Research Program

Dr. Betti is a food scientist with previous industry experience as R&D manager. His research interests span food protein chemistry, meat science/applied muscle biology, and product development. Dr. Betti’s research team has access to all the necessary equipment to cover work in the food protein chemistry area including, size exclusion chromatography (SEC), ultra performance liquid chromatography (UPLC-UV), liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and gas chromatography (GC-FID). Rheometer and texture profile analyzer (TPA) are also used as routine in his lab for studying the viscoelastic properties of protein gels and the textural properties of several food matrix like, for instance, surimi type products. In a recent work on protein glycosylation, Dr. Betti’ s team also gained experience with the use of MALDI-TOF-MS and Orbitrap-LC-MS by collaborating with the Biochemistry Department at University of Alberta. Dr. Betti is actively collaborating with the Food Developing Processing Centre (FDPC) in Leduc (AB) for scaling-up some of the extraction technologies developed in his laboratory. Research areas with their respective projects are listed below.

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A view of Dr. Betti’s research laboratory.

1. Maximizing the value of poultry and marine and processing by-products

Muscle foods originating from poultry and marine species produce a large amount of by-products upon processing. These by-products could serve as a rich source of a variety of biomolecules with potential health benefits.  Projects currently under investigation in this area are listed below. Active sponsors are: Alberta Livestock Meat Agency (ALMA), Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI-Bio), Alberta Chicken Producers (ACP), Maple Leaf Foods, RossDown Natural Foods.

Isolated proteins from poultry meat processing by-products through the isoelectric solubilization and precipitation process: potential applications. With the expansion of the broiler chickens further processing industry over the past 25 years, emphases have been placed on improved distribution and marketing of cut up poultry and the creation of value added further processed products. Most of this expansion has been in the utilization of deboned broiler breast meat resulting in excess supplies and depressed returns of mechanically separated poultry meat (MSPM), giblets, and dark meat in general. The major problems with the increased utilisation of these raw materials for product development are appearance (colour) which is well documented to affect consumers’ selection and satisfaction with poultry products as well as higher fat content and lower stability. To solve these problems a process has been developed at University of Alberta to economically produce functional protein isolates from MSPM, spent hens carcasses, and dark fatty muscle from chickens and turkeys. This technology uses the pH-dependent solubility properties of poultry muscle proteins (isoelectric solubilisation and precipitation) for their separation and recovery from other components of muscle which are not desirable (fat and pigments) in a final product. Isolated proteins may be used in new and existing meat products without negatively affecting sensory or marketing quality (primarily color, oxidative stability, and fat content) of the final products. This project aims to evaluate possible application of the isolated proteins in further processed meat products. This project is in collaboration with the FDPC in Leduc (AB).

Preparation and characterization of high quality gelatin from  poultry collagenous biomass. This project is aimed at extraction of high quality gelatin from underutilized poultry material.  The use of gelatin varies from simple addition into food products as a gelling agent, binder, emulsifier or thickener to film-forming agent as used for encapsulation of liquids or powders. However, the commercially available gelatin is mainly from bovine, porcine or fish sources. Hence gelatin from poultry source may have its importance due to the problems associated with gelatin from other species (i.e BSE, allergenicity…). During the isolation of myofibrillar proteins from mechanically deboned poultry meat (MDPM) using the isoelectric solubilization and precipitation process, a collagenous biomass was obtained as a by-product. As a consequence, there is an opportunity for preparation of gelatin from this collagen layer. Consumer acceptability of chicken gelatin is expected to be high, provided the gelatin from poultry by-products can compete with existing products from other sources in terms of quality. The project will be benefitted to poultry producers by having better utilization of MDPM, whereas the general public will be benefited from the new gelatin prepared from poultry source. This project is in collaboration with the FDPC in Leduc (AB).

Functional ingredients from poultry bone biomass: extraction, isolation and purification of chondroitin sulfate. Three poultry processing companies in Alberta produce approximately 45,000 kg of bone/cartilage biomass weekly – totalling 2,340 tonnes/year. Presently, rendering companies are removing this product at no cost to the processor, while at the same time the processors are not generating any revenues from this by-product. The main components of this product are bones, cartilage, fat and moisture. It is known that chicken cartilage, particularly sternum and synovial joint cartilages, are a good source (up to 30% of dry mass) of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) (mainly chondroitin sulfate (CS)) and collagen type II. The benefits of oral supplementation of chondroitin sulphates to improve joint lubrication system are well researched and documented, and favourable research outcomes resulted in the wide spread use of Glucosamine/CS for the treatment of osteoarthritis condition and in disease prevention applications in humans and animals. The overall objective of this project is to develop an efficient and simple technology for the extraction of GAGs from poultry biomass, thus diverting these components from the pet food market back into the human food chain. This project is in collaboration with the FDPC in Leduc (AB).

