New research on the physical and chemical nature of food and its impact on health will help drive innovation in the UK and worldwide.
The research will make it possible for new healthy and safer food products to be developed, reducing the need for medical and social intervention. It will provide new insights into how certain food components moderate our risk of disease.
The funding will also enable scientists to explore ways to produce biofuels and industrial materials from novel biological sources.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Council (BBSRC) will invest £29 million in research at the Institute of Food Research on Norwich Research Park as the first phase of five-year strategic investment programmes.
The announcement today is part of £250M of strategic investment by BBSRC to ensure the UK’s bioscience research base remains globally competitive.
Commenting on the funding, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: “This £250 million investment from BBSRC for the first phase of major five year research programmes will sustain excellent science at some of the UK’s leading institutes and universities. This will drive growth, support highly skilled jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of bioscience, with benefits ranging from healthcare to energy and global food security.”
IFR scientists, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, are able to study the gut as whole organ. This requires expertise on gut biology, the resident bacteria or ‘microbiota’ in the gut, and how they interact and communicate with cells and tissues in the body.
If scientists can unpick the complexity of the gut, they might, for example, be able to develop better means of protecting the gut and arming it against infection by foodborne pathogens. Food poisoning costs the UK over £2 billion each year, affecting over a million people.
One group of IFR scientists is experimenting with altering fat digestion. Changing what is on the surface of fats can make them less accessible to bile salts and delay their digestion further down the GI tract. A slower release of fat from food can help maintain satiety for longer.
Research on food components and health has already enabled a new variety of broccoli to be developed, available in UK and US shops, with higher levels of a phytonutrient. Ongoing work will further unpick the long term impact of diet on the health of the individual and of the next generation.
IFR science has helped show that the food matrix is important for delivering health benefits. The cellular structure of food encapsulates many beneficial compounds, not only protecting them, but also helping to regulate their release over time as food passes through the digestive tract.
“Exactly how and where the interactions between food, immunity and health take place are questions under study in our laboratories,” said Professor Boxer.
“Whether people are signed up to caring about what they eat or not, science can help consumers make the most of the health benefits of food.”
Other research is investigating food ‘waste’ as a source of energy and valuable compounds. For example, wheat straw contains energy locked up in plant cell walls. IFR knowledge of the physical treatment and fermentation of plant material has made it possible to build a pilot plant. Scientists are experimenting with using it to produce bioethanol.
For the first time BBSRC’s funding to institutes has been awarded through a number of distinct strategic programme grants to each institute – and in some cases across institutes and university partners – to support five year research programmes. These have been combined with grants to support vital national research capabilities and with support for knowledge exchange, commercialisation and embedded activities, such as public engagement.
The IFR Institute Strategic Programme Grants focus on:
- Gut health and food safety – towards a healthy GI tract and microbiological food safety, and exploring their complexity. Additional investment will fund research collaborations with Imperial College London and the University of East Anglia.
- Food and Health – the functionality of plants and plant-based foods. Additional funding will fund collaborative research with the University of East Anglia.
14 strategic UK capabilities will be developed or maintained by the funding, including three at IFR:
- The National Collection of Yeast Cultures encompasses many thousands of strains of both academic importance and industrial value to the food, pharmaceutical, brewing, biofuel and biotechnology sectors.
- Food Databanks ensure sustainable access to robust information about food and health for public, policy making, commercial and academic stakeholders.
- ComBase is a web-based tool that addresses key issues in microbiological food safety.
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Notes to Editors
The funding has been awarded following an extensive and thorough assessment of institute science and associated areas in knowledge exchange and commercialisation, public engagement and strategic human resources. The assessment was made by independent panels of experts and through the advice of BBSRC strategy advisor panels.
The final decisions on funding have been made by BBSRC Council.
All institutes have been awarded an institute development grant in additional to ISPGs and NCGs. This is intended to support institute activities such as public engagement and strategic HR and to give institutes the flexibility to respond to opportunities in the next five years.
About the Institute of Food Research
The mission of the Institute of Food Research, www.quadram.ac.uk, is to undertake international quality scientific research relevant to food and human health and to work in partnership with others to provide underpinning science for consumers, policy makers, the food industry and academia. It is a company limited by guarantee, with charitable status.
IFR is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The institutes deliver innovative, world class bioscience research and training, leading to wealth and job creation, generating high returns for the UK economy. They have strong links with business, industry and the wider community, and support policy development
The institutes’ research underpins key sectors of the UK economy such as agriculture, bioenergy, biotechnology, food and drink and pharmaceuticals. In addition, the institutes maintain unique research facilities of national importance.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by the UK Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes