Innovative Research Could Increase Alaska’s Salmon Quality

February 8, 2021

Konrad Meister
Photo courtesy of Konrad Meister.

When ice crystals form in frozen foods, they can degrade the quality of the end product. This is an issue that directly affects the fishing processing and shipping industry in Alaska.

Enter Konrad Meister, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Alaska Southeast.

In 2020, Meister moved to Juneau from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry and his doctorate in physical chemistry.

He moved to Alaska, in part to be closer to one of his primary research subjects – organisms that are uniquely adapted to live in subfreezing environments.

Since arriving, he has secured awards from the UAF Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) program and from INBRE — the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. In addition, he received a $51K Pilot Program Award from BLaST/National Institutes of Health.

Meister’s research portfolio includes identifying and isolating antifreeze proteins, which occur naturally in a wide variety of cold-adapted organisms such as insects, bacteria, and fish. These unique proteins can bind to embryonic ice crystals and inhibit their growth.

This property means that antifreeze proteins have the potential to solve a long-standing problem in the frozen food industry — namely that the formation of ice crystals in frozen food degrades the texture and quality of the food products. As a result, antifreeze proteins have numerous potential applications in the food and beverage industry, which relies heavily on freezing as a way to preserve its products.

Widespread use of antifreeze proteins has been hampered by the cost and complexity of producing proteins in commercially viable quantities. Meister hopes to overcome these challenges by developing novel methods to selectively isolate the antifreeze proteins directly from the organisms by making use of their unique property  of binding to ice.

Meister has previously worked with major companies like Unilever on solutions to enhancing the preservation of frozen food products like ice cream. In Alaska, he sees untapped potential to use antifreeze proteins to enhance the preservation and distribution of one of Alaska’s most profitable export markets: seafoods such as salmon and crab.