Protein Transition

How do you keep feeding a growing world population with our current environmentally damaging consumption patterns in the years to come? With more plant-based foods and alternative proteins. The Protein Transition research group investigates how micro-organisms contribute to healthy soil and vital crops with good nutritional value and taste, and ultimately healthy people. It also focuses on the application of micro-organisms as a high-quality protein source for human consumption, with sustainability and human health as important criteria.  

Why Protein Transition? 

  • Producing plant proteins for human nutrition that is in balance with nature and human health. 
  • Organising sustainable food production with a focus on healthy soil and nutrient-based agriculture, technological innovations towards mycoproteins and hybrid food, and health. 
  • Contributes to system change in food chain, towards balance in protein production and consumption with hands-on research and application of key technology.  
  • The research group carries out research projects in collaboration with various study programmes (BT, BM, VT, IP, MK, BAB, IDFC).  
  • Works with research questions originating from practice and focuses on both national and international cooperation with the professional field. 
  • Multidisciplinary research team that also investigates revenue models, consumer acceptance, hybrid food development and the food environment. 

Mission and vision 

The mission of the Protein Transition research group is to disseminate and apply knowledge about the microbiome. This brings together the aspects of protein production and consumption and is a unique way for the research group to contribute to the transition from animal proteins to more plant-based and alternative proteins in our diet. Obviously in balance with nature and health and in line with the national protein strategy.  

Research lines 

The research group has four research lines, microbiology being the common thread.  

  1. One Health: how are (soil) microbiome, (nutritional) plant quality and human health connected? 
  2. Resilient protein crop production: how can we produce resilient protein crops? Which crops are suitable for the region? Local protein supply. Plant-microbe interactions, nitrogen fixation. Molecular breeding of resilient crops. 
  3. Single cell proteins & developing new (hybrid) food products: how can we produce microbial protein and use it in food?  
  4. Planet-friendly diet & gut microbiome: health aspects of different protein sources  . 


The central research question of the research group is achieving food chain and system change towards sustainable food production and consumption. One that is in balance with our nature and health. Our research focuses on Living Labs, in which we work for long periods on various transition tasks. With protein transition research, we contribute to SDGs Zero Hunger (2), Good health and well-being (3), Sustainable cities and communities (11), Responsible consumption and production (12), Climate action (13) and Life on land (15). 

List of projects 

Soils2Guts (Steering soil microbiomes for better crop quality The holy grail to improve human health): This project investigates the relationship between agricultural practices, soil health and human gut health to prevent non-communicable diseases through nutritional interventions. It aims to improve consumer health, soil quality and agricultural sustainability, and economic welfare for farmers. 

MicroMelk: Builds on the Soil and Human Health Survey and focuses on identifying the relationship between soil microbes, nutrients in grassland and milk composition of Friesian livestock farmers. It examines the link between soil micro-organisms and milk composition to distinguish unique characteristics of Frisian milk and provides insights for follow-up research into soil-milk relationships. 



The research of the Protein Transition research group contributes to knowledge dissemination within and outside our university of applied sciences. We make our knowledge visible, available and usable and implement it within transition-oriented education. 

Key publications 

More on protein transition, the role of micro-organisms and the research of the research group is available in the inaugural address brochure. Here you will read more about practice-based research and projects and about topics such as protein production and consumption, the challenges of the agri-food system, agriculture and environment in relation to the protein transition, and micro-organisms as directors of the sustainable protein transition. 

Read the full inaugural address 

To determine whether self-initiated dietary changes can improve mental and somatic symptoms in relatively healthy individuals, former PhD student Anouk Willems worked on the "Food for Science" project at Van Hall Larenstein in Leeuwarden, in collaboration with the University of Groningen. We showed that a self-initiated dietary change can lead to a significant reduction in mental and somatic symptoms. Improved mental and somatic health was linked, among other things, to reduced intake of the "Processed Foods" dietary pattern (such as sweets, snacks and biscuits) and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.  

Further research group publications - Greeni; lecturer publications: Google Scholar or Research Gate.

About the lecturer 

Czech-born Martina Sura-de Jong completed her study programmes, Master and PhD in microbiology at the University of Chemistry and Technology in beautiful Prague. During her PhD research at the Faculty of Food and Biochemical Technology, she discovered her passion for DNA, microbial ecology and environment.  


Soon after, she led a multidisciplinary research group as principal investigator on soil-plant microbiota interactions, biological/phytosanitation, and the application of genetic modification to optimise this remediation. In this role, she is also part of the Ministry of Environment's committee overseeing the safe use of GMO (Genetic Modified Organism) in the Czech Republic.  

In 2014 she worked as a researcher in the Biotechnology study programme at HVHL. Together with the former lecturer in Healthy and sustainable nutrition and diseases of affluence, she also set up a Food for Science doctoral research project which focused on the influence of food on the human gut microbiome and health. She later led the Soil and plant microbiome research line under the Sustainable soil management research group. Her expertise in microbial ecology and molecular biology made her aware of the connection between soil, plants, food and humans, and the crucial role of microorganisms in it.  

