Photo of Dariana Graciela Rodriguez-Sanchez

Biotechnology & medicine

Dariana Graciela Rodriguez-Sanchez

Transforming tons of avocado byproducts into a food additive that protects food against bacteria

Year Honored

Latin America

Hails From

"Dariana Rodríguez holds a PhD in biotechnology from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM). She comes from a family of engineers who taught her the importance of offering solutions to real problems. So when an avocado producer asked her why his seeds took so long to degrade, Rodríguez put her engineering skills to work and discovered that this industrial byproduct could be turned into an antibacterial agent. The potential benefits of this research have led to Rodríguez´s recognition as one of MIT Technology Review´s Innovators Under 35 Mexico 2016.

Mexico is the world´s leading producer of avocado, with an annual production volume of more than one million tons. An industry of this size generates an important amount of byproducts which need a viable and sustainable economic output which positively contributes to Mexican society. Rodríguez´s solution is to use fatty acid derivatives, called acetogenins, which are only found in avocados, as an antibacterial food additive.

Acetogenin molecules are highly effective at combating gram-positive bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, which causes food poisoning and serious conditions like endocarditis. By treating these seeds, the research has generated several patents for using them as a bacterial inhibitor in food products, industrial cleaning products and in surgical areas. Hospitals can use them to combat the bacteria present in clothes, beds and medical instruments.

Several food companies are already interested in providing their products for use in Rodriguez´s study. The researcher highlights the difficulty of this part of the process, since ""the trials in a pilot plant are challenging because the compounds suffer the effects of the processing and interact with other components in the food."" Nevertheless, Rodriguez´s solution is slowly advancing towards the commercial phase, and ""the toxicological tests have confirmed that the additive is innocuous,"" she confirms.

The sensory quality of the additive extracted from avocado byproducts is another fundamental aspect of the research. The additive must not alter the taste of the food product it is applied to, and must not lose its antibacterial properties."