Plant Proteins as sustainable food ingredients and as bioplastics

Plant proteins have the future ! It is becoming very clear that we cannot go on relying so strongly on animals as the source of protein in our diet. Likewise, we cannot go on producing our polymers for packaging and other purposes from fossil fuels. Two PhDs in the protein materials group, Dana and Xiufeng, focus on plant protein materials.

Dana focuses on the interactions between proteins and polysaccharides such as the (supposedly very healthy) beta-glucans in oats. In very very brief, we want to understand what the different components do when you mix oats with water and heat to form a porridge. From a Soft Matter point of view the porridge is a composite visco-elastic material and we want to understand the material properties (viscosity, gel modulus) in terms of the properties of the oat components.

Xiufeng is aiming at using zein, a widely available protein from corn, as an ingredient for replacing synthetic polymers in encapsulation applications. Think e.g. of the fragrances in washing powders: these are enclosed in little plastic shells that break when you rub your towel and then release a “fresh” smell. Right now synthetic polymers (made from fossil fuels) are used for such shells, but together with a Swiss company, we are looking for ways to use plant proteins such as zein to make such capsules.

Techniques: Emulsion Stability, Rheology, Confocal Scanning Laser Microscopy, Electron Microscopy, Phase Behavior, Enzymatic protein modification, (Enzymatic) protein crosslinking.