New Worlds: Beverage nutrients protected

Healthy drinks often lose nutritional content to marketing conditions; now innovation protects natural substances when added to beverages.

Juice 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Juice 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
There are drinks sold as being beneficial for health, but the conditions under which they are marketed and sold tend not to protect their nutritional content by the time they reach the consumer.
Now an innovation based on nanotechnology from Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology protects the natural substances when added to clear beverages.
The researchers say the invention can also be used in the pharmaceutical industry to protect drugs as they move from the stomach to absorption via the intestines. It may also help fight intestinal cancers.
The group, headed by Dr. Yoav Livni of the biotechnology and food engineering faculty, developed nanocapsules based on natural food ingredients and “imprisoned” in them vitamins and other ingredients that improve health but aren’t water soluble.
The nanocapsules can be added to clear beverages and enrich their health value without losing transparency.
Livni, who before joining the Technion was a member of the Straus foods team that developed the dairy products Gemadim, Ski and Symphonia, said the team used a natural reaction, based on melding the nanocapsules with polysaccharide proteins, to create the nanocapsules.
This reaction also causes cooked and baked food to turn brown. In the past, the technique was used to create emulsions and add microcapsules to insoluble food components, but the capsules were too big, and the beverages were not clear.
To overcome this problem, the team mixed maltodextrin, which is the result of the controlled breakdown of starch, into casein, which is milk protein. The resulting fused molecules spontaneously reorganized and created nanometric capsules so small that the liquid in which they are submerged remained clear.
Then they captured vitamin D – a beneficial nutrient that many people are deficient in – within the capsules. The scientists found that the vitamin didn’t break down inside despite the acidic environment. Shelf life was thus lengthened substantially. It also didn’t not fall apart when exposed to stomach enzymes and could therefore be absorbed in the small intestine. Livni intends to research the release profile of the new substance and how long it can survive biologically. "We also want to study encapsulation of other bioactive substances such as anti-cancer drugs.”
PRESERVE FLORA IN DRYLANDS An international team of researchers led by ecology Prof. Fernando Maestre at Spain’s Rey Juan Carlos University has finished a global empirical study that suggests that preservation of plant biodiversity is crucial to buffer negative effects of climate change and desertification in drylands.
The study, recently published in the prestigious Science journal, is the result of a five-year effort involving more than 50 researchers from 30 institutions in 15 countries, including Dr. Bertrand Boeken of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Dr. Eli Zaady of the Gilat Research Center at the Volcani Institute.
The Israeli researchers contributed research data from two long-term ecological research sites in the northern Negev, in Park Shaked near Ofakim and in the Lehavim hills.
They found that the ability of ecosystems in drylands worldwide to maintain multiple functions, such as carbon storage and buildup of nutrient pools (multifunctionality), is enhanced by the number of perennial plant species, mainly shrubs and dwarf-shrubs, whereas increased average annual temperature reduces this ability.
While small-scale controlled experiments have provided evidence of the positive relationship between biodiversity and multifunctionality over the years, this study is the first to explicitly evaluate such relationship among real ecosystems at a global scale.
The fieldwork was carried out in 224 dryland ecosystems from all continents except Antarctica. To assess ecosystem multifunctionality, researchers assessed more than 2,600 soil samples for 14 ecosystem functions related to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling and storage. The functions measured deliver some of the fundamental supporting and regulating ecosystem services such as soil fertility and climate regulation and identify the onset of desertification processes.
Drylands constitute some of the largest terrestrial biomes, collectively covering 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface and supporting over 38% of the global human population. They are of vital importance for biodiversity, host many endemic plant and animal species and include about 20% of the major centers of global plant diversity and over 30% of the designated endemic bird areas. However, dryland ecosystems are also highly vulnerable to global environmental change and desertification.
“This study provides empirical evidence on the importance of biodiversity to maintain and improve ecosystem multi-functionality in drylands. “The results indicate that increases in the number of plant species could improve the provision of these services,” said Maestre. “Our findings also suggest that such richness may be particularly important for maintaining ecosystem functions linked to C and N cycling, which sustain carbon sequestration and soil fertility.
Because land degradation is often accompanied by the loss of soil fertility, plant species’ richness may also promote ecosystem resistance to desertification.”