Recently, an innovative Biofortification Hub launched on Norwich Research Park, a collaboration between the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Quadram Institute Bioscience (QIB). The Hub is now open for memberships for those interested in biofortification of foods, that are working in academia, industry and policymaking – but what exactly is ‘biofortification’?
‘Biofortification’ is the process of enhancing the nutritional value of food, feed or fodder by improving the plants and crops which are used to produce them. This can be achieved through various methods, including selective breeding, precision breeding (genome editing), genetic modification or other techniques (e.g. using enriched fertilisers).
All of these biofortification methods aim to increase the amount of vitamins or nutrients compared to what is normally present in the plant. It is a powerful tool that could address malnutrition, particularly for those in developing countries where access to nutrient-rich foods can be limited.
As well as increasing nutrient levels, biofortification can also encompass making nutrients more accessible to uptake and use. This is known as ‘bioavailability’ and can this be improved through food structure or combining different foods.
Biofortification can play a huge role in improving diets globally. This is particularly important in developing countries, when tackling common nutrient deficiencies, and aiming to solve worldwide food issues, such as the need to feed a growing global population.
For these reasons, biofortification is essential for maintaining UK public health. Nutrient deficiencies can occur for a variety reasons, from socio-economic factors to the results of specific diets. Therefore, fortifying foods allows more people to access a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
Furthermore, as the global population grows, so does the demand for food. Fortifying staple crops to make them more nutrient-dense allows this demand to be met in a sustainable way.
What projects are happening to biofortify crops and plants?
On the Norwich Research Park and with our partners we are working on a number of projects. You may have seen the vitamin D enriched and purple tomatoes in the news, or the project which is increasing the levels of iron in wheat.
We also have scientists working to biofortify peas in a couple of different ways. In one project a team from Professor Ant Dodd’s group is working with the Quadram Institute and LettUs Grow, an innovative aeroponic technology company, to boost levels of vitamin B-12 in pea shoots.
Traditionally, B-12 has primarily come from animal sources in our diets, including fish, meat, eggs and dairy. Deficiency of this essential nutrient can lead to severe and irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system. This innovation, to increase B-12 in pea shoots could lead to a plant-based dietary source of this essential nutrient.
What is the Biofortification Hub?
The Biofortification Hub is an initiative set-up on Norwich Research Park between the John Innes Centre and the Quadram Institute supports, funds and connects academia, industry and policymakers to collaboratively pursue shared research and innovation into biofortification.
It is led by Professor Martin Warren (QI) and Professor Cathie Martin (JIC) and is part of a network of 6 BBSRC Innovation Hubs established in 2022 as part of the Diet and Health Open Innovation Research Club (OIRC).
Membership is now open for the Biofortification Hub network and free throughout the duration of the project (2023-2027). You can join the Biofortification Hub by completing the membership form here: https://biofortificationhub.org/apply-for-membership/
You can also register to take part in the Biofortification Hub Community Meeting happening in November 2023.