As people crave healthier foods, more and more functional ingredients, like probiotics, prebiotics, and stanols, are artificially added to foods. On paper, consuming these ingredients can have a huge range of positive benefits: they can boost your immune system, or reduce cholesterol, or even lower your risk of cancer.
But while they seem great on the surface, most of these functional ingredients wind up passing through the digestive system unconsumed, or are broken apart too early. In other words, they add nothing to most of the foods you see them added to.
Dr. Nick Tucker and his colleagues at the University of Lincoln School of Engineering, however, may have found a solution, and it lies in the high tech world of electrospun nanofibers.
Electrospinning works by taking an electrically charged, hollow needle, and placing it on a grounded target. As this happens, a solution gets drawn through the needle and stretches out into a fine fiber before wrapping around the target.
Functional ingredients are mostly bacterial in nature, which makes them very sensitive to changing conditions. Previous attempts at encasing and protecting them typically ended in the death of the bacteria, but electrospinning has an advantage of functioning at room temperature and being relatively un-invasive.
Dr. Tucker's research is promising, but it's still a ways off. He's currently looking for industrial partners for his lab to collaborate with, and is testing various methods to increase the speed at which his lab's nanoparticles can be spun.
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