PhD project: Proteins as interfacial stabilisers - improving low-fat foods and increasing satiety

Project description

It is estimated that in the UK 60% of adults and 30% of children are overweight,with up to 25% of adults being clinically obese. It is well-established that obesity is linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

One approach to combating this problem is to decrease the energy content of foodstuffs while increasing the sense of satisfaction derived from eating them. The highest energy density arises from fats so one target is the generation of low fat foods, but fats play an important role in stabilising interfaces, and replacing them is not easy. Such interfaces are of enormous importance in conventional foodstuffs, such as the air/liquid interface in whipped cream and the water/oil interface in chocolate and dairy products.

One possibility is to replace fats with proteins. Proteins are less energy dense than fats and moreover increase our sense of satiety or “fullness”, but our understanding of their interfacial activity is incomplete. In this PhD project, the student will examine the ability of a number of different proteins and protein formulations to stabilise interfaces. The replacement of fat as the primary stabiliser of such interfaces is critical to the development of new, palatable and satiating foods.

The student will be trained in protein handling and characterisation techniques including advanced spectroscopic methods. They will be introduced to methods for inducing the controlled self-assembly of proteins and quantitatively monitoring their aggregation state. Interfacial stabilisation will be quantitatively determined using optical methods, light scattering techniques and surface tension measurements.

This is an interdisciplinary project at the physics/ life sciences interface, which is a priority area for the School of Physics and Astronomy. Currently 11 academic staff members and their PhD students/ PDRAs direct their research towards understanding phenomena in the life sciences, with research projects ranging from bacterial ecology to virus particle self-assembly. The student will be a member of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) graduate school, which provides the opportunity to take taught courses and transferable skills training.

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