Structures around skeletal muscle linked to insulin resistance

The early stage of insulin resistance development is associated with the structures surrounding the skeletal muscles – show scientists from the Department of Prophylaxis of Metabolic Diseases at IARFR PAS.

The results of their research may be a step towards the search for a new drug for diseases associated with insulin resistance, which would have a targeted effect. 

Insulin resistance is the reduced sensitivity of tissues to insulin (a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels). Its development can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and many other diseases.

The most important tissue related to the action of insulin are skeletal muscles, which are responsible for about 80-85% of insulin-dependent glucose uptake. These tissues, along with the structures surrounding them, were examined by scientists from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn (their review paper on this subject can be read here).

– Our research shows that the extracellular matrix of skeletal muscle may be important in the development of insulin resistance – it is a kind of mixture produced by cells filling the free spaces between them. It includes e.g. integrins, i.e. protein receptors that transmit information between the external environment and the inside of cells. We have shown that they can be involved in the modulation of insulin action even at the early stages of insulin resistance development – explains Róża Aleksandrowicz, technologist from the Department of Prophylaxis of Metabolic Diseases IARFR PAS.

The results of research conducted together with Prof. Marek Strączkowski and Dr. Magdalena Stefanowicz, have just been published in the „Endocrine Journal” .

As the researcher explains, the role of factors related to the extracellular matrix in the development of insulin resistance is still not fully understood.

– The obtained results are the basis for further research on the role of integrins, which can help in better understanding the pathogenesis of insulin resistance, and in the future can be used to search for new drugs targeted specifically at the action of these integrins – points out Róża Aleksandrowicz.

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The potential of honey in prevention of civilization diseases

The potential of honey to prevent e.g. hypertension, obesity and neurological diseases will be examined by scientists from the Department of Chemistry and Biodynamics of Food at IARFR PAS, as part of a project financed by the National Center for Research and Development.

– Honey is rich in many ingredients with health-promoting properties, which has already been described in scientific publications. We will test the potential of honey in the prevention of civilization diseases. We will verify whether honeys – enriched with targeted additions of antioxidants of natural origin – have the potential to prevent i.a. hypertension, obesity or neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s – says Dr. Małgorzata Starowicz, head of the Department of Food Chemistry and Biodynamics of  Food at IARFR PAS in Olsztyn.

Poland is the largest producer of honey in Europe, and its production is an important element of the national economy.

In the opinion of Dr. Małgorzata Starowicz, it is worth monitoring and improving analytical techniques for determining the level of bioactive compounds, i.e. those that can affect the proper functioning of our body, because high environmental pollution, the use of plant protection products or climate changes (e.g. droughts) negatively affect the amount of honey produced by bees and its quality.

– The most commonly consumed types of honey are multiflorous, linden and buckwheat. All honeys are healthy, but in our previous studies we showed that the latter – buckwheat honey – is the richest source of polyphenolic compounds among the basic types of honey and it shows the highest antioxidant activity – the scientist points out.

What to look for when buying honey?

– Consumers are often guided by the crystallization of honey, considering it a negative value, but it is a natural process. It is worth remembering that each honey is specific in this respect, e.g. acacia honey can remain liquid for several months, unlike rapeseed honey, which crystallizes very quickly, because the crystallization process begins after 1-2 weeks. In turn, heather honey crystallizes, taking the form of a „jelly” – says the researcher.

She also reminds that it is best to buy honey straight from the apiary or from local producers.

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Buckwheat hull – once a pillow insert, now a valuable bread additive

Buckwheat husk is a waste product that housewives used to fill pillows and mattresses with. Today, it is also known to be a valuable source of dietary fibre and compounds with antioxidant properties. Dr. Małgorzata Wronkowska from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn convinces that it is worth adding it to bread.

– The novelty of our research is the use of ground buckwheat hulls in a retail bakery product. The bread we have proposed using buckwheat hulls is richer than the traditional bread with an increased proportion of dietary fibre and compounds with proven antioxidant properties – emphasises one of the authors of the study, Dr. Małgorzata Wronkowska, from the Department of Chemistry and Biodynamics of Food at the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn.

The results of the study were described in a paper published in the journal „European Food Research and Technology” .


