Manuel António Coimbra

1.    What are your personal perspectives as a researcher?
When hired in 1985 as a Biochemist, the objective was to contribute to the teaching and research on Food Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry. This was the eve of a new area of expertise for me and for the University of Aveiro. I started my research under the supervision of Prof. Ivonne Delgadillo on the immobilization of enzymes for developing flow injection analysis to be used as sensors in food analysis. At that time, with reduced funds for research, we used chitin, a polysaccharide obtained from seafood byproducts, and ascorbate oxidase extracted from zucchini (a pumpkin) skin for analysis of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in fruit juices. The glassware facilities and skills of our glass technician Sr. António Morais were very important. Later, I had the opportunity to do part of the PhD work at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich. This allowed me to learn about the isolation and analysis of polysaccharides. This expertise on carbohydrate chemistry and application to food science has been shared at the University of Aveiro with a large number of researchers and students. My personal perspectives are now to consolidate this expertise in food science and carbohydrate and polysaccharide chemistry in order to be able to do research on edge topics, namely on polysaccharide bioactive compounds and materials, extending their application to the industries than can make use of it.
2.    In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in your area of research?
Carbohydrates have been seen as sweeteners (e.g. sugar), cell reserve polymers (e.g. starch and glycogen) or cell structural compounds (e.g. cellulose and chitin). Nowadays, the knowledge of the detailed structural features of these compounds made possible a large number of applications. Concepts such as “food coatings” for enhanced and better preservation of foods, “dietary fibres” in healthy foods, “vaccine vehicles”, or “blood groups, histocompatibility, cancer cells, or cell recognition” are some of the biggest challenges for carbohydrate and polysaccharide chemists. The research, at least in this area, is not made neither by a single person, nor by a small group of experts. On the contrary, the biggest challenge requires the combination of the expertise gathered by different people and different institutions, providing deeper basic knowledge and defining new applications. The ultimate challenge is the comprehensive application of the specific knowledge to contribute to the interdisciplinary required to open new and complementary areas of expertise.

3.    Where are the strengths of the UA in your opinion?
In my field of expertise, the strength of the UA is the approach used to the research on food, carbohydrates, and polysaccharides, which is based on a chemical knowledge. At UA it is easy to establish collaboration between the different researchers even those from different Departments. In addition, all campus facilities, including the equipment, can be used by all for research. My experience shows that at UA it is easy to promote the collaboration with colleagues with complementary expertise. Also, the collaboration with other institutions, such as those more related to the technology, nutrition, and biomedical aspects has been possible. This has attracted industries aiming the development of new and improved food products.

4.    Could you give one idea to improve research in the UA?
The research only grows if the University is able to transmit the knowledge to the young generation. For this, it is required to combine experienced and younger staff able to apply the acquired knowledge to fulfill new and higher challenges. This would promote the consolidation of the research at UA, including the area of Food, Carbohydrate and Polysaccharide Chemistry required for the next step, the internationalization. In this particular aspect, the funding of the research unit QOPNA, which includes the Food and Carbohydrate Chemistry, would allow the definition of a long term strategy, which is not possible at present. Nowadays, the funding has been obtained primarily by contracts with food industry, where the focus is targeted to solve specific immediate problems and/or finding short term solutions.

Manuel António Coimbra
office: 29.2.44
direct telephone number: 234 370 706
última atualização a 21-07-2017


Manuel A. Coimbra

-Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry of University of Aveiro. BSc in Biochemistry (University of Porto, 1985) and PhD in Food Biochemistry (University of Aveiro, 1993). Habilitation in Chemistry ((University of Aveiro, 2003).

-Professor of Biochemistry and Food Chemistry, and Polysaccharides Chemistry. Supervisor of 9 Post-Doc students, 18 PhD students with completed thesis, and 56 MSc students.

-Director of the graduation in Biochemistry at the University of Aveiro (since 2006).

-President of the Scientific Council of the University of Aveiro for the Human Resources Affairs, October 2009 – February 2016.

-Regular collaboration with food industry.

-Editor of Carbohydrate Polymers since 2011 (Elsevier, IF2016=4.811).

-President of Additives and Food Chain Contaminants Panel in the aim of the Scientific Council of Portuguese Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE).

-Authorship (June 2017) of 4 Patents, 209 Papers (h=38, 4356 citations), 2 Books, and 20 Book Chapters.

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