Harith’s Internship Experience: From Biomedical Science to Nutraceutical Science

By: Harith Syahmie Zulfikree 

Hi everyone! I’m Harith and I’m a first-year BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences student from Malaysia! In this blog post, I will share my 2-month internship experience during my summer break at the Institute of Bioproduct Development (IBD), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Johor, Malaysia.   

Brief background of my research project  

My project is about breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) or sukun in Malay, a close cousin of the jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). It is usually grown in South Pacific and tropical countries and can be easily found in my country, Malaysia. It has a similar taste to yam and people here normally make it into chips or deep fry them (yummy!). Not only it is gluten-free, but breadfruit is also rich in fibre, high in complex carbohydrates, contains a lot of phytochemicals, and has a low glycaemic index – a perfect alternative for health-conscious individuals! 

I study the physicochemical properties, phytochemical properties, and antioxidant profile of spray-dried breadfruit powder samples, with and without the addition of coating agents such as maltodextrin and gum Arabic. In the food industry, coating agents are important in microencapsulation – a process of retaining vital bioactive compounds, nutrients, and physical properties to prevent accelerated degradation due to extreme conditions.  

How did a Biomed major end up doing stuff related to food and nutrition?

Yes, I get that a lot during my first few days of internship. Other interns and research officers asked me how did I get into this department. So, it goes something like this. While waiting for my STPM results (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia or Malaysian Higher School Certificate, similar standard to A-Levels), I decided to join a seminar on microbiological analysis of cosmetics and household products just for fun.

So, every participant who joins a programme under IBD will automatically become alumni of the institute, and of course, access to researchers’ contacts! Considering this advantage, I applied for an internship at IBD right after finishing my first-year final exams. I instantly got a reply from Ts. Dr. Noorazwani Zainol (she goes by Dr. Wani), the head of the Food and Nutraceutical Sciences Department, who is my supervisor. I almost got enrolled in the Microbial Bioprocess Department (the department I was hoping to get), but it looks like my supervisor was faster in replying to my application!  

Being a Biomed major, I knew nothing much about food and nutraceutical science. For someone who has been used to handling biological samples like blood samples, proteins and DNA, preparing and handling food samples was something new to me. I’m so used to disposing test tubes after experiments that it feels rather awkward adjusting to washing and reusing the tubes since food samples are considered safe. However, as someone who enjoys trying new things, this was indeed a delightful experience! I did struggle a little when familiarising myself with new protocols, but it simply feels rewarding when you’re able to run the tests by yourself! 

What are your favourite tests and why? 

For phytochemical analysis, my favourite protocols have got be tests for total phenolic content and antioxidant activity, probably because I am already used to performing serial dilutions for spectrophotometric assays. The colours of the reagent are simply captivating, especially the 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) reagent – it is purple but turns yellow when antioxidants are present in the sample! Seeing the colour gradient that gradually changes from purple to yellow in several samples of increasing concentration is just satisfying.  

Watch it here

What challenges did you face and what did you learn from them? 

One of the challenges that I faced was having to repeat the antioxidant test a few times to obtain a high coefficient of determination for my standard curve. Despite all that, I viewed this challenge as an experience that will prepare me for pursuing my postgraduate studies. Doing a Masters or a Ph.D. is a journey that requires a lot of perseverance, patience, and passion. Having to repeat failed experiments will be something that I will face as it is a norm in research. Therefore, I am grateful to gain this initial exposure to the ups and downs of doing research!  

Can you bring us on a tour around IBD and UTM’s campus?  

Sure! Come on, let’s go! 

Welcome to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)! 

Here’s the Institute of Bioproduct Development (IBD)! Meet my supervisor, Dr Wani! 

Here are some of the labs at IBD! 

  • Food and Nutraceutical Science Lab
  • Cosmeceuticals and Fragrance Lab
  • Herbs and Phytochemicals Lab

Welcome to the spray-drying chamber! The huge one looks so cool!  

Meet my friendly officemates. They consist of undergraduate interns (like me), postgraduate students, and also research officers! 

To sum up, this whole internship experience was definitely something amazing and meaningful!  

Read the Malay version here!

Interested in studying Biomedical Sciences at NUMed? There are fantastic opportunities within the degree and you get to complete your final year at Newcastle University, England!

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