Buckwheat is included in the group of so-called pseudo-cereals, which produce seeds similar to cereal grains. The seeds are then used to produce one of Poland’s most popular groats, as well as buckwheat flour. They are rich in nutrients including dietary fibre, high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals or compounds with antioxidant properties. In addition, they are gluten-free products.

During the production of buckwheat groats, the husk is separated from the seeds. For decades, this waste was used to fill mattresses and pillows, and is now also used as a substrate for biofuel production, among other things.

As Małgorzata Wronkowska points out, the husk is, indeed, a waste product, but an extremely valuable one.
– The husk of every seed is a reservoir of many valuable ingredients. By getting rid of it, we remove not only dietary fibre, but also many micro- and macroelements and vitamins. Therefore, it is recommended to eat processed cereals as little as possible – the scientist points out.


Scientists from Olsztyn decided to study whether and how buckwheat hulls could be used in food products and, in particular, in bread.

They developed a recipe for enriching the composition of traditional Balton bread and graham rolls with ground buckwheat hulls. These products were available for retail sale in Warmia and Masuria.

In vitro studies, which simulated the conditions of digestion occurring in the human body, confirmed that 3% buckwheat hull in bread can have a beneficial effect on the human body. – In the proposed digestion model, we showed that the components that are released from a solid food matrix, which in this case was a popular and generally available bakery product, are compounds that exhibit antioxidant activity. And thus they can be, after digestion, better absorbed by the body – the scientist points out.

In studies on the sensory evaluation of baked products containing buckwheat hulls, consumers and experts have pointed to a perceptible 'sandy’ quality in the texture of the bread. As the co-author of the study explains, this is due to the degree of hardness of the buckwheat hull, which can only be ground in suitable equipment; this is unlikely to be possible at home. – Recently, however, a ground buckwheat husk product has become available in the retail market, which consumers can use themselves, for example, as an addition to home-made bread – the researcher adds.

In future, the Olsztyn researchers would also like to find out whether and how buckwheat hulls can be used to produce other bakery products such as cakes or savoury snacks. – Since we already know that buckwheat hull is a very valuable raw material, why not use it to obtain other products as well – concludes Małgorzata Wronkowska.

The recipe for the baked product described in the aforementioned publication was presented to bakeries cooperating with the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn during a project led by Professor Henryk Zieliński of the Department of Chemistry and Biodynamics of Food. In this project, scientists proposed enriching bakery products (bread and rolls) available for retail sale in the Warmia and Mazury region with various ingredients (such as buckwheat hulls or onions) that contain biologically active compounds with positive (tested and documented) effects on human health.

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Raspberries help protect the liver

Raspberries contain high levels of antioxidants, which help protect the human body against many diseases, including cancer. Research by Bartosz Fotschki, PhD, from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn, has shown that in order to boost the pro-health effect of antioxidants from raspberries, combining them with prebiotics is recommended.

– Appropriate stimulation of intestinal bacteria, through prebiotic supplementation, increases the efficiency of the breakdown of raspberry polyphenols into chemical compounds with greater pro-health potential, e.g. with a beneficial effect on fat metabolism in the liver – emphasises study author Bartosz Fotschki, PhD, from the Department of Biological Function of Food of the IARFR PAS in Olsztyn.


Raspberries are one of the most popular fruit. They owe their success not only to their sweet, juicy taste, but also to their well-known pro-health properties.

As Bartosz Fotschki reminds us, these fruits are a rich source of bioactive compounds with strong pro-health potential, e.g. characterised by a high content of antioxidants, mainly phenolic compounds, e.g. cyanidins, anthocyanins, elagotannins and phenolic acids. Antioxidants are natural substances that can help protect the human body against the development of many diet-related diseases.

– In addition to their strong antioxidant properties, the polyphenolic compounds found in raspberries also exhibit other beneficial biological activities, including regulating inflammation, lipid metabolism, bile acid synthesis in the liver and the activity of the microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract – indicates the scientist, who is involved in exploring the pro-health properties of biologically active compounds towards the prevention and alleviation of diet-induced metabolic disorders (e.g. obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).


The pro-health effects of raspberries can be further enhanced, which is why Bartosz Fotschki examined how to influence the gastrointestinal bacteria to do more intensive 'work’ in breaking down the polyphenols from raspberries.

In his research, the scientist relied on the combination of a raspberry polyphenol preparation with the prebiotic effect of fructooligosaccharides (these are fibre products that support the growth of probiotic bacteria, which are essential for proper intestinal function).

