Capturing health-promoting ingredients from dairy industry waste streams
Note: This interview was conducted in spring 2017, when Shalini Shankar was a 2016/17 Business Development Fellow.
Shalini Shankar is a second-year master’s student in the Department of Food Science and Technology. She earned her Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) in food engineering and technology from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, India. She worked with the Coca-Cola Co. in the corporate R&D and the global scientific and regulatory affairs departments, and also completed internships with the USDA, Tata Chemicals Innovation Centre and Equinox Labs prior to enrolling at UC Davis.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
Global yearly whey production from cheesemaking amounts to approximately 190 million metric tonnes. From this, whey proteins are successfully captured and commercialized, however, there are still several effluent streams that are discarded at cost to the industry. In fact, many of these streams contain valuable nutrients: lactose, minerals, naturally occurring functional peptides and bioactive milk oligosaccharides. My research focuses on the characterization of the bioactive compounds in these underutilized streams and on developing methods for their extraction at scale. My endeavor is to enable the dairy industry to capture new beneficial bioactive compounds that are currently part of a large and challenging waste stream and turn them into valuable functional food ingredients that can be used to improve infant and elderly nutrition.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Milk is one of the most protective means of providing postnatal nutrition for healthy infant development and, therefore, a very interesting model to study. Milk bioactives play an important role in modulating gut health and have become an area of intensive research. What I find most exciting about my work is that it lies at the crossroads of advancements in analytical, processing methods and big data—thereby providing a unique opportunity to develop sustainable solutions to harvest these health-promoting ingredients from dairy industry side streams while simultaneously adding value to waste streams.
How will what you learn as a Business Development Fellow help you change the world?
Our focus, as researchers, is the advancement of scientific knowledge. What I am also particularly interested in is exploring the commercial potential of research and their transformation into products and processes that can benefit society, the environment and industry. The coursework and hands-on experience in designing new ventures through the Business Development Fellowship program has helped me gain a better understanding of the entrepreneurial experience, commercialization of innovation, and equipped me with the skills to manage innovation through its lifecycle.
What is the most valuable lesson or experience you have had through the program?
I thoroughly enjoyed the MBA courses and becoming acquainted with different aspects of business development. I particularly enjoyed Professor Marc Lowe’s New and Small Business Ventures class, in which we had the opportunity to develop a complete business plan for our own startup ventures, which was a tremendous learning experience. The opportunity to work in teams with highly diverse backgrounds and expertise has also been invaluable.