New faculty profile: Derek Dee
Derek Dee joined the Faculty of Land and Food Systems in January 2019 as an Assistant Professor in Food Science. His research focuses on understanding protein structure and function, and its potential applications in food, biomaterials and medicine.
Dee’s research is an unusual combination of food science and biophysics. His research involves a variety of biochemical, molecular biology and biophysical approaches and offers a training environment that blends basic and applied sciences to better understand and utilize food proteins and enzymes.
His potential collaborators are food scientists, physicists, and computer simulation specialists. One of his current projects is the genetic modification and engineering of protein nanofibrils. Protein nanofibrils are threads of protein only a few molecules wide yet a thousand times longer. They have unique properties which motivate research into how to mimic nature and create new functional materials.
“Owing to the complex three-dimensional structure of proteins, the design rules for building protein structures are not well-known,” he said. “My research would improve our understanding of how to assemble and functionalize protein nanofibrils with other molecules and integrate them into larger devices in a well-defined manner.”
Some examples of larger devices are biocatalytic reactors (ordered arrays of enzymes immobilized on a nanofibril network), biosensors (enzymes immobilized onto nanofibrils, in turn connected to a light or voltage sensor used to measure the concentration of the analyte of interest), nanowires or nanoelectronics.
His other project focus is plant protein nanofibrils for use in food. As people seek animal protein alternatives to improve their health and the sustainability of their diet, Dee believes legume proteins could meet this demand if novel processes are found that improve plant protein functionality in food. “Most studies have focused on fibrils made from animal proteins, while plant proteins are more complex and have received much less attention,” he said.
Prior to joining our Faculty, Dee was an Assistant Professor in Food Chemistry, Proteins and Enzymes at the University of Georgia, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Prion Protein Aggregation at the University of Alberta. He completed both his PhD in Biophysics and MSc in Food Science at the University of Guelph and is a recipient of the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Postdoctoral Fellowship, Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Post Graduate Scholarship.