– The results of the study confirmed an enhancement in the efficiency of metabolising polyphenols to chemical compounds with greater pro-health potential. The mechanism of action of this mixture combines an increase in the number of bacteria showing the ability to metabolise polyphenols in the gastrointestinal tract with an increased concentration of metabolites that reach the liver and regulate mechanisms related to lipid metabolism, oxidative stress and inflammation – the scientist points out.

The results of the research have been published in one of the leading journals in the discipline of food technology and nutrition: Food Research International.

In other words – by combining the consumption of raspberries with a prebiotic supplement, we boost the pro-health effects of the fruit, and this has a beneficial effect on liver metabolism, among other things.

– Further human studies are still needed, but the combination of polyphenols found in various products (e.g. juice, mousse, freeze-dried) with fructooligosaccharides could be a valuable dietary supplement to support health prevention and could already appear in many products with pro-health potential – concludes Dr. Fotschki.

The study was carried out as part of the project 'Raspberry polyphenols and their metabolites as regulatory factors in the mechanisms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’ (UMO-2018/31/D/NZ9/02196), funded by the National Science Centre.

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New NCBR grants for cooperation between Institute and business

Our Institute’s scientists involved in three projects with funding awarded for science-business collaboration under the 1st NUTRITECH competition – Nutrition in light of the challenges of improving societal wellbeing and climate change.

The main objective of the NUTRITECH programme is to increase the availability of products and solutions for proper nutrition with a view to 2030 through the implementation of R&D results, taking into account the principles of sustainable development.

Support in developing the capacity to create and use solutions based on the results of scientific research in order to give a developmental impetus to the economy and for the benefit of society has been granted to three projects involving scientists from our Institute.

  • Development of innovative fruit and vegetable health-promoting products in the mousse category, enriched with bioactive ingredients with antioxidant and microbiome-supporting properties.

Partners: TYMBARK–MWS Sp. z o.o., Prolab Sp. z o.o. Sp. Komandytowa, IARFR PAS

Coordinator on behalf of the Institute: Lidia Markiewicz, Ph.D.

Funds awarded: PLN 4 816 729,48

  • Development of local honeys with enhanced functional properties, enriched with targeted additions of antioxidants of natural origin in the prevention of civilization diseases

Partners: Mazurskie Miody Bogdan Piasecki, IARFR PAS

Coordinator on behalf of the Institute: Małgorzata Starowicz, Ph.D.

Funds awarded: PLN 5 556 913,12

  • Development and implementation of innovative functional foods targeting the prevention of diet-related diseases

Partners: Laboratorium Galenowe Olsztyn Sp. z o. o., IARFR PAS

Coordinators on behalf of the Institute: Bartosz Fotschki, Ph.D., Wiesław Wiczkowski, Ph.D., D.Sc.

Funds awarded: PLN 2 900 617,66

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Scientists investigate mechanism of long-term fetal cytomegalovirus infection

Scientists at the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn are investigating the mechanism of long-term infection of the fetus with cytomegalovirus. The virus is usually harmless for healthy people. The problem arises in immunocompromised patients and pregnant women, as it crosses the placenta and can cause serious congenital diseases.

– We are investigating the molecular basis for establishing long-term cytomegalovirus infection in neural cells. We hope to find out the factors responsible for the persistence of the virus in neural cells, and thus identify the causes of the observed damage to the nervous system associated with cytomegalovirus-induced congenital disease – emphasises Dr Magdalena Weidner-Glunde, leader of the research project and head of the Molecular Microbiology and Virology Laboratory of the IARFR PAS in Olsztyn.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infection is very common, with more than 80 % of the Polish population infected. The primary infection in healthy people is usually asymptomatic or shows the symptoms of a slight cold, but in immunocompromised patients, e.g. after transplantation (when immunity is deliberately lowered to prevent transplant rejection) or those with AIDS, it can cause serious illness.

– HCMV is also a cause of congenital disease, as the virus is able to pass from the bloodstream of the infected mother through the placenta to the fetus. The disease resulting from congenital cytomegalovirus infection is associated with infection of the central nervous system and consequent sensory-nervous damage. Symptoms associated with HCMV congenital disease can include hearing loss, visual impairment or even intellectual disability, explains the researcher.

