Yes, we’ve all heard of the proverbial fountain of youth which the most powerful men in history have tried but failed to find. We imagine it to be this mystical water fountain; however, Kateryna Tkachencko thinks that the secret to long life is more of a “cheese fondue”. What if she’s right and the answer to our search is closer to home than we think?
PhD researcher Kateryna Tkachencko travelled all the way from the Zabolotny Institute of Microbiology and Virology in Kiev to the University of Abertay in Dundee bringing with her, findings of her 3 years worth of studies of locals living across the East Carpathians as well as samples of their homemade dairy products. She said that her project started from a casual conversation with her research supervisors in Kiev. They observed that majority of the locals of this village that stretches from the Czech Republic to her home country Ukraine are able to live well into their 90s.
Since then, Kateryna had been trying to find the source of the people’s abnormally long life expectancy and had narrowed the probability of these suspected life-extending properties to be coming from their food – in particular, their homemade cheese and yogurt. The locals of this particular Carpathian Mountain area have been following a generations- old recipe of making fermented dairy products which have never been produced on a commercial level, thereby making it the most likely source of this unusual phenomenon. After all, there are studies that have shown links between probiotic rich food and overall wellness which lead to a longer lifespan.
Fermented foods are foods that undergo lactofermentation where natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch of the food to create lactic acid. The process not only preserves these foods but also creates beneficial enzymes, key nutrients and various strains of probiotics. Homemade, non commercialized fermented food like the ones discovered by Kateryna in East Carpathian Mountains are prime examples of traditional, naturally fermented food which means better probiotics compared to the pasteurized versions available in the market. Dr. Andrew Spiers, who will be supervising the project in Abertay’s Microbial Ecology Laboratory, agrees that this counts as one of the many fascinating work being conducted in the university.
After being awarded a research grant by the Federation of European Microbiological Societies, Kateryna will be staying in Abertay for three months to pursue her project. Her previous research works centered on antibiotic resistance so the relationship to the current study is there. She plans to use her background in order to study the antagonistic interaction that goes on between these seemingly extraordinary yeast and bacteria. With the help of the University’s microbiology expertise, she hopes to identify the special probiotic effects from this interaction which keeps people from being sick and replicate the process for use on a commercial scale.