New Frontiers research funds to improve plant proteins, to study environmental impacts of urban migration

New Frontiers research funds to improve plant proteins, to study environmental impacts of urban migration

Two land and food systems scientists have won New Frontiers in Research Fund Explorations awards, an award stream that focuses on fast-breaking, high-risk research that is international and interdisciplinary. These projects have been funded for two years, with the possibility of extension for a third year.

Plant proteins as an alternative to meat ($250,000)

Assistant Professor Derek Dee is a food scientist who has been studying how proteins behave under different conditions. With the burst of interest in plant proteins, he will research the behavior of soy, pea, lentil and peanut proteins to see how they can be developed to replace meat proteins. His goal is to create a texture from plant proteins that is satisfying and mimics the experience of eating meat.

His project combines biophysics and food science. Under certain conditions, protein molecules can self-assemble into nanofibrils (long, thin strands of 1000s of protein molecules), with different fibril types formed under different conditions. Plant proteins and nanofibrils are complex structures, and fundamental questions need to be answered to develop new plant protein ingredients. As people are seeking alternatives to animal protein to improve their health and the sustainability of their diet, plant proteins are being advanced to help meet this demand.

Environmental impacts due to rural-urban migration ($243,000)

Assistant Professor Frederik Noack applies economics to the study of land and food systems. He is leading a new project measuring the environmental impact of migration from rural to urban areas in developing countries. While more than 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, that number is expected to grow to 70 per cent by 2050.

Noack’s group will look at how biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions are impacted, while considering economic factors such as rising income levels, and incorporating population trends from sources that include satellite images and census data. His goal is to understand the environmental implications of people moving into urban areas with the hope that this could, in the future, inform policies to protect biodiversity, ecosystems, the climate and health.