Professor Hope Jahren is an American geochemist, geobiologist and best-selling author.
She has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people (2016) and one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” young scientists (2005). Professor Jahren has also been awarded three Fulbright Scholarships, and currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo in Norway
Responsible for the first extraction and analysis of DNA found in paleosol and the first discovery of stable isotopes existing in a multicellular organism’s DNA, she is in fact an ‘Isotope detective”.
Spanning disciplinary boundaries, her research uses stable isotope to answer some of the world’s biggest science questions, including how prehistoric forests can inform us about climate change, how understanding the isotopic composition of plants can tell us about where our food comes from, and how much food, in particular sugar, we are consuming.
Professor Jahren is co-author of a study on the amount of corn in fast food. Following corn’s chemical markers through processing or being eaten as cattle feed, the study found that, in the United States, on a chemical level, most fast food meat is derived from corn, with implications for human health.
In an interview with Time Magazine, she said, “Diet-related diseases are on the rise. If you’re suffering from them, your doctor is going to tell you that you’ve got to make informed decisions about what you eat. If you go and try to get this information in order to make these decisions, it’s pretty much impossible. You’ve got to wonder why you have to do nuclear chemistry to get a very simple answer on how your food is made.”
Identifying a connection between basic research into soil, plants and seeds and population health issues associated with excessive calorie and sugar consumption (obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer) is a clear example of not just the value of, but the necessity for, trans-disciplinary research.
Jahren’s work, as well as predicting the environmental impact of heavily fertilized, unsustainable crops on our food supply into the future, can give us an objective measure of how much sugar is actually consumed by a population, informing people and policy to improve health.