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Bucharest, July 8 /Agerpres/ - Dan Vodnar , a young scientist of the Romanian city Cluj-Napoca the inventor of anti-microbial packaging derived from gastropod shell, algae and other natural ingredients has become the first Romanian to receive the Danubius Young Scientist Award, the 2014 edition.
The Danubius Award was created in 2011 by Austria's Federal Ministry of Science and Research (BMWF) in cooperation with the Institute of the Danube Region and Central Europe in order to reward remarkable scientists from the Danube area. For the first time, this year a prize for the young scientists was established.
The award went to Dan Vodnar for international visibility of his work. One of the winning inventions of the young scientists, who works with the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (USMAV) of Cluj, is anti-microbial packaging.
Vodnar has been researching polymers of natural substances for several years. While he was a doctoral student, he studied the possibility of getting bio-plastic from lactic acid.
'I made ballpoint pens of this bio-plastic that can decompose in the nature, in compost, in about five weeks, unlike the conventional pens that decompose in 200 years. As much as 90 per cent of my pen is biodegradable, with 10 per cent taken up by the ink reservoir. Then I was involved in a European project for smart packaging and I tried to find a solution for the issue of ready to eat food that is easy to consume yet equally easy to contaminate. Listeria monocytogenes is one of the bacteria that can trigger food poisoning. Studies conducted in the US indicate that about 15 per cent of the deaths from food poisoning were triggered by this listeria,' said Vodnar.
The anti-microbial packaging is made up of natural polymers extracted from gastropod shells and algae to which biomolecules of green tea, basil, mint and other herbs are added. Vodnar conducted thorough research of the inhibitory effects of the packaging on listeria-contaminated meat.
'Meat contamination can be strictly surface deep, it cannot come from the inside and it is contamination subsequent to cooking. Producers add many preservatives that act as anti-microbial agents. But my question was why add so much preservative when the human body does not need it,' said Vodnar.
Anti-microbial packaging would thus protect foods, particularly meet products, against listeria contamination, while being a solution that allows avoiding the ingurgitation of preservatives by consumers.
The scientist has also invented anti-microbial labels for fruit and vegetables. They are stuck like stickers and when the product is placed under a water stream, they disintegrate.
'There are mould and yeasts on the fruit and vegetables which skin we eat. The label is also made of a biopolymer, a natural one that uses a different matrix from the packaging. It reduces the number of microorganisms on the fruit and vegetables which skin we eat,' said Vodnar.
Vodnar and his students are currently working on packaging that would cover the whole fruit or vegetable, particularity for those that are traded without skin or those that stay a lot in the showcase.
'Fruit dehydrates quickly, they wrinkle. With our polymer, we close all pores to prevent water from coming out of the fruit, to prevent wrinkles and early spoil. Moreover, such packaging would increase the possibility for longer storage and for keeping fruit unspoiled,' said Vodnar.
So far, there have been two-three companies, one for the US and one from Germany, having voiced interest in the manufacturing of the anti-microbial packaging invented by the Romanian young scientist, but a decision to invest in it is a long process because production lines would have to be replaced. Another obstacle to trading the idea of the anti-microbial packaging is the absence of people taking care of its marketing.
'I am taking care of research and I do not have neither time nor skills to go talk to producers or people dealing with supermarkets. Should there be someone to deal with this area of marketing, it would be much better,' said Vodnar.
The Danubius Award prize is awarded each year to scientists for special results in the countries that are included in the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region, namely Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Ukraine. Each country nominates only one scientist for the award, selected by an international judge panel.
'The award was really a surprise. The award ceremony was a dream and professors delivered laudatory speeches of us, and in my case there was a professor that knew a lot about me from publications. I could not believe my eye. There were many university chancellors, the research minister of Germany, who allowed us to select a state institute to visit, where we could stay as a collaborator or employee. It was all quite impressive,' says Vodnar.
Because this year a prize was created for young scientists, Germany offered the scientists the possibility to tour the scientific institutes they find interesting to their work, where they can seek employment if they want. AGERPRES

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