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Australian scientists team together to unravel food structure

19 September, 2008

A team of Australian scientists has joined forces in a collaboration that will utilise state-of-the-art technology and materials science to determine the molecular structure of the protein components in some of our most common foods.

This research will help food manufacturers understand the links between the nanostructure of foods containing protein and their associated physical and biochemical properties, thereby enabling them to predict and control the behaviour of raw materials and ingredients during food processing.

The partnership brings together the food and materials science research capabilities of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), CSIRO’s Food Futures National Research Flagship, and The University of Queensland’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences.

A number of leading food companies including; Fonterra Dairy Co-operative Limited, George Weston Foods, Meat & Livestock Australia, Manildra Group and Dairy Innovation Australia, have also joined as commercial partners.

“Our ultimate goal is to design new, highly nutritious ingredients that can be dried and rehydrated without reducing their quality and functionality. There are a whole range of potential advantages to come from this research.”

Dubbed the ‘Protein Syndicate’, this consortium has commenced research projects that will provide Australian scientists and food manufacturers with the ability to design consumer-friendly foods with improved taste, texture and nutritional qualities.

Research team leader with the Food Futures Flagship, Dr Ingrid Appelqvist, says the consortium aims to determine the behaviour of a range of food proteins and predict their response to formulation variables likely to be found in food manufacturing processes and products.

“Over the next two years we’ll be investigating the molecular structure and functionality of a variety of food proteins with sources ranging from grains to dairy, meat and legumes,” she says.

Food science project leader at ANSTO, Dr Elliot Gilbert, says his team will use neutrons produced by the OPAL reactor to take sophisticated measurements. “While using neutrons to study food may seem unusual, they have the unique ability to identify the location of different atomic or molecular components in food,” he says.

“This will allow us to unlock the secrets of complex food structures, discover how these are altered by food processing and how modifications affect nutrition and long-term health. The work will be complemented with state-of-the-art X-ray scattering facilities.”

The Director of the Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences at The University of Queensland, Professor Mike Gidley, says the Centre will use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and other techniques to identify the molecular basis for the materials and processing properties of proteins in the presence of limited water.

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