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Bakers add free bioinformatics tools to their kitchens

Bioinformatics has helped saved millions of human lives, from new medicines to treat old ailments to new vaccines to stop a novel virus. Those are huge accomplishments, but they are not the last of modern miracles that this technology can help produce.  Today, bioinformatics is spreading beyond medicine and venturing into other industries too. Take for example, the baking industry where bakers are stirring up new eggless cake recipes using a kitchen full of free bioinformatic tools.

A report in Baking Business finds that bioinformatics is “showing promise in assisting in a longtime challenge: finding ingredients to replace or reduce the use of egg-based ingredients in formulas.” This challenge isn’t solely stemming from a surge in demand for eggless baked goods by Vegans.

Rather the baking industry, according to Bakerpedia, is faced with serious obstacles from the use of eggs on several additional fronts, including:

·        pronounced fluctuations in global egg supply and pricing,

·        health concerns ranging from egg allergies and cholesterol content to avian influenza outbreaks and other potential health threats

·        egg products have a limited shelf-life and can lead to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) issues

Replacing eggs in recipes may seem to be a no-brainer but making it work is vexing even the smartest of bakers.

“Eggs provide strong gels and emulsifying properties in baked foods. Removing them from formulas might cause cakes and cookies to collapse and not have a uniform crumb structure,” Harrison Helmick, a PhD student at Purdue University, said in a Feb. 18 presentation at BakingTech 2021, a virtual event put on by the American Society of Baking, the Baking Business reports.

Finally, there’s a way to reliably solve the problem and find suitable egg substitutes for each recipe.

“Using just bioinformatic information, you can screen for any protein that may or may not be a good emulsifier,” Mr. Helmick said, adding “This represents a tremendous opportunity to identify new proteins that might have good characteristics for what you’re looking for.”

Free open source bioinformatic tools

Bakers and baking industry leaders are likely to find free bioinformatics tools easier to use than they would expect. As with any technology, once it matures it becomes easier to use both from the technical aspect and the strength in support from the surrounding community.

Just don’t expect the free tools to be labeled for baking. Most are described by the function they perform in use cases for medicine. Keep in mind that bioinformatics is used to analyze biological data. As long as you know what you’re looking for from the outset, identifying the appropriate tools is fairly straightforward.

“Most proteins are somewhere between 400 to a couple thousand amino acids long. Bioinformatics predicts what the structure of a specific protein will look like. Pea protein has been shown to have emulsifying activity similar to that of ovalbumin, the primary protein in egg whites,” said Helmick in the article.

So where do you find these free bioinformatics tools? Given that they are open source, you’ll find many of them in expected places like GitHub and SourceForge.   

Be sure to browse several bioinformatics lists on both of these sites since no one list there contains all of the bioinformatics tools that are available. There are additional sites, like Bioinformatics.org’s software map, that contain lists of these tools too. On all such websites, look for free tools listed among paid tools as not every list exclusively contains free or paid tool listings.

However, just because the tools are free doesn’t mean they’re easy to use. Most require computing, science and math skills. That’s certainly not a problem for the baking industry which is using a wide variety of computing and science applications already.

But if you’re a baker eager to try bioinformatics in your kitchen, consider taking one of these free, self-taught courses from some of the best universities from around the world.

Bioinformatics has applications beyond medicine and baking. For a look at the many different fields using bioinformatics today, check out this short video:

Bakers add free bioinformatics tools to their kitchens

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