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Glyndŵr University awarded funding from the United Nations to help develop acacia gum industry in South Sudan

09 August 2010

Scientists from Glyndŵr University have been awarded United Nations funding to help a region of Africa to develop an industry in exporting gum from trees to global food and drink manufacturers.

Following a joint bid with Dutch aid agency the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), the Glyn O Phillips Hydrocolloid Research Centre has been awarded $40,000USD (£26,000) from the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a branch of the UN, to help the population of South Sudan earn a living from the export of acacia gums.

Acacia gum, also called gum arabic, is obtained from the stems and branches of acacia trees, widely distributed throughout the Sahelian regions of Africa which make up the ''gum belt.”

The gum initially oozes from the breaks or wound in the bark as sticky exudates, before being left to dry in the sun and subsequently collected.

It is widely used as an emulsifier in soft drinks, chewing gums, confectionery and as a source of dietary fibre – but only two out of hundreds of species meet international regulations for use in the food industry.

As one of the world’s leading technical experts on gum arabic, the Hydrocolloids Centre will train a researcher from South Sudan on a quality control programme at its base in Wrexham, to help ensure that gums are subjected to rigorous scientific checks and conform to companies’ specification prior to making it available to the international market.

The researcher will then return to Africa to work in a quality control centre which Glyndŵr University is helping to establish with the SNV in Sudan.

Dr Saphwan Al-Assaf, Director of the Hydrocolloids Research Centre at Glyndŵr University, said: “We’re delighted to secure funding to help establish an industry in South Sudan that will help its people make use of this 100% natural product and improve their living standard. This is another example of our contribution to this field and follows the success we have achieved on similar programmes in India, Kenya and Sudan.

“The award shows international recognition at the highest possible level for Glyndŵr University’s science research.”

The funding announcement marks a growing reputation for the centre, which was awarded a world-leading research ranking in the most recent Research Assessment Exercise for UK universities.

The centre acts as an independent quality centre for the food industry and has tested gum arabic for more than 30 international food and drink companies since it opened in 2003.

More than 50 researchers from across the world have also visited the centre to work on projects dealing with the application of natural polymers in food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Professor Michael Scott, Vice-Chancellor of Glyndŵr University, said: “The project with South Sudan shows the terrific impact which the University’s research is having globally.

"We’re proud that research which is so fundamental to the food and pharmaceutical industry is being carried out here in Wrexham.”

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