Lab Alum Taoran Wang featured on UConn Today

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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 Publication by Erika Fleming

Congratulations to Erika Fleming on publishing a research article in Food Biophysics. The article, entitled “Mucoadhesive biopolymer nanoparticles for encapsulation of lipophilic nutrients with enhanced bioactivity”, reports the various methodologies to evaluate the mucoahesive properties of biopolymer nanoparticles, including traditional physical and chemical methods, as well as the state-of-the-art analytical technique, i.e., Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation Monitoring (QCM-D). QCM-D is an ultra-sensitive instrument for real-time characterization of interfaces and molecular interactions. This is a collaborative research project between our lab and Dr. Boce Zhang‘s lab at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Please read the article here.

Novelty Statement

Given the exceptional mucoadhesive properties, the biopolymer nanoparticles that we prepared make an excellent candidate for the encapsulation of lipophilic nutrients with low bioavailability.

New Publication by Taoran Wang and Wusigale

Congratulations to Taoran Wang and Wusigale (co-first authors) on having their research paper published in Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials. The article, entitled "Polydopamine-coated chitosan hydrogel beads for synthesis and immobilization of silver nanoparticles to simultaneously enhance antimicrobial activity and adsorption kinetics", showcases our recent collaborative project on developing the innovative and multi-functional chitosan-based hydrogel beads with immobilized with silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) via polydopamine coating to simultaneously enhance antimicrobial and adsorption activity. The findings from this study demonstrate that AgNPs (2.5 nm) not only significantly improved the adsorption performance of the chitosan hydrogel beads and but also dramatically enhanced their antibacterial activity against both Gram-negative bacteria than Gram-positive bacteria. This work has developed an integrative approach to efficiently control both the microbial and chemical quality of wastewater. Please read the paper here.

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New Publication by Jingyi Xue

Congratulations to Jingyi Xue on having her research paper published in Food Hydrocolloids. The article, entitled "Development of novel biopolymer-based dendritic nanocomplexes for encapsulation of phenolic bioactive compounds: A proof-of-concept study", reports our research findings that demonstrate an innovative strategy to develop dendritic nanoparticles from food biopolymers without using organic solvents or synthetic chemical. The food biopolymers used in this study include phytoglycogen and zein, carbohydrate and protein respectively, both from corn. Antimicrobial phytochemicals are encapsulated into such nanoparticles which exhibited significantly improved bioactivity, including higher antioxidant activity and stronger antibacterial efficacy against foodborne human pathogens. The potential of these nanocomplexes as carriers for lipophilic and phenolic antimicrobial compounds opens up new avenues for nanotechnology enabled approaches to ensure food safety and quality. Please read the article here.

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New Publication by Bai Qu

Congratulations to Bai Qu on having her review paper published in Carbohydrate Polymer Technologies and Applications, a new Open Access journal companion to the well-established and prestigious journal Carbohydrate Polymers. The article entitled "A review on the preparation and characterization of chitosan-clay nanocomposite films and coatings for food packaging applications", provides an overview of fabrication methods that are specifically applied for the preparation of chitosan-clay nanocomposite films and coatings, and then summarizes the advances made in the most recent five years for their food packaging applications. Please read the article here.

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New Publication by Bai Qu

Congratulations to Bai Qu on having her first research paper published in Food Chemistry, a prestigious journal in the field of food science. The article, entitled "Self-assembled caseinate-laponite® nanocomposites for curcumin delivery", described a novel method to prepare a self-assembled protein-nanoclay system for curcumin delivery. The as-prepared sodium caseinate-laponite (NaCas-LAP) composites were characterized for colloidal properties and encapsulation capabilities, as well as antioxidant activities. Please read the article here.

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New Publication by Wusigale

Congratulations to Wusigale on publishing a new research paper in International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, from the research during her visit at UConn. The article entitled "Partition and stability of folic acid and caffeic acid in hollow zein particles coated with chitosan" reports a study on the preparation of chitosan-coated hollow zein particles using calcium phosphate as a sacrificing template for co-encapsulation of folic acid and caffeic acid. Partition, photostability, and antioxidant capacity of bioactive compounds were comprehensively studied. Findings in this study shed some light on the design of carriers for co-delivery of hydrophilic compounds in acidic condition. Read the article here.

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New Publication by Erika Fleming

Congratulations on Erika Fleming on having her new Personal Account article in ES Food and Agroforestry. The articles entitled "Dietary Patterns During National Lockdowns are at Odds with Recommendations for Preventing Morbidity and Mortality of COVID-19" provided a unique perspective to highlight the role that diet plays in both general immune function and specifically with SARS-CoV-2 may lead to better health outcomes globally. In addition, the role that national lockdowns have had in lifestyle changes are discussed, and how these shifts may exacerbate the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19.

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