Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Spotlight on Keshun Liu, recipient of the 2022 Alton E. Bailey Award

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Keshun Liu is the recipient of the 2022 Alton E. Bailey Award. This award recognizes outstanding research contributions and exceptional service in the fields of fats, oils, lipids and related disciplines. The award is sponsored by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

About Keshun Liu

Keshun Liu

Dr. Keshun Liu is a research chemist with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). Born in rural China, he received a Ph.D. in food science from Michigan State University and did post-doctoral work at Coca-Cola Co. and University of Georgia. Before joining USDA in 2005, he was an employee at Monsanto Co. and University of Missouri-Columbia. He has been active with AOCS by organizing meeting symposia and contributing his time and knowledge in many other volunteer and committee roles. He served the Proteins and Co-Products Division at all levels of Division leadership.

Dr. Liu is well known for his expertise in chemistry, processing, and utilization of soybeans, cereals, and legumes. His seminal research has had significant impacts on food and feed industries and scientific communities. His books on soybeans have become a must-read for researchers in the soy industry; the fibrous meat analog he and colleagues developed at University of Missouri has been commercialized by Beyond Meat. His research on fuel ethanol co-products and their recovery benefits the biofuel industry. Dr. Liu authored or co-authored 139 publications.

His improved analytical methods have been used by laboratories around the world. In January 2021, his trypsin inhibitor assay was approved as AOCS Official Method Ba 12a-2020. His low-cost method for making soy protein concentrates is being evaluated by the Soybean Innovation Lab (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) for fighting protein shortage in Africa.

Dr. Liu was named an AOCS Fellow in 2011. He was awarded the Award of Merit in 2010 and Protein and Co-Products Division Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.

Can you tell us about your current research?

As a research chemist with the USDA-ARS, my goal is to develop and expand plant-based proteins for food and feed uses. Our research involves basic chemistry, quantitative analysis, and development of innovative methods to evaluate new and existing protein products; to process oilseeds, grains, legumes into value-added protein ingredients; and to better incorporate these ingredients into food and feed products. 

One of my current research projects deals with developing a method for measuring chymotrypsin inhibitor activity. Like trypsin inhibitors, chymotrypsin inhibitors are naturally occurring proteinaceous substances. Together, they are considered antinutritional and/or bioactive. Yet, chymotrypsin inhibitors are less heat liable than trypsin inhibitors, but the former is not routinely measured. As increasing volumes of plant proteins are being used for human consumption in recent years, it is important to have a method that can measure chymotrypsin inhibitors with precision and sensitivity as well. 

Riding on my long-time experience on method development with trypsin inhibitor assay, I thought it would be easy work. Yet, due to the need to include an organic solvent (for dissolving a synthetic substrate), the project has turned out to be more challenging than originally thought.

What was your reaction when you learned you had won the award?

I felt surprised, overwhelmed and greatly honored. It is rather special to me for several reasons. 

First, this award commemorates Mr. Alton Bailey's outstanding contributions to the field of fats, oils, and related disciplines as a researcher, an author of several standard books, and as a leader in the Society. By reading Mr. Bailey's story on Lipid Library (written by AOCS member Mr. Gary List), I have a great respect for Mr. Bailey in terms of his outstanding contributions in research and service to AOCS. He certainly set a great example for all AOCS members. 

Second, the Alton E. Bailey Award was first established within AOCS as an achievement award in 1958, the year I was born. That was 64 years ago. 

Third, by looking at the list of past winners, most of them have outstanding contributions to the areas of fats and oils. I was among the very few receiving the award for research and service in related disciplines (in my case, the plant protein area). This provides encouragement to fellow members, whose major field is in related disciplines, to be nominated for the award in the future.

How has AOCS helped develop your career?

Since my graduate study at Michigan State University, my field of interest has mostly been related to chemistry, processing and value-added utilization of oilseeds, grains, legumes and other plant materials. AOCS is a natural fit for my work and research interests. So, I joined AOCS in 1992 and got actively involved with AOCS by attending annual meetings, organizing symposia, giving presentations, serving in a leadership role and volunteering in committee activities, etc. My membership and volunteer experiences at AOCS have enhanced my knowledge, broadened my connections and shaped my career in many ways.

For example, by attending AOCS annual meetings and interacting with AOCS colleagues, I learn what peers are with oilseeds and protein products relating to my research. This in turn helps me identify new research areas and use the most up-to-date research tools. The support and encouragement I received from AOCS colleagues over the years have also been very important for my career development. Furthermore, the awards I received over the years have brought much deserved recognition to my employer, USDA-ARS, for supporting scientists to succeed in their fields.

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