The impact of intestinal health on blood pressure and mental well-being, new processes for extracting pectin, innovative methods for evaluating soil health or for protecting crops from insects, consumer acceptance of lab-grown cheese...
Read the latest round-up of agri-food scientific intelligence in our Vitawatch bulletin for October 2021.
Food and health
Gut microflora and foods high in flavenoids work together to improve blood pressure
The Institute for Global Food Security of Queen’s University in Belfast (Northern Ireland) has published the results of a study carried out on the link between flavonoid-rich foods (berries, apple, pear, wine etc.), gut flora and blood pressure. “Our gut microbiome plays a key role in metabolizing flavonoids to enhance their cardioprotective effects, and this study provides evidence to suggest these blood pressure-lowering effects are achievable with simple changes to the daily diet,” says lead investigator of the study Aedín Cassidy, from the Institute for Global Food Security.
With a cohort of 900 individuals, the study showed in particular that the participants who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods had the lowest systolic blood pressure, as well as a greater diversity in their gut microbiome.
“Our findings indicate future trials should look at participants according to metabolic profile in order to more accurately study the roles of metabolism and the gut microbiome in regulating the effects of flavonoids on blood pressure,” says Aedín Cassidy.
A new study links prebiotics to a reduction in anxiety
In a recent clinical trial, the research team of Dr Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, a cognitive neurosciences specialist at the University of Surrey (United Kingdon), has succeeded in establishing a link between the consumption of prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and the reduction of anxiety.
During this study, 48 women aged 18 to 25 years old and suffering from self-declared anxiety received either a daily dose of Biotis Gos (Friesland Campina) or a placebo, over a period of four weeks.
By studying the questionnaires completed by the participants at the beginning and the end of the study, as well as analysing their gut microbiome, the researchers observed an improvement in the mental wellbeing and an increase in the amounts of bifidobacteria (and thus improved gut health) in the group that received the prebiotic.
“This new research marks a significant step forward and opens up more opportunity to advance our understanding of the link between the gut microbiome and mental well-being”, said Kathrin Cohen Kadosh.
Formulation / process
Upcycling apple pomace thanks to bio-refining
In the research program of the UMT Nova2Cidre research unit, the BIA team (Biopolymers, Interactions, Assemblages – at INRAE Nantes) is studying the possibilities of extracting pectin from apple pomace (a by-product of cider-making) thanks to a bio-refining procedure using natural eutectic solvents.
Baptised NADES (Natural Deep Eutectic Solvents and Deep Eutectic Solvents), these “green” solvents are made up of natural molecules, are low-cost, renewable, non-toxic, recyclable and biodegradable. They are thus a less polluting extraction method. Tests carried out have shown that this method gives access to sub-populations of pectin that differ in their chemical composition, leading to a better yield than usual extraction methods.
The next research steps will look into other eutectic solvents, in order to access, in sequential order, other families of molecules contained in apple pomade and other fruit or vegetable fermentation by-products.
Consumers are more and more open to lab-grown dairy products
A 2021 study has been conducted by biotech food company Formo and researchers at the University of Bath (United Kingdom) on the acceptability of consumers regarding lab-grown dairy products. This study focuses on cheeses produced using precision fermentation able to synthesise specific animal proteins using microorganisms.
According to the results of the study carried out among 5000 participants in Brazil, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the USA, 79% of consumers accepted to taste this type of cheese. The participants understood that the production method used made it possible to produce cheese with a better taste than plant-based cheeses, as well as recognising the ethical and environmental advantages of these products.
“Seeing the growing consumer groups of flexitarians and young people driving adoption of animal-free cheese is a big indicator that these products will appeal to consumers far beyond the niche markets of current vegan cheese,” said Christopher Bryant of the University of Bath.
Measuring electric current to evaluate soil health
A research team at Washington State University has developed a method for evaluating soil health by measuring the electrical current produced by the smallest microorganisms.
Initially developed for measuring the electrochemical signal of microorganisms in an aquatic milieu, a sensor has been used on two samples of healthy and unhealthy soils in order to measure the microbial metabolism and other indicators of soil health. The two soil samples used by the researchers were collected at the R.J. Cook Agronomy Farm (United Kingdom) and appeared identical in terms of composition. They were both collected from fields with the same soil type, that had been little ploughed, were fairly rich in organic matter and had the same pH. The researchers used data showing that one of the soils was less productive than the other in terms of wheat yields.
The researchers then discovered that the most productive soil produced an electrical current while the less productive soil produced virtually no current – about 1% of the most productive sample.
This study could lead to a simple, real-time, test allowing farmers to determine if their soil is productive. “One of the biggest barriers to improving soils is not being able to have rapid, real-time measurement to develop appropriate management strategies for them. This sensor has the potential to be able to do real-time measurements not just of the structure of the soil, but how it’s actually functioning. It would be a huge advance in the field,” says Maren Friesen, an associate professor in the Departments of Plant Pathology and Crop and Soil Sciences and a co-author on the study.
Up till the present, farmers and scientists have been using soil chemistry, the analysis of nutrients, texture and pH to understand the physical and chemical properties of soil. Although this data is still important, it does not always reflect the real productivity of a soil.
“Sterile insect technique” studied in French agro-ecosystems
INRAE, the Centre for Biology and Population Management (CBGP - Montpellier) and the Sophia Agrobiotech Institute (ISA - Nice) have developed a biocontrol method for protecting crops from spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) the Mediterranean fruit fly. Called the “sterile insect technique”, this method consists of raising large quantities of the target insect, then sterilising the males using X-rays.
While this method has been used for several decades in the USA, it is currently being studied in France and is the subject of a research project called SuzuKIISS-ME. The goal of the project is to measure the efficacity of the method on greenhouse crops, then on experimental fields from the end of 2021, in order to then carry out the first field trials in partner growers from 2023 onwards.
What is the impact of climate change on agricultural plant diseases?
Published in Nature Climate Change, a study led by the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) is analysing the effects of global warming on agriculture, regarding crop diseases. Scientists are studying the reactions of 80 fungal pathogens and oomycetes according to their minimum, maximum and optimal temperature for infection. By taking into account various projections of future climatic conditions, the researchers have determined that the risk of crop diseases will be greater for Europe and China than for tropical zones.
On the other hand, rises in temperatures will also affect crop yields: although largely unchanged in tropical zones, they will be greater in higher latitudes.
The scientists leading the study also underlined the interest in developing research in this area, in order to anticipate disease risk according to the geographical zone.
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