Functional biopolymers for food and health

Our research interests in the field of biopolymers, span the entire value-added chain for the valorisation of functional biopolymers (polysaccharides, proteins and polynucleotides), from their extraction, purification, chemical and enzymatic modification, and full structural characterization, to the development of novel structures in foods, cosmetics, as well as advanced biomaterials for therapeutics and biosensing devices.

Many of these biopolymers occur in food processing waste streams, hence, we are highly interested in collaborating closely with the food and biotech industry. These materials play many more than only physical roles in foods, and the elucidation of the relationship between their structural aspects and their biological functions, is one of the major drivers of our research.

Biopolymers also comprise the dietary fibre and underpin its prominent role in health. They mediate mouthfeel, lubrication, intestinal motility, bile salts recycling, and serve as fermentable substrates for the microbiota (i.e. as prebiotics), among other functions that are yet to be fully understood. In their purified form, biopolymers can be utilized as building blocks of high-value bioinspired “soft” materials that harness their self-assembling capacity to engineer emulsified oil droplets, multilayer systems, hydrogel networks, nano- and microfibres, etc. These structures can shuttle and deliver nutrients, bioactive compounds and probiotics in the gut; their properties can also be tweaked to prevent the digestibility of fat or to replace saliva in older people. We are investigating on these aspects, aiming to gain a better understanding of their functions, as a blueprint to conceive and design novel functional foods on a rational basis.

We are also interested in the use of biopolymers as macromolecular scaffolds or supports of metallic nanoparticles for the development of sensitive and cost effective and high-throughput biosensing devices that can detect biomarkers, food contaminants and pathogenic microorganisms in tissues, physiological fluids and foods. The occurrence of biopolymers in living organisms is also associated with essential effects of macromolecular crowding, packing and confinement, which impact a myriad of cellular functions, from nucleic acid processing to the cell cycle and cellular differentiation. Nucleic acids are a specific class of functional biopolymers with unique self-assembling properties, which allow the formation of molecular nanostructures with precise geometric shape and stoichiometric composition. In this area, we are interested in studying how the chemical reactivity of enzymes or molecular probes such as DNA, RNA and peptides can be controlled by using allosteric regulators associated with nanoscale confinement, to exhibit specific components of biomolecular complexity for applications are in the areas of synthetic biology and functional food.

Research team

If you are interested in collaborating with us or joining our research team, please get in touch. View all members of the functional biopolymers for food and health theme.

PhD projects

We have opportunities for prospective PhD students. Potential projects can be found in our postgraduate research opportunities directory.