The extensive use and depletion of natural resources is a strong driving force for us to seek means for decreasing the energy and material consumption, using the existing resources in the most sustainable manner, and advancing the circular economy.
Among the natural resources, polysaccharides hold a major role as extremely abundant, renewable, biocompatible, non-toxic, and highly valuable raw materials. Agricultural crops as well as wood are traditional sources for polysaccharides, the most important in industrial use being starch and cellulose. The utilization of plant biomaterials is currently being intensified: residual plant parts are explored as sources of valorized compounds, and the forestry industry faces conversion into biorefineries that aim at upgrading all material streams to useful products. We characterize hemicelluloses that are a remarkable natural resource but up-to-date are not exploited industrially.
With the advancement of bio-based economies world-wide, enzymes play a key role in biotechnical processing of raw materials as specific tools. Cell biomass that is produced as side stream from enzyme production represents a costly waste burden to factories that employ these bioprocesses, since most lack the technology to utilize the polysaccharide-rich biomass as materials. Our aim is to tackle this problem by isolating and characterizing polysaccharides from fungal cell biomass for further use.
The key concept is to study the potential of lignin nanoparticles as adjuvants in cancer vaccines, and antibacterial agent on wound dressings. Our main goal is to evaluate the impact of the composition and properties of different technical lignins on the immunostimulative and antibacterial effect of the resulting lignin nanoparticles (LNPs). Ultimately, the LNPs are intended to be incorporated into a polymeric hydrogel matrix containing different therapeutic agents to promote the release tumor-associated antigens and elicit an antitumor response, or an effective wound healing. The use of LNPs represents a green and cheaper alternative to the conventional adjuvants in cancer vaccines, and antibiotics in wound healing, which can lead to a breakthrough in sustainable materials science and biomedicine fields by providing a more sustainable application of Earth’s resources for high value-added purposes.
LignoGels team: Aritra Dan, Kirsi S. Mikkonen, Patrícia Figueiredo (PI)
Funder: Academy of Finland
Project duration: 01/09/2023 → 31/08/2027
The SynCap project aims to develop new spray-dried wood-based probiotic microcapsules that will support the delivery of probiotics to the colon, and simultaneously stimulate the growth of endogenous colon microbiota. The project will develop a novel approach to investigate the characteristics and structures of the microcapsule walls formed at different stages of the spray drying process, and the relation between these properties and probiotic survival of microcapsules. This enables the selection of the most suitable wall material and the optimisation of the production process of probiotic microcapsules. Properties of the designed microcapsule powders including storage stability and in vitro digestion simulated conditions in human oral and digestive tract will be investigated to understand the survival and release of encapsulated probiotics, and synbiotics of microcapsule powders.
The SynCap team: Kirsi S. Mikkonen, Fabio Valoppi, Vieno Piironen, Anne-Maria Pajari, Per Saris, Lisbeth Garbrecht Thygesen, Minh Thao Ho (PI)
Funder: Academy of Finland
Project duration: 1/09/2022 → 31/08/2025
The PickPollutants project aims to develop highly porous aerogels from wood for adsorbing pharmaceutical pollutants from water. The key concept is to exploit the excellent capability of lignin nanoparticles (LNPs) and nanocelluloses in stabilizing Pickering emulsions and use the emulsions as templates in the production of aerogels. The various functional groups in LNPs will provide active sites for the adsorption of pharmaceutical pollutants, whereas the nanocelluloses provide the aerogels a fibrous network, which is further strengthened by enzymatic crosslinking.
PickPollutants team: Mari Lehtonen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen, Melissa Agustin (PI)
Funder: Academy of Finland
Project duration: 1/09/2020 → 31/08/2023
MyShroom responds to the global need for sustainable food production by providing second generation alternative proteins with better taste, improved nutritional value, and a lower environmental footprint compared to competitors, at an affordable price.
The MyShroom invention is based on growing mycelia of known edible mushroom species, with rapid growth rate and in a more space- and energy-efficient manner than cultivating fruiting bodies of mushrooms. We will use side streams from the food industry as readily available, sustainable and low-cost growth media that can be further re-used or recycled as soil amendment or animal feed. Numerous fungal species can be cultivated, resulting in diverse flavor and texture profiles.
The mycelia have excellent water-binding properties, which is desirable for delicious and juicy vegan sandwich toppings, sausages, cheese and egg replaces, and other products that could benefit from a pleasant umami taste. Thus MyShroom fulfills the sensory, flavor, and texture needs of the food industry, restaurants, canteens, and fast food chains.
