Photo of Maija Tenkanen
  • PL 66 (Agnes Sjöbergin katu 2)



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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.  The research is done in close collaboration with food, wood, organic and polymer chemists, and food technologists. We work both in national and international collaborative projects funded by the Academy of Finland, Tekes, various foundations and EU. 


Presently the research focuses on the following topics of xylans, mannans and dextrans:

  • Chemical characterization
  • Structure-function relationships
  • Enzymatic modifications and degradation
  • Production and structure elucidation of oligosaccharides
  • Chemical modification and functionalization
  • Preparation of biodegradable films

More info:



Curriculum vitae

I was appointed as a professor of Bioproduction Chemistry at 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 was acting as the head of department and during 2010-2013 as the vice-head (reserach) of deparment. Presently I am the vice-dean (research) of the Faculty of Agriculture ad Forestry.

I have previously 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 one and a half years. As a PhD student I spent seven months as a visiting scientist at prof. Klibanov´s group, Department of Chemistry, MIT, USA.

My husband is Tuomas Tenkanen and we have three wonderful children, Tuula, Heidi and Sami. We live in Espoo near sea. When I was younger I played Ultimate frisbee in the Finnish national team but now my hobbies are mainly spending time on the cottage in summer and skiing and skating in winter.


Fields of Science

  • 416 Food Science
  • carbohydrates, poly- and oligosaccharides, bioprocessing
  • 1183 Plant biology, microbiology, virology
  • enzyme technology, biotechnology
  • 116 Chemical sciences
  • carbohydrates, polymers, food, wood chemistry
  • 4112 Forestry
  • biomass, lignocellulose

International and National Collaboration Publications and projects within past five years.

Publications 2000 2019

Lactose- and cellobiose-derived branched trisaccharides and a sucrose-containing trisaccharide produced by acceptor reactions of Weissella confusa dextransucrase

Shi, Q., Juvonen, M. K., Hou, Y., Kajala, I., Nyyssölä, A., Maina, H. N., Maaheimo, H., Virkki, M-L. & Tenkanen, T. M., 2016, In : Food Chemistry. 109, January, p. 226-236 11 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

The impact of fermentation with exopolysaccharide producing lactic acid bacteria on rheological, chemical and sensory properties of pureed carrots (Daucus carota L)

Juvonen, R., Honkapää, K., Maina, N. H., Shi, Q., Viljanen, K., Maaheimo, H., Virkki, L., Tenkanen, M. & Lantto, R., 2015, In : International Journal of Food Microbiology. 207 , p. 109-118 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Combination of internal and external plasticization of hydroxypropylated birch xylan tailors the properties of sustainable barrier films

Mikkonen, K. S., Laine, C., Kontro, I., Talja, R. A., Serimaa, R. & Tenkanen, M., 2015, In : European Polymer Journal. 66, p. 307-318 12 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

O-Acetylation of glucuronoxylan in Arabidopsis thaliana wild type and its change in xylan biosynthesis mutants

Chong, S-L., Virkki, M-L., Maaheimo, H., Juvonen, M., Derba-Maceluch, M., Koutaniemi, S., Roach, M., Sundberg, B., Tuomainen, P., Mellerowicz, E. J. & Tenkanen, M., 2014, In : Glycobiology. 24, 6, p. 494-506 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Enzymatic oxidation as a potential new route to produce polysaccharide aerogels

Mikkonen, K. S., Parikka, K., Suuronen, J-P., Ghafar, A., Serimaa, R. & Tenkanen, M., 2014, In : RSC Advances. 4, 23, p. 11884-11892 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Projects 2004 2021


Award, The Marcus Wallenberg prize

Maija Tenkanen (Recipient), 2003

Prize: Prizes and awards

Activities 1993 2019

Organiser of the conference (chairman), 11th Carbohydrate Bioengineering Meeting

Maija Tenkanen (Chair of organizing committee)
10 May 201513 May 2015

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesOrganisation and participation in conferences, workshops, courses, seminars

Graduate Programme for Biomass Refining (BIOREGS) (External organisation)

Maija Tenkanen (Chair)

Activity: Membership typesMembership or other role in research network

Supervision of PhD thesis, Sun-Li Chong

Maija Tenkanen (Supervisor)

Activity: Examination typesSupervisor or co-supervisor of doctoral thesis

Supervision of PhD thesis, Ndegwa Maina

Maija Tenkanen (Supervisor)

Activity: Examination typesSupervisor or co-supervisor of doctoral thesis

Opponent PhD Thesis, Mürside Kes

Maija Tenkanen (Opponent)

Activity: Examination typesOpponent of doctoral dissertation