Researching the potent potential for barley protein
When it comes to researching proteins, peptides and amino acids, Lingyun Chen is like a kid in a candy store.
As Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in plant protein structure function and nutraceutical delivery at the University of Alberta, Chen studies the unique value-added applications of barley protein.
Originally from Wuhan, China, Chen’s interest in science and the environment led her to Wuhan University where she received her bachelor of science in environmental chemistry and Ph.D. in biopolymer research.
After moving to Canada in 2003, Chen continued her training at Laval University as a postdoctoral fellow, researching industrial uses of whey protein. Her experience at Laval opened the door to her current research at the University of Alberta.
Since then, Chen has been researching different uses for plant proteins, including barley protein.
“I am so very interested in the different opportunities that this protein can offer,” said Chen. “They can be made into bio-plastics, or even some materials for pharmaceutical applications.”
Now an associate professor of cereal science at the University of Alberta, Chen combines her knowledge of plant proteins with her interest in finding uses for by-products.
According to Chen, by-products that would otherwise be discarded, like the barley protein found in the distilled grains from the brewing industry, could be valuable in other applications.
“Soya protein used to be a by-product of oil processing, but now it’s a major product,” she said. “The value can be very high.”
Chen’s interest in finding new uses for barley by-products could mean substantial benefits to industry.
Currently Chen is developing barley protein capsules, which could be used by the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industry to deliver ingredients to the human body more efficiently. These capsules could be a great option for vegetarian consumers looking to avoid capsules made with gelatin, a by-product of the meat industry.
The opportunities for barley protein don’t end there, however.
Chen explained that the protein’s antioxidant properties could also be used to increase shelf life in products like baby food.
Recently, Chen was named the Cereal Scientist Chair, a position sponsored in part by Alberta Barley. The position comes with $500,000 in funding over five years to continue her work with barley protein.
The aim of this research is to demonstrate the importance of barley as a food ingredient. This could result in end-users paying farmers a premium price for barley with particular food ingredient characteristics, Chen explained.