The three-year Flagship Collaboration Fund Cluster project involves CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship and Monash and Melbourne Universities. With government funding to the tune of Au$7m, its aim is to develop cost-effective techniques to extract compounds from plant, meat and dairy agricultural and food processing streams.
Ultimately the research could help make healthy ingredients cheaper, thereby reducing food production costs. The plan is to license the technological developments to the Australian agri-food industry to help it carve out an advantage in the international food, feed and nutraceutical markets.
Dr Bruce Lee, director of the Food Futures Flagship, said that the sources to be investigated include grape skins, olive leaves, cartilage and cow hides.
"For example, dermatan sulphate which is extracted from cow hides is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties and inhibit the formation of blood clots," he said.
The first stage of the research will be to develop environmentally-acceptable extraction techniques in the laboratory, using molecular imprinting of polymers and foam fractioning.
The resulting bioactives will then be tested using biochemical, cell-based and physiological systems, and the production processes optimised to meet industry needs. In addition, the Cluster is to develop a new ultrasonic atomisation technique, for the concentration and separation of compounds.
The idea of turning waste into useful healthy ingredients is by no means new: the nutraceutical industry is resourceful when it comes to utilising by-products from other industries - such as forestry for ingredients like Pycnogenol from the bark of French Maritime, and cholesterol-lowering Reducol from pine wood; the fish meal industry for omega-3-rich oil.
Australia's close neighbour New Zealand is building up a reputation for developing useful ingredients from its resources. For instance, Keratec founds a way to extract the protein keratin from sheeps' wool - which the country has in abundant supply - without destroying the individual components. Likewise the Grape Seed Extract Company uses the marc (left overs) from the New Zealand wine industry to make an antioxidant-rich compound.
Nor is Australia the only company to recognise the potential of expanding this way of working for the healthy benefit of consumers and profits of companies. The UK's Leatherhead Food International is also planning a collaborative project to identify plant foods containing compounds that have a specified biological activity, and find alternative uses for waste materials.
Leatherhead project co-ordinator Rosemarie Bramble told NutraIngredients.com that the UK government has been looking into more effective ways to use such waste, and has shown an interest in the upcoming research.