The new ‘metabolomics’ team at University College Dublin builds on FHI’s ‘intelligent milk mining scheme’, which was set up to identify bioactive milk peptides with health-enhancing properties.
According to Dr Lorraine Brennan, project leader for FHI at UCD, metabolomics is used to examine how milk compounds can alter the metabolism.
“Through the precise, multivariate analysis of the metabolite environment we can achieve a broader understanding of the exact processes taking place following treatment with milk fractions,” she said.
“Additionally, it enables us to link milk-derived bioactives into metabolic pathways, substantiating future health claims with essential physiological data.”
Investment in dairy
FHI was set up last year as a public-private collaboration between Irish academic and government research organisations and the country’s major dairy processing companies (Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia and the Kerry Group).
It has received funding of €22.5m – mainly from the government – for the identification and commercialisation of bioactive ingredients from milk that can be used to address “the world’s most pressing health issues”, which include infant development, obesity, immunity and heart health.
FHI uses bioinformatics – a computer-based approach – to identify amino acid sequences in human, bovine and other mammalian milk proteins that have remained unchanged throughout evolution. An unchanged – or ‘conserved’ – region in a protein is a sign that the sequence is performing an important function, and is therefore more likely to deliver health benefits.
The group has so far identified around 30 peptides that could be used to develop functional food and beverage ingredients. According to Dr Brennan, metabolomics will play a “key role” in the discovery of commercially viable bioactives from milk.
“Metabolomics involves the analysis of the unique chemical fingerprints that certain cellular processes leave behind in biological samples. The products of metabolism are measured at a specific time under set environmental conditions, providing a snapshot of the physiology of the cell,” says FHI.