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Oct 19, 2013 09:51 AM EDT

Montana State University Professor Receives Grant To Study Environment'sImpact On Tea

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A Montana State University professor won a $931,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how weather changes impact tea quality.

The grant will help MSU health and human development professor Selena Ahmed gather and analyze tea samples from multiple sites in three provinces of China to study how long-term changes in weather and shifting patterns of precipitation impact the quality of tea, farming communities and land-use strategies.

The grant will fund her research for four and a half years.

She told MTN News she's particularly interested in learning how the health benefits of tea are changing and what management practices can best reduce risks associated with producing and distributing tea.

Ahmed, who has been researching this topic for approximately seven years, suspects precipitation could weaken tea quality.

"My preliminary research shows that antioxidant compounds that contribute to tea's health benefits can decrease as much as 50 percent with the onset of monsoons," she told MTN News.

Tea is a multi-billion dollar industry, Ahmed said, with many consumers choosing to drink it in order to receive health benefits.

Green tea, in particular is recognized for its health benefits. Research suggests that antioxidants such as polyphenols in green tea can help prevent heart disease, burn calories and even ward off certain types of cancers.

According to University of Maryland Medical Center, green tea has been used to regulate body temperature and blood sugar. Ahmed hopes the research into tea quality will provide important information that will help people better manage agro-ecosystems in the face of environmental variations and risks associated with extreme weather.

"This research could influence management decisions - not just with tea, but with other crops as well," she said. "If there's a more sustainable way of growing crops, the information will have implications around the globe, including here in Montana."

Ahmed will be working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Tufts University and the University of Florida.

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