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Lab Alum Taoran Wang featured on UConn Today

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Read the story at UConn Today.

Taoran Wang is combining her life-long passion for food with her UConn education to expand innovation for plant-based food company, Beyond Meat.

Wang came to the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources from China to earn her master’s degree in allied health sciences. During her time in the master’s program, Wang realized she had a passion for food science and decided to continue her education at UConn. Wang completed her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences in 2019.

Wang has always been interested in the culture of food. She was able to learn more about this at UConn during the first year of her Ph.D. in a class on food culture and society.

She learned that many people in eastern and southeastern Asia have long subscribed to plant-based diets, something that tied her interest in food culture with her concern for environmental sustainability.

Wang’s dissertation research with associate professor Yangchao Luo focused on creating nano-sized delivery vesicles for bioactive compounds using natural biomaterials like lipids and proteins. This work is relevant to food science because it can aid in the production of functional foods which provide additional nutrients or have other desirable properties.

“He made me so, so, so interested in research, especially food science,” Wang says. “That’s the beginning of everything.”

Wang’s experience working with Luo, who has a background in food science, gave her important insights into how food and nutritional sciences go hand-in-hand. This has been important for Wang’s current work at Beyond Meat.

“It was a good combination of both knowledge of food science and nutritional science and that’s what we need in this company,” Wang says.

After graduating from UConn, Wang worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University. There, she developed edible food packaging. These polymer coatings would be a safe, sustainable way to extend a food’s shelf life while cutting out plastic waste.

Wang currently works as a biopolymer scientist at Beyond Meat in California. Beyond Meat is one of the largest plant-based meat substitute companies.

Wang’s work with Beyond Meat taps into a long-held concern for sustainability. Current meat industry practices have a tremendous negative impact on the planet. Large farms use huge amounts of land, water, and other resources while generating harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

“I really care about global environmental issues,” Wang says. “This could reduce the land and energy used to produce real animal meat.”

At Beyond Meat, Wang and other scientists are continually working to improve their products so that they more closely resemble the sensory experience of animal-based meat. Beyond Meat’s products aim to capture the taste, texture, smell, and cooking experience of meat. They also seek to emulate the nutritional content of animal-based meat.

A key to Wang’s process is collaboration. In addition to her own team, she regularly works with the formulation and protein teams to make sure what her group is doing will work for the product overall.

“We have to work as a whole team to make a significant improvement,” Wang says. “Even though we’re from different backgrounds, we’re all working toward the same goal.”

Another key to Wang’s work at Beyond Meat is the freedom she is afforded.

“If you have an idea you want to try – no problem,” Wang says. “Our company really encourages people to be more creative and try different things.”

New Food Safety Lab

Our new Food Safety Lab (in Jones Building) has now been finally inspected and approved by Connecticut Department of Public Health for conducting research activities on pathogenic bacteria. The lab has also received a full approval from UConn Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), and now it is up and running. We are excited to establish a new research program to study how nanotechnology can aid food industry to tackle microbiological safety and quality challenges.

Promotion and Tenure to Dr. Luo

During the Board of Trustees Meeting today (April 28, 2021), the Board voted to approve Dr. Luo’s promotion to Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, effective August 23, 2021. Congratulations to Dr. Luo on reaching a significant milestone in his academic career! Read the celebration message from Provost here.

Excellence Awards Featured on UConn Today

The College of Agriculture, Health, and, Natural Resources (CAHNR) held their annual Honors and Awards Ceremony on March 31, 2021 honoring, faculty, students, and alum for their contributions to the College, research, and community. Faculty and students from the Department of Nutritional Sciences have received multiple awards in 2020 and 2021. Our department holds the largest number of awards among eight academic departments in the college. From our lab, Jingyi Xue won the CAHNR Graduate Student Research and Creativity Award in 2021, and Dr. Luo was awarded the Donald M. Kinsman Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2020. Please read the story at UConn Today here.