Promising new extraction media deserve follow-up

Taking inspiration from nature, Jéré van Lente presented the use of polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) for the partitioning of molecules. ‘The use of PECs to selectively extract proteins from a liquid mixture appeared promising right from the start,’ he shares enthusiastically. ‘Also we demonstrated a proof-of-concept for biocatalytic membranes based on a PEC containing a protein. I am happy that this new line of research will be taken further within Mesa+.’

The first international paper concerning PEC membranes dated 2019, the fact illustrates this relatively young field of research. In his PhD project, Jéré van Lente was able to publish in acknowledged journals such as Small, and Colloid Interface Sci. Within Mesa+ Jéré has worked intensely with three groups: NanoBioPhysics (NBP), Molecules & Materials (MolMat) and Membrane Science & Technology (MST).

From the beginning, Jéré worked with assistant professor dr. Saskia Lindhoud. ‘I appreciate her innovative mindset throughout all of her work,’ he says. ‘As various disciplines are combined in this new field of research, it is great that in these three groups up-to-date expertise is present. Because of that, I was able to follow the course of research fitting the early results as they occurred. For example lab facilities, such as the electron microscope, were important to characterize membrane structures. The observations were discussed within MST. In this highly specialized and experienced group, all membrane fabrication steps are analysed meticulously, in every stage.’

‘Real eggs’

The potential for using PECs showed itself in the early stages of the PhD project already. For example, the demonstration to extract butanol from an aqueous solution was one of the first milestones. ‘Also we showed that the extracted protein could be recovered very efficiently,’ Jéré adds.

In the next chapter of his thesis PECs were used to extract lysozyme from real egg whites. ‘That was a thrill for me,’ Jéré remembers vividly. ‘Not only did the PECs perform very well within a real existing substance – i.e. not prefabricated under lab conditions – but it also appeared that the enzymatic activity remained very much intact. I had expected the efficacy would be much more fragmented. I was able to show the technical proof of principle and some early-stage applications.’

Nutritional proteins

These unexpectedly promising results led to a post-doc position for Jéré, who will work on the potential of PECs for extracting nutritional proteins from chestnuts and acorn mixtures for the months to come. ‘In fact, it is now certain that a successor will take this line of research further in a subsequent project,’ Jéré says. ‘It is a great feeling that my work will be taken further. I don’t know if I will continue working in this field myself, I will most certainly continue to follow it.’

Supervising students

Jéré also made a personal discovery. Working with students really appealed to him, he found out while supervising eleven students. ‘I really enjoyed watching them improve their lab skills,’ he says. ‘At first, they were hesitant in the lab, gaining self-confidence step by step. In my future job I would like to give more room to knowledge transfer and management tasks, and combine these with research & development activities, preferably in nanotechnology.’