MyShroom Team: Jutta Varis, Pauliina Lankinen, Pekka Varmanen, Laila Seppä, Mari Sandell, Marko Saapunki, Minna Isotupa, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Business Finland
Duration: 2 years
Stabilized emulsions are useful in many industrial processes including drug delivery and food technology. The EU-funded PARTIFACE project aims to develop highly functional stabilizers drawing on sustainable materials such as those derived by biomass. In particular, the project will use two abundant (yet poorly exploited) biopolymers – lignin and hemicelluloses – to produce a novel type of Janus particles called bifacial Janus particles. PARTIFACE researchers expect these tailored wood-based particles, where the two ‘faces’ of a particle have opposite properties, to demonstrate superior capacity for stabilizing emulsion interfaces. Producing such sophisticated hierarchical architectures through sustainable routes will herald a breakthrough in interface and colloid science, contributing to more sustainable use of the Earth’s resources.
PARTIFACE team: Patrícia Figueiredo, Danila Morais de Carvalho, Milla Koponen, Kristiina Hilden, Maarit Lahtinen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: European Research Council
Project duration: 01/06/2020 → 31/05/2025
The GOOD project will characterize wood hemicelluloses as new nutritional fibers that may deliver bioactive compounds in the body and promote the gut health. The study will evaluate the role of phenolic-rich wood hemicelluloses as part of healthy diet and advance the development of fiber-rich foods.
GOOD team: Emma Kynkäänniemi, Maarit Lahtinen, Anne-Maria Pajari, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation
Project duration: 01/01/2020 → 31/12/2022
We explore fungal biomass as a source of valuable components
REPLY team: Ida Nikkilä, Jutta Varis, Tomoko Kuribayashi, Zeynep Tacer-Caba, Pauliina Lankinen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Academy of Finland (Academy Research Fellow project)
Project duration: 01/09/2017 → 31/08/2022
This Co-Creation project led by the University of Helsinki and supported by companies aims to valorize wheat straw, an abundant agricultural side-stream. Wheat straw is an excellent source of components whose structure makes them promising candidates as healthy feed ingredients. STORE aims to enhance product formulations and subsequently improve the health of farmed animals. In addition to this focus, these compounds will also be explored as ingredients in pet food and cosmetics.
After the completion of the Co-Creation project, an application for a Co-Innovation project will be submitted with the intention to implement the program established during the Co-Creation period to develop functional ingredients by valorizing straw fractions. The mission of the selected participants will be to develop these ingredients and assess their applicability starting from in vitro tests and proceeding to real-life settings. This will be strengthened through innovative collaboration between the research groups and companies, including international research collaboration within the partners’ networks.
The research groups will assess the functionality of the active ingredients, screen the most promising fractions, contribute to development of the formulations with industry guidance, and conduct in vivo dietary evaluation experiments. The STORE technology has great potential to increase the value and quality of the target applications, manufactured in Finland using raw side-stream material, for export to international markets.
Team: Troy Faithfull, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Co-Creation - Business Finland
Project Duration: June to December, 2021
The FinPowder project aims to develop a new strategy to enable sustainable and healthy food choices of global consumers, valorizing Finnish wood-based polysaccharides and wild berries in the production of spray-dried berry powder.
FinPowder team: Abedalghani Halahlah, Kirsi S. Mikkonen, Thao Ho (PI)
Funder: Finnish Natural Resources Research Foundation
Project duration: 30/01/2021 → 30/01/2022
With the Nordic consortium, we work towards changing wood hemicelluloses from a waste product to a valuable resource.
Academic project partners: Tiina Nypelö, Chalmers, and Bjørge Westereng, NMBU.
University of Helsinki HEMISURF team: Mamata Bhattarai and Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Nordic Forest Research
Project duration: 01/01/2019 → 31/12/2021
Nordic Forest Research (https://nordicforestresearch.org/sns-127/)
The FOODLIPS project valorizes agricultural side steams for hydrocolloids.
FOODLIPS team: Anis Arzami, Elli Pulkkinen, Yujie Wang, Fabio Valoppi, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI)
Funder: Lantmännen Research Foundation
Project duration: 01/05/2018 → 30/04/2020
We characterize the functionality of wood hemicelluloses as stabilizers in technical emulsions.
Academic project partner: Stefan Willför, Åbo Akademi
University of Helsinki BITE team: Satu Kirjoranta, Mamata Bhattarai, Mari Lehtonen, Maija Tenkanen, Kirsi S. Mikkonen (PI of the University of Helsinki team)
Project duration: 01/09/2016 → 28/02/2018