Maija Tenkanen
1991 …2022

Research activity per year

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Personal profile

Description of research and teaching

Our research is focusing on characterization, modification and utilization of polysaccharides, especially plant-derived hemicelluloses (xylans, mannans). Hemicelluloses constituting 25-30% of plant materials are the second most abundant plant polysaccharides after cellulose. Hemicelluloses consist of several structurally different polysaccharides that exist in the plant cell walls closely associated with cellulose. In spite of their abundance, hemicelluloses are not yet as effectively utilized as starch and cellulose. Unlike starch, hemiselluloses are not digested by humans, which makes them an interesting raw material both for food (dietary fibre, prebiotics) and chemical industries.

We work with xylans from cereals and woods as well as with different mannans. In addition we collaborate with cereal technologists in the beta-glucan research and are studying on exopolysaccharides, such as different dextrans produced by lactic acid bacteria. One of our aims is to understand better the structure - function relationships of polysaccharides. We are also interested on production of specific oligosaccharides using selective enzymatic hydrolysis, and preparation of films and nanocomposites from renewable hemicellulosic polymers. Enzymes are actively utilized as selective tools in analytics and for targeted modifications of polysaccharide structures and functionalities. 

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Curriculum vitae

I was appointed as a professor of Bioproduction Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry in December 1, 2001. I started at my position in August 1, 2002. During 2004-2006 and 2014-2017 I have been acting as the Head of Department and during 2010-2013 as the Vice-Head of Department. During the period 2018-2021 I acted as the Vice-Dean with reponsibility on research and doctoral education. Since the beginning of 2023, I will be the Deputy Director of the University of Helsinki Doctoral School.

Before joining the University of Helsinki I have worked almost fifteen years at VTT Biotechnology as a graduate student, a scientist, a senior scientist and a group manager (Enzyme Technology). After that I was employed by KCL, Finnish Pulp and Paper Research Institute for a short period. As a PhD student I spent seven months as a visiting scientist at the Department of Chemistry, MIT, USA.


Fields of Science

  • 416 Food Science
  • carbohydrates, poly- and oligosaccharides, bioprocessing
  • 116 Chemical sciences
  • carbohydrates, polymers, food, wood chemistry
  • 220 Industrial biotechnology
  • 11832 Microbiology and virology

International and National Collaboration

Publications and projects within past five years.