FORMER Olympian Celeste Ferraris' determination to explore her more than 30 year interest in nutrition at university has paid off.
Ms Ferraris, 50, competed as a synchronised swimmer in the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 Commonwealth Games and studied sports marketing and management, but was always interested in nutrition.
"For an athlete, as much as I had the confidence in sport I did not have confidence in my academic abilities, so I never pursued nutrition and dietetics because I did not think I had the capability."
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The opposite proved to be true. When Ms Ferraris was completing her honours year in food science and human nutrition, she was identified as having a proven capacity for research, academic merit and potential to develop skills to make an ongoing impact in an academic career.
Ms Ferraris said it was a "privilege" to be named on Tuesday as one of 132 University of Newcastle students to join the Vice-Chancellor's Training Priority Scheme, a scholarship for honours students to undertake a PhD and gain teaching skills to enhance their academic career prospects.
"It's exactly what I want to do," Ms Ferraris said. "I want to teach, particularly at university. This scholarship, I feel like it's designed just for someone like me... I feel so lucky that in this second part of life that I've found something I'm so passionate about."
Ms Ferraris' honours research explored the associations between taste genes, cognitive function and anxiety and depression.
She found a particular salt taste gene was linked to scores of depression on a test and a particular sour taste gene was linked to poor cognitive function on a test.
"When we eat something sour, it hits sour taste receptors and then it sends messages up this information super highway to the brain and neurotransmitters in that process are released," she said.
"What we're looking at in the PhD now is that the taste gene that we've found is linked to people with poorer cognitive function might be reducing the amount of neurotransmitters that are released and these neurotransmitters are also altered in cognitive function as well.
"These particular sour taste receptors are also in the brain and are also in the parts of the brain that tend to be affected in cognitive impairment."
She said if research finds eating something sour increases the neurotransmitters that help the brain function, it may be used as a dietary intervention to increase cognitive function.
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