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High-quality protein extraction from plant-based sources

Name: Subramoni Hariharan 

Department: CTARA

Name of supervisor: Prof. Amit Y Arora


Description of research work: 

With the global population slated to touch 10 billion by 2050, one of the major challenges in this century is ensuring food security for all. However, this must be concordant with nutrient security. Of all the macro-nutrients, protein has garnered a lot of attention over the previous decade, owing to shifts in consumer consumption patterns. Animal-derived protein production is projected to increase to meet the protein demand. However, animal-derived protein has several disadvantages, including increased production of greenhouse gases, increased water use, loss of habitat, and soil degradation.  Plant proteins are a sustainable alternative, and there have been visible developments in this sector. The current methods protein extraction from plants employ harsh chemicals like acids, and alkalis. These affect not only the quality of the protein, but also damage the environment owing to toxic effluents. Moreover, there is a dearth of biomass and raw materials (with respect to plants), which can yield protein comparable to meat.

One of the driving factors in my initial research was to objectively analyse the possibility of extracting high-quality proteins from under-utilized biomass. Principally, my research aims at the extraction and production of protein hydrolysates from peanut oilcakes. These are the residues which are produced post extraction of oil from peanut kernels. They are a rich source of protein (nearly 45 -48% of biomass). One of the main advantages of using peanut oilcake is that the raw material is cheap, and easily available throughout the year. The other advantage is the presence of essential amino acids in the raw material. Proteolytic enzymes (enzymes which can cut big protein molecules) have been employed to separate and extract the proteins from the oilcakes. The process yields high-quality protein (protein hydrolysates), having excellent functional properties, while leaving the carbohydrates behind. These hydrolysates have been found to be more amenable to digestion and biosorption in humans (based on In Vitro studies). The process does not employ any harsh chemicals, thereby preserving the quality of the protein. Initial results have been promising, and further work is planned to purify and concentrate the proteins using membrane technologies. Further work is planned to make the bioprocess technique more sustainable and economical.

Enzymatic hydrolysis of peanut oilcake to produce high-quality functional peanut protein


The sustainable production of protein hydrolysates is of immense interest to the food and nutrition industries. Based on the amino acid content, these hydrolysates can be incorporated into various food-based formulations (beverages, powders, biscuits, etc.). Hydrolysates which lack essential amino acids can be considered for non-nutritional purposes (adhesives, films, coatings, etc). The hydrolysates can also possess bioactivity (anti-diabetic, antioxidant), which makes them interesting candidates for the nutraceutical industries. Apart from protein, the insoluble carbohydrates are a good source of dietary fibre. The oil from the oilcakes is easily separated and can be purified for further uses.

I feel that two of the greatest challenges we face are climate change and supply of nutritious food for the ever-growing population. Climate change must be tackled on multiple fronts and reducing the production of animal-derived protein has often been cited as one of the solutions. Currently, the consumers have limited equivalent alternatives to animal-derived protein. I believe that this project will contribute towards tackling the issue.