reason Roi’s work is so important is the apparent correlation between global warming and an increase in OTA – indicating that the problem will only get worse.
"The work at the Smith Faculty combines cutting-edge research and innovative thinking alongside the aim of making our world a better place. I feel lucky to be conducting my research in this environment. We were able to develop materials with the potential for industrial application, which would decrease food waste as well as improve public health."