Electrospun nanofibres are attracting particular attention in the food industry because of their potential to control the release of valuable food ingredients and nutrients in the body – and show particular promise for functional ingredients such as probiotics, prebiotics and plant sterols, according to Dr Nick Tucker from the University of Lincoln’s School of Engineering.
However, the delivery of nutrients in a functional food is just one potential application, said Tucker, who added that nano-fibres also have great potential as a delivery vehicle for flavours and aromas, and even in reducing the levels salt and sugar used in products.
“The notion that we can get something to pass to a targeted area of the digestive system, that’s where the potential is,” he said – adding that research colleagues have suggested probiotics, prebiotics and plant sterols all hold promise – adding that a review just published in Food Hydrocolloids provides details on the fundamentals of electrospinning to produce nanofibres suitable for food technology applications.
“There are a couple of notions of what we can do. Firstly there is the idea of protecting a sensitive material and at the same time there is the proposition of delivering a material,” said Tucker. “If you think about a flavour or an aroma, then to be able to deliver them on that scale, with such a small surface area, would probably deliver quite an intense burst … so I’m also quite interested in exploring the gustatory side also.”
“My fellow test tube bashers have come up with a few prospective materials, but it’s now a case of seeing what the industry think is the golden opportunity,” he said. “Perhaps it will even come from left of the field.”
Tucker has worked on nano-fibre production and for a number of years, and is now looking to form industrial relationships to create electrospun composites for a number of applications in the food and nutrition sector.
The researcher told us that he believes greater collaboration between academia and industry will stimulate future developments.
“What I’m actually looking for are people who are aware of the potential of the technology and are also of the opinion that the lab bench should sit close to the factory floor,” he told us.
“The idea that some bearded old scientist comes down from the mountain like Moses with the tablet, saying ‘this is the work I’ve done you should now use it’, does not work.”
“I need people who are like me – who have a gleam in the eye.”
Tucker is aiming to work with manufacturers with an interest in electrospun nanofibers for the delivery of food ingredients – adding that new research equipment is currently being built and shipped to the lab and that he now needs “some interesting industrial applications to direct the research.”
“I would be delighted to start thinking about a project to work towards that end because that is the way to do it,” he commented – noting that any initial collaboration over the basic research would probably not require funding. However, he suggested that successful research that went on to be used by industry could be based on a production royalty.
“At the end of the research exercise I want the manufacturer who has been working alongside us and chatting to us about what we are doing to be in a really good position to take that work up and make some money out of it,” he said.
“We have the science and we have the technology – even to build machines on an industrial scale … What we lack is a focus or a product that somebody out there in the industry has got.”
Writing in the Food Hydrocolloids review, Tucker and his colleagues noted that electrospun fibers will need parallel development of both their physical form, and methods of incorporation into food stuffs.
“A tighter interaction between the academic and the industrial communities and a critical assessment of the weakness and strength points of electrospinning technologies for industrial processes can certainly be useful to stimulate future developments,” they wrote.
Source: Food Hydrocolloids
Volume 51, October 2015, Pages 227–240, doi: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2015.05.024
“Fundamentals of electrospinning as a novel delivery vehicle for bioactive compounds in food nanotechnology”
Authors:Behrouz Ghorani, Nick Tucker