Researcher Jianping Wu doesn’t care whether the chicken or the egg came first. Instead, Wu, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Alberta, cares about egg proteins and what can be done with them.
Wu, who is originally from China, came to Edmonton in 2006. Prior to this, he spent time as a research associate in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and at Iowa State University. Wu, completed his PhD at Jiangnan University in China and began his career in biology and eventually began specializing in food-science research related to obtaining protein from crops. He is now using that experience for researching protein from eggs.
He says the field of egg protein research is fairly new. His research focuses on increasing the use of egg proteins and is based on demand from the egg industry.
“Part of the reason for that is because the egg industry is looking for more value beyond table eggs. There are some limitations on economic returns from table eggs so the industry is looking for sustainable growth and opportunities for value-added utilization of eggs.”
Wu’s research interests can be divided into two categories. The first involves developing an understanding of the correlations between eggs and health. Consumption of table eggs is only one part of this picture, and is influenced by consumer concern about the cholesterol found in eggs. “Part of my interest is then to look at some bioactive egg compounds and their health benefits in terms of chronic disease,” he said.
The second part of his research program focuses on extraction of high-value proteins from the egg. Proteins are large molecules which can be broken down into small fragments. Some of these small fragments called biopeptides have benefits in the treatment of chronic disease. Wu’s research in this area concentrates on trying to develop functional foods from egg proteins.
This involves extracting protein from eggs and using technology to convert proteins into functional bioactive peptides. These peptides are then chemically analyzed. Due to the nature of the research and its implications, Wu co-operates closely with colleagues in nutrition, medicine and engineering.
Wu says he views the egg industry in a holistic way, and looks for alternative uses for both hens and eggs. He is currently embarking on a new project which examines the use of spent hens and is working closely with industry partners to determine new uses for laying birds which are no longer productive. Hens in the egg industry are only used for one year and are destroyed once they no longer bring profit.
“A large portion of these birds are just disposed. Producers must pay the cost of transportation and disposal,” he said. “There’s an urgent need for the industry to look into some alternative uses for these birds.”
Since the excess meat contains protein, the researchers are looking at ways that the proteins can be used in functional food products.
In addition to his research duties, Wu teaches two undergraduate courses; one on functional foods and nutraceuticals, and another on poultry product development.
Wu says functional foods are gaining importance on a global scale, and that there is a strong interest and desire for these foods from consumers and government. This growing demand is linked to the increased understanding of the link between food and health.