New Worlds: Non-fat foods get nano punch

The Technion has developed a way to deliver health-promoting nutrients using protein particles naturally present in milk.

lettuce 88 (photo credit: )
lettuce 88
(photo credit: )
A way to deliver health-promoting nutrients using protein particles naturally present in milk has been developed by food engineers at the Technion Institute. The finding could lead to low-fat or non-fat foods that contain nutrients now present only in fat-containing foods and be used to enrich foods with other important nutraceuticals like vitamins and antioxidants. The team, led by Dr. Yoav Livney of the biotechnology and food engineering faculty, studied casein micelles - nano-sized particles of casein, a protein found in milk and responsible for the transfer of body-building nutrients from mother to baby. They encapsulated vitamin D, which plays a major role in calcium absorption in the body in the micelles. The findings are published in Food Hydrocolloids. Livney and graduate student Efrat Semo first formed a solution that did not contain micelles by using soluble casein. When vitamin D was added to the solution, it bound to the casein. And when calcium and phosphate - in the amounts normally found in milk - were added to the now vitamin D-enriched casein, the proteins reorganized into micelles very similar to those found naturally in milk, but they were now enriched with large amounts of vitamin D. "We are hoping to enrich non-fat milk and other low-fat food products with vitamin D and other essential health-promoting nutraceuticals - such as vitamins A and E, minerals and antioxidants - lacking in many people's diets," says Livney. "This could improve our diets without changing eating habits." He adds that they also plan to enable mass production of such micelles. Foods utilizing this technology could reach the market in five years, said the researchers, who are now studying whether, once ingested, the tiny size of the micelles and the natural structure of the casein will facilitate improved absorption of their nutrients. SMART MUSEUM GUIDE Written or even multimedia explanations in museums tend to give general information and may relate to numerous exhibits, leaving visitors with unanswered questions. Now an artificial intelligence device that will guide visitors, ask questions and supply information has been developed by the Caesarea Rothschild Institute at the University of Haifa and the Center for Scientific and Technological Research (ITC-irst) of Trento, Italy. By the end of a visit, the device will also know which exhibits interested the visitor and which he skipped. Unveiled recently at the university's Hecht Museum, the hand-held guide thus not only teaches, but also learns about each visitor. The development of a "smart" guide brings the ostensibly distant worlds of culture and technology together. The device will be able to tailor a visit to the personal preferences of the user and pinpoint a visitor's location anywhere in a museum, play video clips and explanatory presentations, and enable communication with friends in another part of the museum. The guide learns about each visitor's interests and tailors questions and information to his interests. Like many of the latest technological innovations, the guide can communicate with other guides, preferably by SMS. A group of up to five users can SMS each other a message such as: "You have to come see the ancient boat exhibit. You won't believe how incredible it is." When the SMS recipient approaches an exhibit, he will see the message relating to it and decide if it interests him. The guide identifies the exhibit and asks the visitor questions about it, allowing the visitor to choose the subjects that interest him. Like every good guide, the interactive guide summarizes each visit at the end. The guide also asks each visitor to fill out a virtual questionnaire and give recommendations to improve future museum visits. "This is innovative use of basic research in artificial intelligence. Our vision is that in another few years people will be able to come to any site that has installed this program with their own hand-held computers, download the relevant information, and begin a private tour. This program will know each person's interests based on previous use of the program, and will be able to offer information that will most likely interest the user," explained Prof. Martin Golumbic, director of the Caesarea Rothschild Institute. SCIENCE IN THREE MINUTES The British Council-Israel, which closed its library in Jerusalem recently, has found new ways to invest its energies. It is launching a new initiative to encourage young scientists to communicate with the public. Based on the UK model of FameLab, the British Council - together with the Science Festival at the Weizmann Institute (competition on April 4), the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem (April 12) and the Hemda Science Education Center Tel Aviv (March 26) - will be running communication competitions to discover the new voices of Israeli science. In Israel, FameLab is supported by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and the Scientific American-Israel Journal. "We are looking for people who have scientific stars in their eyes, people who can present an entertaining, original and exciting talk in a few minutes that is scientifically accurate but appealing to a non-scientific audience," explains Kathy Sykes, Cheltenham Science Festival Director in the UK. FameLab encourages scientists to excite public imagination with a vision of science in the 21st century. At the competitions in March and April, contestants will have just three minutes to prove to a panel of expert judges they've got what it takes to make science live. The competitions are in Hebrew. Nine finalists will be given the opportunity to participate in a master class in science communication before going on to compete in the final on May 2 at the Hemda Center. The Israeli winner of FameLab 2007 will enjoy a fully paid visit to the Cheltenham Science Festival in June. For further information, contact Sonia Feldman at the British Council (03) 611-3626 or e-mail