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Natalie Howes

PhD Candidate
Food Science & Botany

Natalie Howes


Location AbacusBio Ltd, Moray Place

Effects of Plant Fatty Acids on Lamb Fatty Acid Composition

Supervisors Dr Aladin Bekhit, Assoc Prof David Burritt (Botany), Dr Anna Campbell (AbacusBio Ltd)


Natalie is from rural Southland but spent four years in Palmerston North completing her undergraduate degree in Agriculture and Animal Science at Massey University. After working for two years in Southland, she moved to Otago to study her PhD as part of a collaborative with a number of high-profile agricultural companies. Natalie is funded by an Alliance Postgraduate Scholarship and spends her spare time in Northern Southland with her husband who share-milks 1000 cows.

Project Outline

Global statistics show cardiovascular disease as a leading cause of early mortality, which is particularly evident in western societies. This is contributed to by consuming diets rich in saturated fats. Such alarming findings have led a lot of research to focus on improving fat content in many products including meat, milk and milk products.
Global health organizations have produced a number of recommendations with regards to fat consumption. Some of these include:
- The ratio of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) to saturated fat (SFA) should be greater than 0.4
- The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should be less than 4:1
- Each 100g serving should contain 30g EPA + DHA (beneficial long chain PUFA derived from omega 3) in order to be “a good source” for health claims

Simultaneous increases of dietary omega-3 and reductions of omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to reduce CVD mortalities by up to 70%. Therefore following these guidelines is largely beneficial for improving health and in producers’ interest to achieve.
Meat produced from ruminants, such as beef and lamb, display complex but important relationships between diet and muscle composition. Meat composition can be improved by enriching the livestock diet with polyunsaturated fats. Of interest, is the ability to improve the PUFA:SFA relationship by feeding animals a forage based diet. Grass has also been found to be high in antioxidants, which mitigates some negative effects of high PUFA on meat quality including colour, shelf life and flavour.
Whilst there is a significant amount of research that compares grass and concentrate diets, few studies compare forage species and varieties, with particular emphasis on the plant itself. There lies an opportunity to compare not only the effects of different forages on fatty acid composition but to also look at variances in antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Natalie’s research collaborates with AbacusBio Ltd, Headwaters, Alliance Group Ltd, Beef+Lamb Genetics, and Agricom.