Selective cation-exchange adsorption of the two major whey proteins
Whey is a by-product of cheese manufacture, containing a mixture of proteins of commercial value, each having unique attributes for nutritional, biological and food ingredient applications. A tremendous amount of whey, normally treated as a waste product, is produced worldwide each year. This work describes the cation-exchange adsorption of the two major whey proteins, alpha-lactalbumin (ALA) and beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) with the purpose of optimising a process for isolating them from whey. Adsorption of pure BLG and ALA was studied onto SP Sepharose FF using 0.1M acetate buffer. Batch experiments were carried out at various pH values for ALA and BLG, and the relevant Langmuir isotherm parameters, dissociation constant, Kd, and maximum binding capacity, qm, were determined. The optimum pH for separation was chosen to be pH 3.7. At pH 3.7, both Kd and qm pertaining to ALA were found to have higher numerical values than those of BLG, implying different characteristics of adsorption of the two proteins on this adsorbent. The Kd for the former protein was almost four times larger than the latter, while qm was 1.3 times higher. Packed-bed column adsorption was performed using a 1-ml column at pH 3.7, flow rate 1 ml/min and initial concentration of 3 mg/ml for BLG and 1.5 mg/ml for ALA both in 0.1M sodium acetate buffer. The t1/2 for the resulting ALA breakthrough was 75% longer than its BLG counterpart. The above results suggest the possibility of the occurrence of competitive adsorption between the proteins when adsorbed simultaneously. In traditional batch uptake experiments, the kinetic rate constants of ALA and BLG in both the single- and two-component systems were determined using the simple kinetic model. The values so obtained implied that BLG was adsorbed faster than ALA. In the confocal laser scanning microscopy experiments, the different behaviour of ALA and BLG in the single-component system with regard to their penetration within the adsorbent beads suggested that the two proteins have different transport mechanisms governing their adsorption. The two-component system results showed that ALA was able to displace BLG in spite of the lower affinity of the former protein to the adsorbent. The packed-bed adsorption and elution of a mixture of ALA and BLG were then investigated under the above conditions but using a 5-ml column. BLG breakthrough occurred first, and its concentration in the outlet exceeded its feed value by 1.6 fold before declining to the feed value, followed by the breakthrough of ALA. ALA displaced and eluted all the BLG from the column in a pure form. Pure ALA could then be eluted with good recovery. The single- and two-component breakthrough curves for ALA and BLG were simulated by the simple kinetic model using the isotherm parameters, but the overshoot phenomenon could only be predicted after correcting these parameters. The evidence of the competitive nature of adsorption observed in binary mixtures was used to develop a facile separation procedure for the two proteins from aqueous solutions of whey concentrate powders. A novel consecutive two-stage separation process was developed to separate ALA and BLG from whey concentrate mixtures. Almost all the BLG in the feed was recovered, with 78% being recovered at 95% purity and a further 20% at 86% purity. In addition, 67% of ALA was recovered, 48% at 54% purity and 19% at 60% purity. The correction factors employed for the pure binary mixture were used to simulate the breakthrough curves of the two proteins in experiments conducted with whey concentrate in each of the two stages of the novel separation process, and there was agreement between the experimental and theoretical results.