Are proteins derived from sustainable sources, nutritious enough? This question is central to research conducted by the public-private partnership Sustainable Future proteins: focus on nutritional and health-promoting qualities. The research, coordinated by Wageningen University & Research, will provide a scientific basis for the development of high-quality foods with sustainable proteins, and will provide ways for companies to rapidly and efficiently screen novel proteins.
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The global population will increase from 7 billion in 2016 to more than 9 billion people by 2050, according to estimates by the United Nations. At the same time, prosperity is increasing in large parts of the world, doubling the demand for food. "If we want to ensure we produce enough food for all these people, then we must move towards a diet with sustainable proteins, derived from plant sources and waste streams," says Marloes Groenewegen, Program Manager Healthy and Tasty Food at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. "The question is whether we can develop sustainable protein beside animal protein in foods without sacrificing nutritional value." Current knowledge about sustainable proteins is limited to little more than the energy value and amino-acid composition. "But we do not know to what degree these proteins are broken down into amino acids and how these components are absorbed by the body," she illustrates.
Five sustainable-protein sources
The research by the PPP Sustainable future proteins: focus on nutritional and health-promoting qualities will provide insights into the digestibility of a number of sustainable-protein sources such as peas, potatoes, animal plasma, edible fungi and insects. The digestibility of proteins and peptides formed during digestion is being studied and compared to milk, soy and egg protein.
In addition, the biological activity of the peptides formed in the gastrointestinal tract is under investigation: how do they affect the immune system, the composition of the intestinal microbiota and the intestinal barrier? The PPP is also looking at whether combined provision of these proteins leads to higher nutritional values and increased biological activity. The researchers are working with advanced in-vitro digestion models and are evaluating proteins and protein combinations in a clinical study using volunteers.
The PPP will provide an integrated toolbox that allows manufacturers to quickly and efficiently evaluate the nutritional value, digestibility and biological activity of novel proteins. "Existing methods for the measurement of digestibility and biological activity are laborious and time-consuming, and often must use animal experiments”, says Harry Wichers, Professor of Immunomodulation at Wageningen University & Research and scientific coordinator of the project. “We will develop a user- and animal-friendly alternative.”
Sustainable future proteins: focus on nutritional and health-promoting qualities has 10 partners: Nutricia Research, AVEBE, Darling Ingredients, BASF, Roquette, QUORN, PROTI-FARM, Mimetas, Wageningen University & Research, and Utrecht University (Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences). The PPP is a long-term public-private collaboration, co-financed by the Dutch Topsector Agri&Food; the research program runs until 2020. The consortium is open to partners offering additional proteins, knowledge and expertise.