The herpesviruses (such as herpes virus and chickenpox virus), once they enter our body, remain in our body for the rest of our lives. The response of our immune system to their presence – i.e.  antibodies – can be detected by laboratory blood tests. They also allow us to determine whether a person has an active or latent infection.

In fact, the life cycle of herpesviruses comprises two phases: a latent (dormant) phase, from which the virus occasionally 'wakes up’ to enter the active (lytic) phase. – In the lytic phase, the virus actively multiplies by producing a large number of new viral particles. In contrast, in latency, viral protein synthesis is reduced to a minimum and there is no production of new viral particles, which prevents our immune system from effectively detecting the infection – explains Magdalena Weidner-Glunde.

HCMV has a circular genome (episome) that, during latent infection, has the ability to attach to host chromosomes and thus ensure the persistence of infection. – In other herpesviruses, it is known which protein is responsible for this binding of the viral genome to chromosomes. In the case of cytomegalovirus, we do not yet know this. In our research, we are investigating whether the viral protein IE1 is involved in the binding of the genome to the chromosomes and thus – determines the survival of the virus. Analysing the function of this protein will allow us to learn and understand how it is possible for the cytomegalovirus genome to survive in the cell for such a long time – points out Magdalena Weidner-Glunde.


Cytomegalovirus particles have different properties in terms of infection and multiplication in different cell types. So far, cytomegalovirus has been studied in its latent phase mainly in haematopoietic stem cells (from which, for example, red blood cells can arise). Recently, it has been shown that long-term HCMV infection can also take place in neural precursor cells (from which, for example, neurons are later formed). Long-term infection in these cells may be responsible for the sensory-neural damage that is symptomatic of HCMV-induced congenital disease.

Scientists from Olsztyn are also looking into comparing the mechanism of long-term virus infection in the two cell types in order to understand the differences and how cytomegalovirus disrupts the functioning of different cell types.

– For the active phase of virus infection, drugs are given to inhibit viral replication. However, there are still no drugs for the latent phase to help simply get rid of it. The results of our study will therefore be able to contribute not only to the understanding of the pathogenesis of congenital cytomegalovirus infections, but also to help develop new therapies – concludes the scientist. The research – led by Magdalena Weidner-Glunde, PhD – is being conducted as part of a project entitled “Exploring mechanisms of congenital human cytomegalovirus infection: replication, spread and latency establishment”, funded by more than PLN 3 million from the National Science Centre. The project is expected to end in May 2024.

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Author: Magdalena Wiśniewska – Krasińska

It is with deep sadness that we received the news about prof. Leslie Paul Kozak, outstanding biochemist, employee of our Institute in 2011-2016, passing away on July 13, 2023.

Born in Canada, Prof. Leslie Kozak came to Poland after 45 years of research work in the United States. He received his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. As the Assistant Professor at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor Maine, he began his independent research into obesity, thermogenesis, and brown adipose tissue. At the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, he continued research on the role of thermogenesis in the treatment of diet-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Prof. Kozak was employed at our Institute as an outstanding specialist under the REFRESH project, funded in the Widening action of the 7th EU Framework Programme. As a laureate of the WELCOME grant of the Foundation for Polish Science, he created a new laboratory at the Institute and established a scientific group to study thermogenesis in the aspect of genetic mechanisms regulating the formation of brown adipose tissue. He authored over 200 publications in world journals, including Nature, Nature Medicine.

For his research achievements while working at the Institute, in 2015, he received the Medal of Merit for the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Leslie Kozak will remain in our memory as an outstanding scientist, a devoted mentor to the young generation of researchers and a kind-hearted colleague.

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Lentil sprouts richer in natural antioxidants than seeds alone

Lentils are a valuable source of phenolic compounds, which act as natural antioxidants in the human body. A scientist from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn reminds us that their highest content is in sprouts.

– The content of phenolic compounds in sprouts obtained from lentil seeds is clearly higher than that found in the seeds. It is also worth remembering that thermal processes may reduce the phenolic content in lentils, so the seeds should not be cooked for too long – says Professor Ryszard Amarowicz, head of the Department of Chemical and Physical Properties of Food at the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn.

Professor Ryszard Amarowicz (together with Professor Ronald Pegg of the University of Athens, Georgia, USA) published a review article in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design, bringing together the latest scientific knowledge on lentils as a source of phenolic compounds.


