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Microstructure engineering of plant protein:polysaccharide mixtures

Project Description

The phase behaviour, the flow-induced microstructure and properties of animal based protein:polysaccharide mixtures have long been studied. Due to global population growth and the huge environmental cost associated with production of animal-based protein foods, plant proteins have increasingly become of interest as soft colloid system microstructure ingredients. For the application in foods it is desirable that the protein is rich in essential amino acids, such as quinoa protein isolate (QPI). The emulsifying/foaming ability and gelation properties of QPI have been studied. For some applications, however, such as fibre spinning towards the creation of meat analogues or as emulsion mimetics for fat reduction, mixing with a polysaccharide is essential to create the desired processing properties and/or final product microstructures. In view to process minimisation and waste reduction, there is also the trend to move towards less refined systems for final product application and such systems have been little studied to-date. Knowledge of product design based on minimally refined systems will also be beneficial to account for the compositional variation between batches of the same material or even between varieties.

Therefore, the overall aim of this PhD is to understand the phase behaviour and the microstructure-rheology relationships of QPI:polysaccharide mixtures as influenced by the solvent conditions, temperature and level of protein refinement for a selected polysaccharide, e.g., maltodextrin or pullulan. The 3.5 year funded PhD project will be based in the Schools of Chemical Engineering at The University of Birmingham and The University of Melbourne respectively. The research facilitates of both institutions supporting this project are complementary. At Birmingham, facilities include an optical shearing stage for the study the flow-induced microstructure and the interfacial tension behaviour in two-phase separated biopolymer mixtures. The University of Melbourne has excellent microscopy facilities, both within the Materials Characterisation and Fabrication Platform and at The Melbourne Advance Microscopy Facility at Bio21, where Prof Gras is Associate Director. These include confocal microscopy, cryo-scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy that could be used to visualise the spatial distribution of the protein and polysaccharide components, using both labelled and unlabelled components in biopolymer gel mixtures. Program findings may also be applied to more complex ingredient mixtures, such as protein:quinoa starch mixtures produced using minimally processed quinoa flour, where the potential for stabilisation of the interface between ingredient components could also be examined.

Funding Notes

A fully-funded studentship, which includes tax-free Doctoral Stipend of £15,009* per annum, is available for Home/EU and Overseas students on this Joint PhD programme between the University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne for October 2019 start. For students who are to be hosted by the University of Melbourne, the scholarship rate will be $AUD30,000 p.a. and will include provision for a return trip to Birmingham.
*subject to inflationary variation

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