2. Structure-function relationship of food proteins and peptides

Food proteins and peptides can be modified by means of physical and enzymatic treatments as well as through saccharide interaction in order to modify their structure, with the aim to increase functionality and bioactivity (i.e. solubility, emulsifying and foaming properties, gelling ability, antioxidant capacity, anti-freezing capacity and bioavailability). Current projects going on in this area are listed below. Active funding agencies in this area are ALMA, AI-Bio, PB Gelatins (Tessenderlo group).

Designing glycosylated proteins for food functionality. This project is targeting the preparation of animal and vegetable derived proteins with improved functional and gelling properties through covalent conjugation with monosaccharides and oligosaccharides. Non enzymatic glycosylation as well enzyme mediated glycosylation are currently under evaluation.

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Functionalized peptides for skin care produced from collagen biomass. This project is targeting the preparation of Type I and III functionalized collagen peptides from bovine and poultry by-products for utilization as anti-aging nutraceuticals and ingestible formulations for skin care. The major sources of commercial collagen include pigskin, bovine hide and bone. The poultry and beef industries in Alberta produce considerable amounts of waste rich in collagenous material which offers an opportunity for the preparation of collagen peptides with anti-aging effects.  Recently, a growing interest in maintaining healthy skin has resulted in increasing demands for natural anti-aging products. Different studies have shown that hydrolyzed collagen is effective in improving skin health. However, the bioavailability of these peptides is limited due to poor metabolic stability, poor solubility and low ability to cross the intestinal and blood barriers. Therefore, this project aims: 1) to produce very low molecular weight collagen peptides; 2) to functionalize these peptides by incorporating specific functional groups throuhg chemical an enzymatic technology.

Functional modification of animal derived proteins with the use of high pressure processing technology. High hydrostatic pressure processing (HHP) is a technique that subjects food to pressures between 100 and 1000 MPa). HHP is not only used to inactivate enzymes and pathogens but also to create textured products through modification of the protein conformation (i.e. protein denaturation, aggregation or gelation). Studies showed that the application of HHP to food proteins can induce changes in the molecular weight distribution and in the viscoelastic properties. Hence, treating animal derived proteins with high pressure may result in new food protein structure with enhanced functionality.

The potential of glycation/glycosylation in developing novel food glycopeptides with antimicrobial activity. In a preliminary experiment, enzymatic conjugation of amino sugars with peptides derived from fish gelatin generated compounds with antimicrobial activity. While information on the structure and inhibitory spectrum of these novel compounds is currently limited, their use may allow the simultaneous generation of antimicrobial and flavour-active (kokumi or umami) glycopeptides. This project aims to isolate and characterize anti-microbial compounds produced from cold water fish gelatin.

3. Development of Kokumi and salty molecules from food proteins

Salt reduction in food is an on-going challenge in the food industry. The discovery of ‘Kokumi’ taste enhancers enables us to develope a new strategy in partial salt replacement in food. Kokumi taste enhancers are referred to as compounds triggering savory, mouthfulness, and continuity; the compounds do not have their own flavour but enhances the flavours in food which they are combined with. Kokumi compounds are found in cheese, fish sauce, scallop, beans, onion, yeast and etc. However, the commercial Kokumi flavour enhancer is derived from a mixture of Maillard reaction products (glycoprotein, glycopeptides, heterocyclic compounds, melanoidin etc). Its typical production involves extreme heating of soy protein and sugars, resulting in the accumulation of Maillard reaction end products, which are detrimental to our health.

LC MSOur aim is to produce salt-replacing molecules enzymatically at moderate temperatures, thus minimizing the developement of Maillard reaction end products. Aside from the sensory profile, we are also keen on exploiting the potential of Kokumi as antioxidants and antimicrobials.

Funding Agencies: ALMA, AI-Bio, ACP, Maple Leaf Foods.

4. Tissue engineered nutrition

Dr Betti’s research team is trying to explore the use of tissue engineering techniques to replicate edible tissues (i.e. muscle fibers and extracelluar matrix).

Funding Agency: Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).