Associate Professor of molecular nutrition Anne-Maria Pajari: Today, we understand increasingly well the molecular biological mechanisms through which food impacts health

Anne-Maria Pajari, who recently assumed an associate professorship at her long-time workplace, the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, leads multidisciplinary research projects which strive to promote the transition to an increasingly sustainable and environmentally friendly food system.

What are your research topics?

I investigate the molecular mechanisms of action of food and its compounds in the body, and how they affect health and the risk of cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and other chronic diseases associated with living habits. I am particularly interested in proteins, dietary fibres and the bioactive compounds found in foods, as well as their link to metabolic health and the composition and functioning of the gut microbiota.

Increasing the use of legumes and other sources of plant protein can help to achieve not only health benefits, but also a food system that is more environmentally friendly. I consider the promotion of sustainable development a sensible part of my research projects.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

My research increases understanding of the significance of diet in maintaining health and preventing diseases. I am also heading multidisciplinary research projects whose goal is to promote the transition to an increasingly sustainable and environmentally friendly food system.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

I am particularly inspired by gaining, thanks to advances in research techniques, a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms through which food and its compounds affect health and the risk of acquiring diseases on the population level.

In recent years, huge strides have been made particularly in terms of knowledge pertaining to intestinal metabolism and the composition of the microbiota affecting it. Still, a great deal remains to be investigated, and we are really only starting to understand the interaction between diet host genes, gut microbiota, and health.

I am also inspired by enthusiastic students who tackle topics related to nutrition science on the courses and in their theses, encourage discussion and grow, over the course of their studies, into experts of the field.

 Anne-Maria Pajari is associate professor of molecular nutrition at the Department of Food and Nutrition, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki.

Research group Molecular Nutrition  



Key stages in Anne-Maria Pajari's research career

I graduated with a doctoral degree in food sciences in 2001. The topic of my doctoral thesis was the effect diet has on the protein kinase C enzyme of the colonic mucosa and its connection to tumour development in animal models (

In the mid-2000s I worked, with a grant awarded by the Academy of Finland, as a postdoctoral researcher in a group headed by Professor Anne Ridley in London (Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research). I familiarised myself especially with the utilisation of cell cultures and a range of microscopy techniques. Later on, I have combined cell culture techniques with clinical dietary interventions where what is known as faecal water can be extracted from stool samples collected from healthy study subjects and used as a predisposing factor in cancer cell cultures. This makes it possible to explore the mechanisms through which diet and its compounds can impact the development of colon cancer.

Having the opportunity to join the extensive and multidisciplinary ScenoProt research project in 2016 was an important step on my career path. Large consortium projects offer the chance to expand one's personal research field as well as pool resources and approaches with other research groups to solve complex research problems. I see such projects as opportunities to develop and expand your/one’s research skills, as well as to acquire research funding.

At the moment, I contribute to several consortium projects focused on the effect of food on health and the environment (ScenoProt, SIMBA), one of which I am heading (Leg4Life).