The Protein Transition research group in Leeuwarden started in November 2022. It is Martina's mission to translate existing knowledge and gather new knowledge about the microbiome to use for protein production and consumption. One that is in balance with nature and human health. She also focuses on the application of microorganisms as a high-quality protein source for human consumption and the development of hybrid food. 

"As a lecturer in protein transition, my motivation comes from a deep understanding of microbial processes, passion for healthy soil, food and people, and for system change in the food chain. My ambition with the application of (new) knowledge is to help balance the polarisation that the topic of protein transition entails." 

Knowledge network 

Protein transition (multidisciplinary) knowledge network consists of a core team with a lecturer and core researchers. These core researchers are internal (HVHL) experts on the four research lines. Colleagues interested in implementing research in education are also involved. The knowledge network collaborates with several external partners, who regularly participate in the research group meetings. 

List of knowledge partners 

  • Bc. Kika Lewak - researcher, expertise in soil, plant microbiome, bioinformatics and lab sciences 
  • Bc. Dewi van der Berg - lecturer/researcher at Biotechnology, expertise in data science, bioinformatics, microbiome 
  • Wouter Suring, Msc - lecturer/researcher at Biotechnology, expertise in data science, bioinformatics, microbiome 
  • Dr Rik Veldhuis - lecturer/researcher at Biotechnology, expertise in plant-microbe interactions, plant biotechnology, nitrogen cycling 
  • Bc. Pauline Drost - bachelor in food technology, lecturer at Business and Agribusiness (food and non-food), researcher in system change and climate 
  • Dr Anna de Souza Silva - Food Scientist with PhD in Food Analytical Chemistry (Food Authenticity and fraud), lecturer/researcher at Innovations in Dairy and Food Chains master programme 
  • Dr Jacob Duinstra - lecturer/researcher at Innovations in Dairy and Food Chains master programme, expertise in innovations in food and dairy chain 
  • Dr Berend-Jan Dobma - lecturer/researcher at Innovative plant breeding, expertise in plant breeding, crop management 
  • Dr Rick Orij - lecturer at Biotechnology, expertise in data science, fermentation 
  • Dr Han Suelmann - lecturer/researcher at Biotechnology, expertise in methodology, statistics consultancy 
  • Dr Dick Bonarius - lecturer/researcher at Biotechnology, expertise in industrial microbiology, cellular agriculture, fermentation 
  • Korrie Hoekstra, MSc - lecturer/researcher Communication & Innovation at Environmental Science. Korrie is always looking for opportunities to connect people, knowledge, organisations and themes. Driven to explore human behaviour and opportunities, she continuously looks for ways to add more value to current day-to-day practices.  
  • Gertjan Klijnstra, MSc - lecturer/researcher at Food Technology, strategic business developer with a pragmatic 'doer' mentality, quick at identifying new opportunities for success, extensive experience in developing innovative new concepts based on 20 years' experience in the food industry 
  • Jendo Visser, MSc - lecturer/researcher at Food Technology, food technologist with more than 20 years of experience in various disciplines, creative thinker with an analytical mindset, specialising in translating product features into customer needs and vice versa 
  • Dr Hanneke Elzerman - lecturer/researcher Food Technology Velp, expertise in consumer acceptance & sensory research 
  • Dr Karin van der Borght - lecturer at Biology & Medical Laboratory Research, expertise in neurogenesis in adult brains, cell biology, physiology and immunology 
  • Dr Emiel Elferink - lecturer Sustainable Soil Management 
  • Dr Lizette Oudhuis, lecturer Healthy Food & Nutrition 
  • Dr Peter de Jong – lecturer Sustainable Processing Food & Dairy 
  • Dr Marije Strikwold - associate lecturer, Safety in the Food Chain 
  • Dr Koos Oosterhaven - manager FACT (Food Application Centre of Technology), food technologist 

Leer en Kenniscentrum Bodem, Biosintrum, ECOstyle BV, RuG, Fascinating programme, Wetsus, Louis Bolk Institute, Bac2Nature, Leiden University, Fjildlab, BERNN, LTO Noord, ENZA Seeds, Bioclear Earth, Bakery Sweets Center, Northern Provinces NL, Municipality of Súdwest Fryslân, Municipality of Groningen (Councillor in protein transition), Various agricultural collectives, consultants and associations (Mulder Agro, Galama Solutions, Noordelijke Fryske Wâlden, Ecolana, Botmas Farm Foods....), Voedingscentrum, JOGG, Jong Leren Eten.

Want to know more?

We focus on disseminating knowledge about the microbiome and applying it to balance protein production and consumption. The opportunities to work together on the transition to a more sustainable and healthier food system excite us. If you are interested in exploring collaboration opportunities, research partnerships or just want to contribute to the future of food, please get in touch.  

Martina Sura-de Jong
Lecturer Protein Transition

E-mail: [email protected]
Telephone: +31 26 369 58 28

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