The John Innes Centre has been developing plant-based solutions to chronic health conditions. Conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, anaemia and Parkinson’s Disease can be mitigated with wrinkled peas, fortified floor and genetically modified tomatoes respectively, recent work has shown.
High iron wheat to address global anaemia problem
A new type of biofortified wheat developed by John Innes Centre researchers delivers a two-fold iron increase in hand-milled white flour. The genetically modified (GM) crop has successfully come through early field trials and work is underway to breed a non-GM equivalent.
Iron-deficiency anaemia is a significant global health problem particularly in women and with an economic cost from annual physical productivity losses of $2.32 per capita, or 0.57 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in low-and middle-income countries.
A diet rich in products such as bread and pasta made from this biofortified white wheat flour can provide a high daily dose of dietary iron removing the need for supplements.
Results using flour from indoor-grown grain have already shown that cells are able to absorb more iron from the high-iron variety than from control wheat. Researchers are now testing if the iron in field-grown wheat is also more absorbed by the body.
Professor Cristobal Uauy from the John Innes Centre said: “Wholemeal flour which uses the bran and wheat germ portions of the wheat seed produces more iron, but it is not all absorbed into the body. By producing high-iron white flour we can have the biggest impact on health.”
Wrinkled super peas to help reduce type 2 diabetes
A type of wrinkled ‘super pea’ may help control blood sugar levels and could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Unlike regular (smooth) peas, the wrinkled pea contains higher amounts of ‘resistant starch,’ which takes longer for the body to break down.
Research shows that compared to eating smooth peas, wrinkled peas prevented ‘sugar spikes’ – where blood sugar levels rise sharply after a meal. The same effect was seen when consuming flour made from wrinkled peas incorporated in a mixed meal.
This could be important as frequent, large sugar spikes are thought to increase the risk of diabetes. Flour from ‘super peas’ could potentially be used in commonly consumed processed foods which, if eaten over the long term, could prevent these sugar spikes.
The research, from scientists at the John Innes Centre, Imperial College London, Quadram Institute Bioscience and University of Glasgow, suggests incorporating the peas into foods, in the form of whole pea seeds or flour, may help tackle the global type 2 diabetes epidemic.
Professor Claire Domoney of the John Innes Centre said: “Longer term it could become policy to include resistant starch in food to tackle type 2 diabetes and other metabolic illnesses.”
Tomatoes offer affordable source of Parkinson’s disease drug
John Innes Centre scientists have produced a tomato enriched in the Parkinson’s disease drug L-DOPA in what could become a new, affordable source of one of the world’s essential medicines.
The development of the genetically modified (GM) tomato has implications for developing nations where access to pharmaceutical drugs is restricted.
This novel use of tomato plants as a natural source of L-DOPA also offers benefits for people who suffer adverse effects – including nausea and behavioural complications – of chemically synthesised L-DOPA.
The John Innes Centre led team modified the tomato fruit by introducing a gene responsible for the synthesis of L-DOPA in beetroot where it functions in the production of the pigments betalains.
The aim now is to create a production pipeline where L-DOPA is extracted from the tomatoes and purified into the pharmaceutical product.
Professor Cathie Martin, a group leader at the John Innes Centre explained: “The idea is that you can grow tomatoes with relatively little infrastructure. As GMOs (genetically modified organisms) you could grow them in screen houses, controlled environments with very narrow meshes, so you would not have pollen escape through insects.
“Then you could scale up at a relatively low cost. A local industry could prepare L-DOPA from tomatoes because it is soluble, and you can do extractions. Then you could make a purified product relatively low tech which could be dispensed locally.”
Parkinson’s disease is a growing problem in developing countries where many people cannot afford the daily $2 price of synthetic L-DOPA.
L-DOPA is an amino acid precursor of the neuro-chemical dopamine and is used to compensate for the depleted supply of dopamine in Parkinson’s disease patients.
Also known as Levodopa, L-DOPA has been the gold standard therapy for Parkinson’s disease since its establishment as a drug in 1967. It is one of the essential medicines declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its market value is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.