Gras Group

“Our work is multi-disciplinary and staff and students have training in the fields of chemical engineering, chemistry, biochemistry and food science. Our research spans fundamental problems through to applied research that aims to translate research findings to a range of industries.” – Associate Professor Sally Gras.

Research

Research in the Gras laboratory is focused on four main themes:  dairy science and engineering; functional foods and gut health; protein aggregation and materials; and waste water and environmental microbiology.

The ARC Dairy Innovation Hub undertakes Dairy Science and Engineering research.  The group conduct work in the microstructure theme of the Hub and have developed advanced microscopy tools which provide insights into every stage of Cheddar manufacture as it occurs in Australia, improving our understanding of how process parameters alter cheese structure and properties. Manufacturers have used this research to assess the effect of process or equipment upgrades on their product and to reverse engineer desired properties. These techniques have also been applied to study the properties of buffalo milk and milk products, which has helped smaller manufacturers to improve their processes.

The Gras laboratory has worked collaboratively with a number of teams and industry partners to examine functional food products, including oligosaccharides produced enzymatically from the lactose found in milk. Other collaborations have examined the science of gut health and the effects of food products on the gut.

Studies of protein aggregation and protein based materials are a core research area for the Gras laboratory. The group are exploring how fibril-like nanostructures made from synthetic precursors can be used to make new materials for biotechnology and nanotechnology applications.  This includes the production of hybrid materials that involve DNA origami (recently published in Nature Nanotechnology) and studies of the natural fibrillar aggregates made by bacteria. They also examine and develop peptides; techniques key to this area include peptide synthesis within the Bio21 Institute and synchrotron science at The Australian synchrotron.

In the area of waste water and environmental microbiology the Gras laboratory are working on a multidisciplinary project with three major water companies that aims to use bacteriophage to reduce foaming problems in waste water treatment.

Techniques

Peptide synthesis, protein characterisation techniques (FTIR, CD, fibre X-ray diffraction), microscopy techniques (Confocal, TEM, SEM, cryo-SEM, and AFM). Cell lines are cultured for cell adhesion, migration and cytotoxicity studies and the group has large scale (>5L) fermentation capacity for bacterial and mammalian expression systems. They also analyse oligosaccharide samples and conduct rheological and textural analysis of curd and cheese.

Biography

Associate Professor Sally Gras is Director of the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub which brings together three of Australia's leading dairy research groups - The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd (DIAL) - in a five year research program co-funded by the Australian Research Council. The research program will engage more than 30 researchers to address some f the major challenges identified as constraints to business growth and productivity in the dairy manufacturing sector.

Associate Professor Sally Gras is a Reader in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at The University of Melbourne where she teaches Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Engineering.  She also leads a research group leader at the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute.

She received her Ph.D. in protein misfolding from Cambridge University in the UK under the supervision of Dr Cait Macphee and Professor Chris Dobson and her B.Sc. (biochemistry and molecular biology) and B.Eng. (Chemical) degrees from The University of Melbourne.

Her research focuses on four themes: dairy science and engineering; functional foods and gut health; protein aggregation and materials; and waste water and environmental microbiology.