Lentils are a valuable source of protein with a balanced amino acid composition that is superior to cereals.
– Lentil seeds in the human diet provide a high supply of some B vitamins and dietary fibre. They also contain oligosaccharides, which show prebiotic properties, i.e. have a beneficial effect on the microflora of the human digestive tract. Lentil seeds are also an important source of phenolic compounds for us, explains Professor Ryszard Amarowicz, who studies the content of nutrients and biologically active compounds in plant raw materials and food.

Phenolic compounds demonstrate antioxidant activity and the ability to inhibit microbial growth. – In the human body, they act as natural antioxidants – they are able to inactivate free radicals (associated with the aetiology of many lifestyle diseases), as well as inhibit the oxidation of cholesterol in low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and can therefore „defend” us against atherosclerosis. Phenols also inhibit the activity of digestive enzymes, amylase and lipase; we can therefore speak of their anti-diabetic activity and point to the possibility of using them in the prevention/treatment of obesity – the scientist points out.


The aforementioned review article presents lentils as a rich source of phenolic compounds, the chemical side of these compounds, their biological properties and the impact that processing can have on them.

The researchers recalled that the phenolic content is affected by the processing of raw lentils in the form of cooking, sprouting and fermentation.

– The thermal processes reduce the compactness of the phenolic compounds in the lentils (these compounds can either be oxidised or pass into water when the seeds are soaked or cooked). Hence the practical advice: let’s not cook the seeds for too long. Let’s also try to use the water after cooking them, as it certainly contains phenolic compounds – says Professor Ryszard Amarowicz.

The phenolic content of lentils is also influenced by their varietal characteristics, agronomic treatments e.g. amount of fertilisation, climatic conditions in the country where the plant originates. – In my research, for example, we found that green and red lentils differ in their phenolic compound profile and antioxidant potential. Green lentil extract, compared to red lentil extract, was richer in phenolic compounds and had higher antioxidant activity – the researcher points out.


The publication also describes several positive biological effects of lentil extracts on cell culture and in animal studies.

– Using cell line studies, it was found that extracts rich in phenolic compounds obtained from lentil seeds have a cytotoxic effect on a number of cancer cells. These include colon, stomach, liver and kidney cancer cells – the researcher reports.

The protective effect of black lentil extract against DNA was also experimentally demonstrated, and the anti-inflammatory effect of phenolic compounds present in lentil seed extracts was confirmed. In turn, red lentil extract administered to rats counteracted oxidative stress in the animals’ bodies, which was confirmed by the results of analysis of several biochemical parameters.

– The inclusion of lentils in the diet has a beneficial effect on our diet and thus has a health-promoting effect on a number of issues, concludes Professor Ryszard Amarowicz.

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Educational meeting „Ketogenic diet and health” [video and photo]

What is the ketogenic diet and is it worth following it? We were looking for an answer to this question during the first educational meeting carried out as part of the ERA Chairs WELCOME2 project. Scientists from our Institute invited to a joint discussion representatives of the academic community, education, local politics, innovation, health care, as well as private individuals interested in the ketogenic diet in the context of health benefits.

Dr. Natalia Drabińska from the Department of Food Chemistry and Biodynamics of the IRZiBŻ PAS explained all the key aspects of this currently very popular diet and presented the NCN project she runs: „KETO-MINOX: The impact of an isocaloric, reducing ketogenic diet on metabolism, inflammation, selected nutritional parameters and stress of overweight and obese women. View the presentation

Dr. Piotr Kaczyński from the Department of Hormonal Action Mechanisms of the IAR&FR PAS presented facts and the latest research on the effect of ketogenic diet on human reproductive processes, especially in relation to fertility problems. View the presentation

Dr. Aleksandra Kocot from the University of Gdańsk gave a lecture on the impact of the ketogenic diet on sports performance.

Oliwia Czerniewska from BeKeto company talked about the products developed to diversify the keto diet, and explained in detail how (if necessary and recommended) to supplement while using the ketogenic menu. View the presentation

Dr. Marianna Raczyk from the WELCOME2 team introduced us to the concept of nutrigenomics and spoke about  how our diet may affect various processes in the body. View the presentation

The meeting ended with a discussion panel, during which the participants of the meeting could share their questions and doubts. The experts were joined by dr hab. n. med. Elżbieta Jarocka-Cyrta, prof. UWM.

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