Fresh and fantastic fledgling foods get a UQ kickstart

Benjamin Schulz

Better beer, exotic mushrooms and probiotic-fuelled lettuces are just some of the eclectic food research innovations supported through an exciting University of Queensland grant program.

Better beer, exotic mushrooms and probiotic-fuelled lettuces are just some of the eclectic food research innovations supported through an exciting University of Queensland grant program.

The University of Queensland’s Agri-Food Innovation Alliance (AFIA) Kickstarter grant program has announced a total of $160,000 in grants to seven agri-food businesses, backing the next generation of Australian food creations.

UQ AFIA Director Professor Melissa Fitzgerald said the Alliance was exhilarated by the creativity and breadth of the applicants’ food research ideas.

“Faster-growing, value-added custard apples, healthier probiotic lettuces and commercially scaled rare, gourmet mushrooms are now being developed through this inventive program,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“And we’re not just talking about new food creations – we have grant recipients focusing on the antimicrobial properties of native Australian plants, are looking to engage unemployed youth in agriculture, or are working on new plant-based packaging options.”

The aim of AFIA’s Kickstarter grant program is to contribute to post-COVID recovery by boosting local premium food and agriculture enterprises, growing skills and securing jobs throughout communities.

“At its core, the initiative makes it possible for UQ researchers and educators to work together with small-to-medium agri-food businesses as equal partners,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“These projects will bring together experts from very different backgrounds, each with the common goal of improving and innovating in the food and agriculture space.

“By facilitating long-term relationships between universities and industry, we’re also lowering the barriers that businesses face when trying to access university expertise to improve their products and processes.

“There were so many excellent submissions, and we couldn’t choose them all, but we are confident that these projects will provide real commercial and community impacts.”

One of those projects will be led by beer science expert Professor Benjamin Schulz, whose previous research has delved into the complex chemical and molecular make-up of beer.

Professor Schulz and his team of researchers at UQ will be working closely with Working Title Brewing Co. to study the molecular ecology and evolution of brewing yeast in commercial breweries.

“We’re bringing UQ’s experience in yeast biochemistry, enzymology, genomics, and systems biology, in an effort to make some exceptionally good beer,” Professor Schultz said.

“And we’re working with the industry’s best – Working Title Brew Co. – who bring extensive commercial brewing experience to the table for us to achieve full flavour and quality.

“Together we’ll study the molecular ecology and evolution of brewing yeast in commercial breweries to understand the underlying mechanisms controlling evolutionary switching of carbon source utilisation in yeast to be able to consistently make better beer.

“It’s a really exciting time – this research will open the door to many more opportunities to harness UQ’s diverse research expertise in similar integrated research, potentially leading to improved production of other foods and beverages.”

To find out more about the Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, or to learn more about the next round of Kickstarter grant funding, sign up to the AFIA newsletter.

The University of Queensland acknowledges the $2.5 million contribution made by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment under the Strategic University Reform Fund (SURF) to support the activities conducted by the UQ Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.


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