Preparing Scientists to Work with Plant-Based Proteins

By Shalyn Rousseau, Communications Consultant

Over the past five years, the demand for plant-based proteins has increased. To help meet this demand, the Canadian Agri-food Protein Training, Utilization and Research Enhancement (CAPTURE) Project is preparing emerging scientists to work in the plant-based protein sector.

Led by Dr. Mike Nickerson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program chair in protein quality and utilization, the CAPTURE Project is an interdisciplinary project that focuses on five research priorities:

  • Improving the quality of protein feed stocks;
  • Developing innovative dry and wet fractionation processes;
  • Improving the techno-functional properties of plant proteins;
  • Developing value-added applications, and
  • Examining supply chain and market development opportunities for plant protein ingredients.

Through the program, 71 highly qualified personnel—10 PhDs, 44 master’s students and 17 undergraduates—will be prepared to enter the rapidly growing field of plant-based proteins. This is key to meeting industry demands in the growing sector. The sector has an opportunity for growth for Saskatchewan, as the province produces a high percentage of Canada’s protein crops. A variety of protein sources will be needed to feed an increasing global population with diverse dietary needs.

Throughout the CAPTURE Program, processors and other businesses will be involved in workshops to give students the opportunity to network and see what careers are available to them upon graduation. Each graduate student will be required to complete a four-month industry internship to gain practical experience in the sector. After graduation, students will be paired with industry mentors to help facilitate their transition into the workforce.

The students who participate in the program will not only gain skills related to their field, but will also have the opportunity to develop communication, leadership and business skills to integrate successfully into the workforce. Communication skills are essential for understanding clients, understanding the impacts of gender in science, recognizing and managing biases, and developing conflict resolution skills. Dr. Nickerson stated it is important for scientists to be able to communicate findings to a diverse audience, from businesses to consumers.

The CAPTURE Project was funded in April 2019 and the program will last for six years. Out of the $3.8 million in funding for the project, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council provided a grant of $1.65 million dollars. The remaining funds came from the Universities of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, who provided research grants and scholarships.

This article was originally published in Agriview.

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