Pro Tip: Emerging technologies from the biomedical community can help your research and design team use big data to innovate faster.


In a world increasingly characterized by the five Vs of big data — volume, variety, veracity, velocity and value — how can your research and design team keep up? One tool that is helping automate the discovery of how proteins function based on their structure is bioinformatics, a field that uses software to develop actionable information from biological data.

These tools automatically scan the structure of a protein generated from an amino acid sequence and identify key features and bonding interactions that relate to how the protein will function. This technology has been applied to find new candidates for proteins used in pharmaceuticals, greatly reducing the time associated with characterizing proteins in a lab.

In food, bioinformatics is used to find how protein interacts with lipids and carbohydrates, and it provides insight on structural change during processing. You can get started using these tools today by finding your protein amino acid sequence in the National Center for Biotechnology Information database, modeling it online with SWISS MODEL, and downloading Chimera to analyze your .pdb file. 

Once you have your model open in Chimera, you can analyze it for properties, including surface hydrophobicity, electrostatic potential, hydrogen bonding and the number of disulfide bonds. These properties are all important factors that influence how strong of a gel or emulsion your new protein will form.

While you don’t need knowledge of computer coding to use any of the above resources, if you partner with some experts in Python, you can develop code to extract these key properties at the click of a button.

With virtually limitless new proteins to choose from, these tools can help you quickly screen for proteins that will make the best gels or emulsions before you even request a sample.

This can help you stay ahead of rapidly changing consumer demands, and next time you need to replace a key ingredient, bioinformatics can point you to a few candidates to start baking with right away.

In our work, the surface hydrophobicity has been well correlated with the emulsion activity index of proteins, which allowed for the rapid identification of new potential plant-based emulsifiers, and how those compare to the proteins in eggs.

Harrison Helmick is a PhD candidate at Purdue University. Connect on LinkedIn and see other his baking tips at His research is conducted with the support of Jozef Kokini, Andrea Liceaga, and Arun Bhunia .