Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions

September 19, 2013 19:42 ET

Food Innovation Offers Major Benefits to Health and Agriculture

Conference speakers share discoveries that change the way we think about food

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Sept. 19, 2013) - Researchers are making exciting discoveries leading to new ideas about the connection between food and health. Two speakers at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) 2013 held September 15 to 18, 2013 in Calgary illustrated how investment in food innovation could have major benefits in terms of human health, and what that might mean for the agriculture sector.

Dr. Randall Weselake, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, and Executive Director of Alberta Innovates Phytola Centre, shared the centre's work with oilseed crops like canola and flax explaining how it may lead to significant health benefits and help to "green" hydrocarbon oils. A collaborating researcher, Dr. Catherine Field, has shown that flax oil that has been engineered to have a high percentage of stearidonic acid may help to substantially decrease tumour size in breast cancer treatment.

Through the centre, an international consortium is looking into increasing the volume of oil produced in canola seed. Dr. Weselake pointed out that a one-percent increase in seed oil content will result in an additional $90 million per year for the crushing and processing industry. What's needed now, he added, is to find ways that producers can benefit as well.

Oil from oilseed has the potential to be used as both food and feedstock, including in nutraceutical and specialty products such as medical polymers. Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) sees incredible value in how the Phytola Centre is approaching innovation related to oilseeds.

"AI Bio has made an investment in Phytola and its network because it fits with our business objectives in food innovation, agricultural sustainable production and bioeconomy advancements," says Dr. Stan Blade, Chief Executive Officer, AI Bio. "The centre is exploring many angles including benefits from oilseeds to trade markets and to human health. Researchers are working to increase the amount of canola oil available for trade markets by increasing the amount of oil the seed produces. They are also working on the nutraceutical angle, exploring whether they can get oilseeds to produce punicic acid, which has health benefits. On the clinical side, with flax oil leading to tumour reduction, this may be an application we just never could have conceived of."

In another presentation, Dr. Bruce German, professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, explained that researchers have discovered that the microbial population in the intestine has significant impacts on human health. Just as foods rich in Vitamin C like oranges produce bacteria in the intestine that can prevent scurvy, and the addition of iodine to table salt helps to prevent goiter, researchers may soon know which ingredients can be added to specific foods to prevent today's chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity. Once scientists have discovered which bacteria people need and the foods that feed those bacteria, business opportunities will open up for agricultural producers to produce that food.

With the world consuming about 10 trillion calories a day, agriculture will have to provide about one trillion calories a day just to manipulate intestinal bacteria - a major target but one Dr. German thinks is doable. Dr. German also said this would help change the focus of agriculture to increasing the quality of food rather than simply increasing the quantity of food being produced.

"The opportunity lies in developing products that will fit into what is a very different business model. Instead of just thinking about a few of those essential vitamins and adding them to food products, there is a need to look at other products that will ensure proper gut health," says Dr. Blade. "People will soon have the tools and technology to take responsibility for their own health. Food choices and developing the kinds of products that can allow people to reach their personal health goals becomes very attractive and is why we support research in the area of food innovation."

About Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is a board-governed research agency funded by the Government of Alberta that leads and coordinates science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta's agriculture, food and forest sectors.

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