Pictured: Pam Ismail (principle investigator), graduate students, undergraduate students, and researchers.
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Animal and human clinical studies as well as epidemiological studies have demonstrated the association of proteins and phytochemicals with prevention of several diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disorders, bone health problems, and postmenopausal symptoms. Therefore, the main focus of our research is improving the functionality and bioactivity of proteins and phytochemicals. Specifically, our group focuses on chemical characterization and enhancement of functionality, safety, bioavailability, delivery, and bioactivity of food proteins and phytochemicals, following novel processing and analytical approaches. We research ways to improve functionality, thermal stability, and bioactivity of food proteins, as well as ways to reduce allergenicity following enzymatic and other natural protein modification approaches. Protein structural characterization is performed using a number of proteomic analytical tools, aiming at linking structure to function.
Our lab has targeted proteins from common sources, including soy, wheat, whey, and casein. However, plant-based proteins are more in demand than ever before. The demonstration of equivalent or superior/new functionality of novel plant proteins compared to existing alternatives is essential to both the food industry and the consumer. Therefore, our lab embarked on studying and evaluating protein from several plant sources including pulses, oilseeds, cereal grains, and hemp (Click here to learn more about current research). Our lab also added sustainable crops to its repertoire. Most notably, we have been researching novel perineal crops including intermediate wheatgrass grains (grains related to wheat), millet, and most recently the oilseeds pennycress and camelina. These crops have excellent environmental benefits, among them reduced soil and water erosion, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced nitrogen leaching. Through a collaborative effort with geneticists, breeders, and agronomists, we are ultimately working to see them commercialized for food applications. Our food science team focuses on characterizing the crops, conducting storage studies, and understanding and improving their functionality.