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Semi-refined plant-based proteins and the impact of processing on protein structure and food-relevant functionality

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Academic background
Host campus
Food Science
Professor Indrawati Oey, Dr Gert-Jan Moggre


Inter-Institutional PhD Opportunity.

The current protein ingredient paradigm of fully deconstructing raw materials and then reassembling them into foods is not sustainable.

Current food processes require separate technologies to produce more highly purified protein and fibre ingredients, and these demand significant resources, particularly water and energy.

These processes are, therefore, inherently unsustainable in the longer term. Semi-refined protein-rich plant materials are currently not “functional”, in that they do not meet the textural, palatability and flavour requirements of consumers. The aim is to create semi-refined materials with enhanced functional properties that will allow high rates of inclusion of plant materials into foods.

This PhD project is about understanding the interactions between plant proteins and other components in semi-refined plant materials.

We will use low-input technique(s) (e.g. milling, sieving, air classification) to create a semi-refined material as a top down approach and contrast that with a bottom-up approach, matching the composition of that semi-refined material by combining purified ingredients (protein isolate, starch & fibre). Advanced techniques, such as analytical ultracentrifugation and nuclear magnetic resonance, will then be applied to ‘visualise’ the interactions of plant proteins with other food components, e.g. polysaccharides, polyphenols and small molecules, in more complex systems.

This will build the fundamental understanding of

  1. how plant proteins interact with other food components and contribute to the food-relevant functionality in semi-refined materials
  2. how to add functionality to semi-refined food materials; and 3) how to support the development of new, sustainable plant-based ingredient streams in New Zealand


Equivalent of a New Zealand 1st class Honours degree or a MSc degree (both with a significant research component) in either food science and technology, food chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, food engineering, chemical engineering or physics.

Personal attributes and behaviours

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Good communication skills in both the academic and industrial environments
  • Demonstrated ability to undertake self-directed research activities
  • An understanding of food science and technology, food chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, food engineering, chemical engineering or physics
  • Experience in analytical ultracentrifugation or nuclear magnetic resonance would be an advantage

Partner Institution and funding

Partner Institution(s) – AgResearch and University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

This PhD project is part of Riddet Institute Center of Research Excellence research programme funded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission.

Host Institution

University of Otago and Plant and Food Research


Lincoln and Dunedin, New Zealand (dependent on research scope)


Indrawati Oey
Tel   +64 21 279 8735