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Juliana Nobrega: Extracting Food from Agricultural Waste Streams

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Juliana Maria Leite Nobrega de Moura Bell is an expert in membrane filtration and a project scientist at the Advanced Milk Processing Lab, located in the university’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. She holds a Ph.D. in food processing from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), São Paulo, Brazil, and completed her doctoral training in France at the European Institute of Membrane and Agricultural Research for Development. She was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Iowa State University, where she participated in food engineering research on a large project that spanned over 10 years.

Nobrega and Daniela Barile, Ph.D., associate director of international programs at the UC Davis Foods for Health Institute and an assistant professor and chemist in the Food Science and Technology department are collaborating on the development and application of environmentally friendly processing technologies to extract and fractionate major food components such as oil, protein and carbohydrates with desired functionality. Nobrega’s previous research focused on the development and application of bioprocessing technologies such as enzyme-assisted aqueous extraction, supercritical and subcritical fluid extraction, enzymatic synthesis, fermentation and membrane filtration to recover extracted components with improved functionalities. In 2012 she joined Barile’s research group and the UC Davis Milk Bioactive Program, which is working on the identification and recovery of highly bioactive compounds from dairy streams.

What is important about your project—and where do you hope to take it?

The project we are working on has the ambitious objective of producing the first generation of biotherapeutical prebiotics that have the potential to save lives, especially those of premature infants and children in developing countries who suffer from serious gastrointestinal infections. We are developing a large-scale processing reactor to recover oligosaccharides—complex sugars that are able to ameliorate intestinal conditions—currently wasted in many agricultural streams. Our objective is to bring this technology to future commercial adoption and have a substantial impact on improving human health.

What are you most passionate about in your research/work?

We really like working on solving sustainable problems associated with the food processing industry. I like the challenge of developing new processes that can reduce the use of natural resources, harsh chemicals and the amount of waste produced, and that are able to produce healthier foods and ingredients. All of this while making a difference in people’s lives.

How will the seed funding help you advance your project and move it closer to market?

The funding provides an invaluable support, helping to transform this innovative processing concept—which is not fundable via traditional avenues—into a business opportunity, targeting a future commercialization. It will also enable the development of our first medium-size prototype to produce this new ingredient.

What was the most important lesson learned at the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy?

The most important lesson we learned was “how to give life to a great idea.” As researchers, we tend to focus on the experimental/analytical side. Attending the academy helped us to realize that we really need to be more aware of the business and entrepreneurial side that is so crucial when trying to translate the laboratory research to the market.

What potential impact might your project have on the economy?

The production of a valuable co-product like bioactive oligosaccharides from agricultural waste streams will help mitigate the high healthcare costs associated with treating infant diarrhea, while tackling environmental and economic problems associated with the treatment and disposal of existing agricultural waste streams. Our project can play an important role in leading food and agricultural sectors to a more sustainable, economically beneficial path.

 

 

This project is funded by a grant from the Economic Development Administration’s i6 Challenge under the Sacramento Region Clean AgTech Innovation Center Development Project, Award No. 07 79 06923. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendation are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Agency or the U.S Department of Commerce .

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