51: Food innovation at the heart of future health concerns

The Enzyme and Cellular Engineering Laboratory (GEC), a CNRS-UTC joint unit, combines fundamental and applied research around two main themes. The first, called the "green" theme, concerns everything related to plant metabolism and bioresources with concrete applications, such as the replacement of mineral oils by lipids produced by plants, or the use in nutrition and health of phytosanitary-compounds known for their antioxidant and anti-tumoral properties, such as betanine. The second, the "red" theme, aims to explore the issues of bio-mimetism and biomolecular diversity, in particular by designing biomolecule banks or creating polymers with molecular fingerprints whose recognition performance is comparable to that of antibodies. Innovative research with fields of application ranging from health, to cosmetics and agro-food.

51: Food innovation at the heart of future health concerns

Encapsulating betanine

Aude Cordin, lecturer at the UTC since 2006, is also a research scientist at the UTC GEC (Enzyme and Cellular Engineering) Laboratory. She works in particular on the encapsulation of pigments extracted from beetroot, a project financed in particular by the French Hauts-de-France Region.

What's your area of research? "In collaboration with Claire Rossi, I am working on the encapsulation of natural products that may be of interest to the agro-food industry. We are interested in pigments extracted from beetroot, or betanine, with promising antioxidant and anti-tumoral properties. However, these compounds are very sensitive to their environment - light, temperature, pH, etc. - and are therefore very sensitive to their environment. So they can be broken down even before they are assimilated by the body," she explains.

A field that is nurtured by her interdisciplinary background. With a degree in chemistry, she decided to present and defend a thesis on "the valorisation of natural substances. It was about modifying them by biocatalysis in order to introduce new interesting properties for cosmetic applications", then a post-doc "more focused on materials", she adds. This led her, as soon as she arrived at the UTC, to work "on polymers with molecular imprints. In other words, polymers capable of recognizing a target molecule, and then on the design of degradable materials allowing the controlled release of active principle". Hence the project to encapsulate betanine molecules. "The idea is to encapsulate them with a protective membrane to prevent degradation and thus improve their shelf life," she adds. The challenges ahead? "The first is to be able to manufacture capsules - from 5 to 10 μm - that are compatible with food applications. This limits us both in the type of materials that could be used and in the choice of manufacturing process. The second is to have a capsule that will be able to protect molecules throughout the digestive tract and release them into the intestine. Where it will be assimilated by the body," she says. "The capsule must not open in the stomach, but only once it has reached the intestine," insists Aude Cordin.

The aim of this project? "The aim of this project is to enrich a food product with antioxidants. A product which would thus have a preventive role for health. In this case, we are talking about health foods", she explains. A project that is in an experimental phase with, already, tests on a first encapsulation method. "We were able to show that it is possible to encapsulate betanine and that this encapsulation improves the conservation of the substance over time. Other encapsulation systems are being studied for the controlled release of pigments in the intestine", concludes Aude Cordin. This betanine encapsulation project, financed in particular by the Hauts de France Region and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), involves several laboratories: on the one hand, the UTC-BMBI and the UTC-TIMR, and on the other hand the UniLaSalle institute in Beauvais.


Nesrine Ben Hadi Youssef is a PhD student at the UTCGEC (Enzyme and Cellular Engineering) Laboratory. She is expected to defend her thesis, supervised by Claire Rossi, Anne-Virginie Salsac and Aude Cordin, in January 2020.

During her studies as an agro-food engineer at Agro-Sup Dijon, she did a research internship at the University of Minnesota (USA) on flavour encapsulation. "I discovered and appreciated the world of research there," she says. This taste for research led her to do her final year internship at Adrianor (Arras), a technological resource centre at the interface between research and the food industry. "I carried out research there on the formulation of gluten-free bread," she explains. It is therefore without hesitation that she is presenting her thesis on the "Microencapsulation of antioxidant molecules for the enrichment of food products" a subject proposed by the GEC Lab. In this context, Nesrine Ben Hadi Youssef is particularly interested in betanines, a class of antioxidants found in beet.