Functional stabilisers nanoengineered for foods

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nanotechnology

Dairy proteins and polysaccharides can be nanoengineered as new
functional stabilisers for foods and packaging, according to
scientists working on a project in Finland.

The government-sponsored Tailored Nanostabilisers for Biocomponent Interfaces Project (Taina) aims to engineer and construct functional nanoscale particles for sensitive biocomponents in foods. Nanotechnology deals with controlling matter at near-atomic scales to produce unique materials, products and devices. It has been touted as the next revolution in many industries, including food manufacturing and packaging. Tekes, the main public funding organisation for research and development in Finland, has provided €1.4m over three years for the food project. Markku Lämsä, a senior technology advisor with Tekes, told that the believe that the particles can act as active emulsions, to stabilise foams and sensitive components during processing or in the gastro-intestinal tract. The scientist involved also want to develop tailored barrier and sensing functions for food packaging using the components. For food packaging, they aim to improve the barrier properties of the biopolymers and also to evaluate the possibility to incorporate enzymes in nanoscale particles into the packaging materials. Such use of enzymes would give increased functionality or "intelligence" to the package, such as freshness indicators, he said. "The project focuses on interfacial engineering of dairy proteins and polysaccharides to improve their antixodant properties, emulsion stability, barrier properties and protection against other bioactive components,"​ he said. They are working on the premise that proteins and selected carbohydrates are suitable as nanostabilisers for bioactive components, he said. Enzymes can be used as tools to add novel functionalities to such polymers, they believe. Micro-organisms can also be used to produce proteins with unique potential for nanoscale applications. "These hydrophobins have strong self-assembling nature and they are good candidates when nanoscopic structural organisation in biomaterials is desired,"​ according to a description of the project. The project partners are VTT , Åbo Akademi, Helsinki University of Technology and the Institute for Surface Chemistry in Sweden. The project forms part of Finland's programme to develop nanotechnology expertise within the country. Finnish industry and Tekes are drawing up a shared strategy on nanotechnology development targets. The safety of nanotechnology applications is one of the key themes. "We want the practical implementers to have a say in choosing the target areas of financing. The work began last spring with the creation of a joint vision by the electronics, chemical and forest clusters, and now continues in a more concrete way as the allocation of financial resources,"​ Lämsä said. The programme's six thematic groups focus on the electronics and forest clusters, nanotechnology processes and instruments, nanotechnology materials and safety. Commercial products include nanoscale particles and materials, but also an increasing amount of products relying on 'applied' nanotechnology, such as cosmetics and paints. The thematic groups began their work on 30 August. The work will continue until the end of 2010. Safety was selected as one of the themes because the safety risks of nanoparticles have aroused debate particularly among health-care and medical researchers worldwide, Lämsä said. Public concerns have been raised that nanostructured materials could potentially lead to unforeseen health or environmental hazards. In the food area fears arise over the unknown consequences of digesting nano-scale particles designed to behave in specific way in the body. About 80 companies using nanotechnology participate in Tekes' FinNano technology programme. A 2006 survey identified 129 Finnish companies that either had commercial products or research activities focused on nanotechnology, or who had participated in the Tekes FinNano technology programme. Of the identified 129 firms, 29 reported having a commercial product which is based on nanotechnology. These products range from technology for industrial processes to consumer products. Activity has been especially strong in the areas of packaging, with increased research into 'intelligent' packaging, incorporating features like freshness indicators, the survey found.

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