New collaboration working to develop crops with healthier, more resistant starch

Researchers working to develop crops with healthier, more resistant starch at the Quadram Institute and John Innes Centre are partnering with the John Innes Foundation, who will be funding a two year collaborative research programme.

This two-year Fellowship will support the work of Principle Investigator Fred Warren, an expert on starch properties, structure and digestion (Quadram Institute Bioscience), and Co-Investigator Dr David Seung, an expert on starch synthesis, and aims to provide a basis for the production of crops that contain more slowly digested starch (known as resistant starch) to form a healthier part of our diet.

Starch is an important macronutrient in our diet. It provides as much as 50% of our calorific needs and is our main source of dietary glucose. However, there is a link between the consumption of large amounts of quickly digested starch and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Advances made on the Norwich Research Park regarding biosynthesis of amylose, an important component in starch that determines a number of factors such as texture and digestibility, could enable new sources of resistant starch to be introduced to starchy crops.

This project will exploit advances in plant genetics to uncover the basis of amylose biosynthesis, using model systems to uncover the molecular basis for differences in amylose between different crop varieties, for example potato, pea, maize and wheat. Some of these crops are more digestible than others, which we believe is due to differences in the structure of amylose in these crops. Understanding this variation will allow us to design foods in the future with improved nutritional value.

The John Innes Foundation is a charity dedicated to advancing the acquisition and application of knowledge about plants and microbes for societal, environmental and commercial benefit. The foundation is funding the two-year fellowship.

Dr Fred Warren, Group Leader at the Quadram Institute, said “We are very grateful to the John Innes Foundation for funding this Fellowship. We are working in applying breakthroughs in plant science that have the potential to help improve human lives and reduce the burden of disease.”

Group Leader at the John Innes Centre, Dr David Seung, said “This project combines the knowledge we are developing at the John Innes Centre on how plants make starch with the expertise of starch digestion and human health at Quadram. We thank the John Innes Foundation for supporting this exciting collaboration, which enables us to answer an important cross-disciplinary question that neither lab can address on its own.”

Peter Innes, of the John Innes Foundation, said “The link between the structure of plants, what is eaten, and human health and wellbeing is still little understood. Nowhere in the world can collaborative research into these fundamental areas of science be done to better effect than at the Norwich Research Park, home to the John Innes Centre and the Quadram Institute. The John Innes Foundation has been funding plant and microbial research for more than a hundred years. We are delighted now to be extending our support to this exciting, and potentially important, project.”

Dr Daniel McFeely, recently appointed as a Postdoctoral Researcher on this project, said: “This exploration into new areas of starch research would not be possible without the funding of the John Innes foundation, to which I am very thankful. The results of this fellowship aim to develop significant breakthroughs in both starch formation and gastrointestinal health.”

Image courtesy of Dr Erica Hawkins.

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