Using milk proteins to produce 3D printing materials, designing a user-friendly disbudding applicator and developing a protein supplement that would reduce hormonal hunger – they’re a few of the goals of researchers who have been awarded funding by the Dairy Innovation Hub. The projects were among six dairy innovations recently showcased in the WiSys SPARK Symposium Virtual Series.

Joseph Wu, an associate professor of chemistry, and John Obieladon, an associate professor of mechanical engineering – both from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville – discussed their work to develop 3D biocomposites made from casein and whey.

“Our goal is to produce useful materials that will be competitive with synthetic materials from petroleum-based sources,” Obieladon said.

Casein and whey materials are strong and similar to material made from nylon, Wu said. They’re also transparent.

Proteins used to create 3D printing materials would be sourced from spoiled milk and whey from dairy-processing waste. The materials created wouldn’t compete with fresh milk. Moreover they could be part of a solution to reduce the amount of milk needing to be dumped as a result of negative market conditions.

More than 43 million gallons of milk in the United States were reported to have been dumped in 2016. And due to lost markets caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Wisconsin producers alone were forced to dump more than 30,000 gallons of milk, Obieladon said.

User-friendly disbudding process underway

Sylvia Kehoe is a dairy-science professor at UW-River Falls. She’s also a coach for the university’s Dairy Challenge Team. In those roles she’s visited numerous dairy farms throughout the country and has observed a trend toward disbudding calves.

A small but growing number of dairy farmers is beginning to use disbudding to remove horn tissue from calves in the first two months of life. Dehorning calves at a later age is more invasive and more difficult to do. But because debudding is a newer method some people are unfamiliar with how to do it – and directions on available pastes don’t necessarily provide sufficient detail, she said.

Kehoe as well as a colleague at UW-Platteville and a paste company are working together to develop a user-friendly applicator that would make the disbudding process more consistent as well as safer for both calves and people applying the paste.

The collaborators also are working to improve the debudding process by first giving the calf an analgesic in milk, clipping the hair around the target area and using a pre-loaded applicator. The goal for the project is to provide a more-consistent protocol.

Protein provides health benefits

Denise Ney, professor of nutritional sciences at UW-Madison, has been conducting research for 15 years on the health benefits of a protein isolated from sweet cheese whey. It’s called glycomacropeptide – GMP – a 64-amino-acid prebiotic peptide found in casein. It can’t be isolated from milk but in the cheesemaking process it’s freed from casein into the whey fraction.

Glycomacropeptide is the only known dietary protein that doesn’t contain phenylalanine. People with phenylketonuria – a genetic disorder caused by deficiency of hepatic phenylalanine hydroxylase – must follow a lifelong reduced-phenylalanine diet to prevent brain damage and cognitive impairment. Since 1960 all babies are screened for phenylketonuria before they’re taken home. If a baby has the disorder its parents are informed about a reduced-phenylalanine diet to protect their child.

Glycomacropeptide medical foods developed at UW-Madison have received patents with assistance from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Ajinomoto Cambrooke has a license for producing medical food formulas containing glycomacropeptide.

Ney’s continued research has shown additional benefits. Studies have shown that people are less hungry after eating glycomacropeptide compared to other dietary proteins. Additional research is needed to determine if a glycomacropeptide supplement would reduce hunger hormones, making it easier to lose weight, she said. The supplement also could be used to improve bone health as well as improve gut microbiota and reduce inflammation.

Ney and her team plan to evaluate a powdered-glycomacropeptide supplement mixed with water, with funding from the Dairy Innovation Hub. The supplement has been developed for the research by Agropur. The supplement’s results will be studied in a test involving a group of overweight menopausal women.

“Dairy products rich in essential nutrients are needed to optimize health,” Ney said. “My objective is to see if dairy components can be incorporated into diets for specific health needs – or personalized nutrition with dairy products.”

Visit youtube.com and search for t71XnvOHlFY to learn about the research projects being funded by the Dairy Innovation Hub. 

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.