University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher Dr. Yongfeng Ai. (Photo: Gord Waldner)

USask agricultural researcher receives $2.5 million in support from the Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher Dr. Yongfeng Ai (PhD) has been awarded $2.5 million through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to improve the processes of transforming pulses into novel food ingredients, new bioplastics, and high-value biomedical materials.

“Today’s investment will stimulate further development and growth in the Saskatchewan pulse and value-added industries by identifying new ways to process pulse starch,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Dave Marit.  “This research will bring us closer to a number of the goals outlined in Saskatchewan’s Plan for Growth. These include our targets to process 50 per cent of Saskatchewan pulse crops in the province and increase value-added agriculture revenue to $10 billion.”

The funding is part of Saskatchewan’s Strategic Research Initiative Program, which announced its theme of Pulse Starch Utilization in 2020.

“This project will build the university’s reputation as a leading research institution, working to highlight Canada’s innovation ecosystem on the global stage,” said USask Vice-President Research Baljit Singh. “Dr. Ai’s work demonstrates the clear potential for the development of value-added pulse products to industry and the public at large.”

Pulse starches display a wide variety of traits that make them unique from other botanical sources. They can develop into biogels of various physical forms, tolerate high-temperature processing, and are a good source of resistant starch ‒ a new type of dietary fibre and prebiotic. The strong gelling and film-forming ability of pulse starches can make them useful in bioplastics and biomedical materials, such as packaging materials, fabric fibres, hemostasis materials, and wound dressing.

More importantly, the derived bioproducts are highly biodegradable and compostable, which can make them a sustainable option for producing easily disposable products in the future.

As a faculty member in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the Ministry of Agriculture Endowed Research Chair in Carbohydrate Quality and Utilization, Ai will explore these new applications for Saskatchewan pulse starches, and streamlining the conversion processes from newly harvested pulses, including peas, faba beans, lentils and chickpeas, to high-value food, bioplastic and biomedical products.

The research will be conducted in USask laboratories, and in conjunction with USask’s Crop Development Centre, Departments of Animal and Poultry Science and Chemical and Biological Engineering, Food Pilot Plant, Fermentation Pilot Plant, and Bioprocessing Pilot Plant; Saskatchewan Pulse Growers; Saskatchewan Agri-Food Innovation Centre; University of Manitoba; Alberta Food Processing Development Centre; and the Canadian International Grains Institute.

Other USask researchers involved in the project include professors Dr. Michael Nickerson (PhD), Dr. Tom Warkentin (PhD), Dr. Bunyamin Tar’an (PhD), Dr. Bishnu Acharya (PhD), Dr. Darren Korber (PhD), Dr. Takuji Tanaka (PhD), Dr. Denise Beaulieu (PhD), and Dr. Malcolm Xing (PhD; University of Manitoba).

The aim of Saskatchewan’s Strategic Research Initiative Program is to advance priorities within the agriculture industry and to foster the development of Saskatchewan’s agricultural value-added sector. Funding is awarded annually by the Agriculture Development Fund Advisory Committee.

These USask-led agricultural projects were also awarded funding through the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture:

  • Crop Development Centre – Enhanced Breeding and Soil Science Facilities
  • Bobbi Helgason (PhD), Department of Soil Science – Saskatchewan Case Studies in Regenerative Agriculture
  • Jill Hobbs (PhD), Dr. Eric Micheels (PhD) and Kathy Larson, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics – Evaluating price impacts of stated weaned calf traits and value-added management
  • Pierre Hucl (PhD), Department of Plant Sciences – Agronomic Tools to Increase Stem Solidness for Protection from Wheat Stem Sawfly.