Investigation of the interactions of proteins with fibrils in composite gel: a multiscale approach

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


This multidisciplinary project involving both experimental characterization and theoretical aspects aims to characterise the interactions between the components of a gel-like composite of 'inert' polysaccharide fibrils and protein aggregates at multiple length scales (from macro-colloidal-nanoscale).

We first aim to map the macroscale chemistry of interactions using wet chemistry techniques and then probe the dynamic behaviour using advanced confocal microscopy and scattering techniques. Quantification of forces in the protein-fibril complex (surface interactions, bindings - both covalent and non-covalent interactions, mechanical forces, adhesion) will be characterized at colloidal and nanoscale, latter using nanomechanical techniques. We plan to identify key motifs in the protein and the fibrils and factors (temperature, pH, chain length) that control the component interactions and overall structure and strength of this composite material. We aim to develop mesoscopic models using mathematical models and computer simulations to understand: the effect and strength of short-range and electrostatic interactions, surface charge density, surface charge distribution in protein-fibre complexes and compare experimental results with theoretical results to pin-point the key controlling interactions and the distribution within the material.

Protein chemistry, probing interactions experimentally at colloidal length scale, rheology, imaging (advanced confocal microscopy with Raman, cryo-scanning electron microscopy with Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX)), scattering- Prof. Brent Murray/ Prof. Anwesha Sarkar (Food Sci)

Development and application of atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques in imaging and force spectroscopy mode, nanomechanics (adhesive forces, pulling forces), and biopolymer network characterisation at the nanoscale. - Dr Simon Connell (Physics)

Modelling interactions at colloidal length scale, Self-consistent field theory calculations, Brownian dynamics, Monte Carlo simulations - Dr Rammile Ettelaie (Food Sci)

Direct utilization of facilities at Bragg Centre of Materials Research (e.g. Wellcome trust-funded high speed confocal with force measurements)

Direct utilization of facilities at LEMAS (Leeds Electron Microscopy and Spectroscopy Centre) (e.g. SEM with EDX)

This study will identify what are the key interactions that generate the texture of a model Quorn vegetarian product.

The future growth of Quorn will depend on replicating or enhancing these textures with plant proteins.

It is hoped the output of this work will accelerate plant protein reformulation allowing the company to reduce egg white use and further improving the company sustainability/LCA profile into the future.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022473/1 31/03/2019 29/09/2027
2437214 Studentship EP/S022473/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2024 Mary Chioma Okeudo