A University of Alaska Fairbanks professor is asking the public to assist her in collecting wild blueberries for research, at a rate of $50 per gallon.
Kriya Dunlap teaches biochemistry at UAF, and said the berries will help support continued student research projects into the health benefits of Alaska berries.
She has a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research Indigenous foods and subsistence lifestyles, and much of her research over the years has been with sled dogs.
“The dogs that were fed blueberries had significantly higher antioxidant levels than the dogs that didn’t, and that was particularly seen with exercise,” Dunlap said.
Blueberries are known to be high in antioxidants, but Dunlap said those levels are especially high in Alaska berries because of the harsh northern climate. The antioxidant compounds are pigmented, which is why Alaska blueberries and cranberries have a noticeably deeper color.
“It’s thought that Alaskan berries sequester those [antioxidant-making] compounds, as protection against the harsh climate in which they have to grow,” she said. “And so it protects them, but in turn, those compounds are protective to us too.”
One of her grant-funded projects will test out a new line of thinking that it could be better to consume antioxidants selectively, rather than regularly.
“So that your body produces its own antioxidants,” Dunlap said. “And then supplementing when there’s going to be a time of insult, like a forest fire or an exercise event.”
To test that theory, Dunlap and her student researchers will be feeding sled dogs Alaska blueberries right before exercise, to observe how that affects their recovery.
Dunlap anticipates having more of these research projects soon, but won’t be able to conduct them if she doesn’t have enough berries. That’s why she’s offering to buy the berries for $50 a gallon from recreational pickers near Fairbanks or Anchorage. She’s been asking for the wild blueberries for two weeks now, but has yet to receive any.
The only requirement is that they’re berries from this season. If you’re interested in contributing to Alaska blueberry research, you can reach Dunlap at firstname.lastname@example.org.