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The challenge

Understanding proteins to produce better and safer food

Proteins form the basis of all living tissues and are key to all biological processes. Proteins are required for structure, function and regulation in all organisms, from bacteria and fungi to plants, animals and humans.

The study of proteins (called proteomics) has most frequently been used to study health and disease. Now it is being used to answer questions relating to food quality, safety, allergenicity, bioactivity, and to develop healthier food products.


[Music plays and image appears of a hand drawing a male holding a loaf of bread]

Narrator: Meet Joe.

[Image moves slightly to the left and then the image shows the hand drawing a gluten free symbol on the right of the male]

Joe runs a food processing company that makes gluten free goods for the world to enjoy, or so he thought.

[Image changes to show a hand drawing a grumpy face, a bar graph displaying star ratings, a row of stars and a thumbs down symbol]

Lately the reviews for his gluten free products have been mixed and that’s putting it kindly.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing two females and a male clutching their stomachs]

Joe’s customers love the taste but they complain of having a reaction after eating his gluten free foods. This frustrates Joe.

[Image shows the hand drawing two burger buns on the ground at their feet]

After all, he went into this business because he himself is gluten intolerant and he knows the struggle, nausea, stomach cramping, bloating.

[Image shows the hand colouring the three people]

He was sick and tired of accidental gluten ingestion and he knew that millions of others shared his struggle.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing a male next to a thought bubble with a loaf of bread, a beaker of liquid, and a microscope symbol inside it]

So, today Joe is asking himself, “How can I make gluten free food if I can’t detect the gluten?”

[Image shows the hand colouring in the male and the symbols inside the thought bubble]

“If only I could get my hands on the right technology that can really, truly detect gluten once and for all. All I want to do is serve quality products and build my brand’s reputation”.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing a male passing a business card to a female and the hand is shown colouring in the figures]

And as if the gluten gods had personally heard his plea, the very next day Joe met a scientist at a food expo.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing a flow chart moving via arrows loaves of bread, through a machine and to a Mass Spectrometry Response line graph, and text appears: Samples in, Answers Out]

The scientist from CSIRO spoke of a technology called mass spectrometry. This tool measures proteins in food and with a high degree of sensitivity it can detect trace amounts of gluten in food products.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing a heart inside a circle, a star rating bar graph, a row of stars, a thumbs up symbol, and a male and a female]

“What have I got to lose?” exclaimed Joe, knowing this could be the solution he so desperately needed. And much to his delight it was.

[Image shows the hand colouring the symbols and the figures]

Joe’s company began working with CSIRO to make the finest gluten free products. His customers were pleased with the quality and taste and business was booming.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing two females and a male on one side of the screen, and a male holding a machine and a female with a notepad on the other side of the screen]

This is the power of CSIRO’s mass spectrometry tool in protecting the health of gluten intolerants.

[Image shows the hand colouring the figures]

But it gets even better.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing symbols of a cat, a dust mite, flower pollen, a person sneezing, a group of proteins, and a box of cereal around the machine]

The technology can also detect everything from bad proteins like allergens or disease causing bacteria to proteins that can actually confirm the food inside the package is what’s listed on the label, and even the good stuff like bio active proteins that improve food, boost health and prevent disease.

[Image changes to show the hand drawing text: Visit WWW.CSIRO.AU/RESEARCH/AF/AREAS/PROTEOMICS]

In other words, you can be in the know with CSIRO. Curious to explore how you can be like Joe and apply this technology to your business? Get in touch today.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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Our response

Safer and better quality food

We can use proteomics to detect allergens or bacteria that cause disease in food. In this way, we can ensure the food we eat is safer. We can also look for proteins in food that deliver health benefits. By increasing the levels of these bioactive proteins it is possible to provide food products that help to prevent disease, improve health or alleviate health conditions.

Dr Michelle Colgrave analyses protein samples using mass spectrometry.

For example, proteomics has been used to support the development of Kebari®, an ultra-low-gluten barley suitable for coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance. Using mass spectrometry, barley varieties showing the lowest levels of gluten were chosen for breeding.

Understanding the role of proteins in complex biological systems

Using mass spectrometry, we can measure single proteins to understand how different conditions, such as stress or disease, affect their expression. With next generation proteomics, we now have the ability to examine the impact of proteins on the entire biological system. This means we can now go from questions and samples to biological answers.

For example, we can alter the amount of an important protein in wheat so as to enhance baking quality. We can also explore how changing the amount of this single protein affects all other proteins and pathways in the wheat grain.

Proteomics into the future

Proteomics is a rapidly evolving area, primarily because of recent developments in modern analytical instrumentation and bioinformatics.

We can now analyse proteins with unprecedented speed, accuracy and detail. The advent of fast, affordable, and convenient genome sequencing will open up even more opportunities for applying proteomics to the food and agricultural sciences. These advances will make it possible to understand the mechanisms underpinning complex traits, such as environmental tolerance, pest resistance, yield enhancement, and food quality, paving the way for a safe and sustainable future for the agriculture and food industries.

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