Volume 21. Number 1. 2016

Plant scientists: GM technology to help meet food supply demands

More than 1,000 scientists from nonprofit, corporate, academic, and private institutions say public doubts about genetically modified (GM) food crops are hindering the next Green Revolution. In a recent petition, six researchers from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Carnegie Institution for Science in the US and Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica para la Biodiversidad in Mexico explain their support of science-based criteria in guiding the safe and effective use of GM technology.

The petition, which is the first organized by individual scientists supporting GM technology has yielded more than 1,600 signatures from plant science experts supporting the American Society of Plant Biologists' (ASPB) position statement on GM crops, which states that they are "an effective tool for advancing food security and reducing the negative environmental impacts of agriculture."

The signatories of the petition represent a knowledgeable consortium of scientists, who have published more than 17,600 scientific papers on subjects including plant breeding, the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying plant growth and development, and plant responses to environmental stresses. The petitioners' goal is to demonstrate to the public that there is consensus within their scientific community about the safety and efficacy of using genetic modification technology in agriculture.

More details are available at the website of the Carnegie Institution for Science. The ASPB position statement and the petition are available here. Crop Biotech Update 24 Feb 2016

First Marine Flowering Plant Genome Sequenced

An international research team from Europe and the United States have sequenced the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina, an eelgrass taken from the Archipelago Sea off Finland. It is the first marine flowering plant to be fully sequenced, and its genome provides insight to extreme genetic plant adaptations. Eelgrass was once a flowering land plant that evolved over millions of years to become an ocean-dwelling seagrass, and researchers are interested in understanding how the plant adapts to climate change.

The research team compared the eelgrass genome with the freshwater plant duckweed and noted differences in genes related to cell wall structure due to adaptations to freshwater or terrestrial conditions. For example, the duckweed lost genes that help plants retain water in the cell wall, while eelgrass regained these genes to better deal with osmotic stress at low tide.

Study lead author Jeanine Olsen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said that the eelgrass re-engineered itself, noting the changes affecting the plant's cell walls. She added that crop breeders may benefit from lessons on how salt tolerance has evolved in these plants.

For more details, read the news release at the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute website. Crop Biotech Update. 3 Feb. 2016

Nestlé's nutrition profiling system may aid in formulating healthier products

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition (EJON) shows that the Nestlé Nutritional Profiling System (NNPS) may be an effective way to approach product reformulation to reduce sugar, salt, and fat. The system divides foods into 32 categories-everything from noodles, pizzas, and cereal-based foods, to soups, biscuits, cheeses, dairy desserts, and sauces-and provides "nutrient targets" for a serving of each, according to your age.

Using international and national dietary guidelines, the NNPS limits specific nutrients in each category, but encourages others. For example, it advocates delivering protein and calcium through dairy foods, and whole grains via cereal-based products. The outcome of the NNPS is dichotomous, i.e., "yes" or "no," and relies on pre-defined target values for a set of nutritional factors. To achieve a positive outcome, all target values must be met. Four guiding principles were used to define targets for the nutritional factors: (1) nutritional factors include energy, nutrients to limit, and nutrients to encourage; (2) the set of nutritional factors and associated target values is category specific; (3) target values are age specific, depending on the products; and (4) target values are defined per serving of the product as consumed.

The study examined the composition of 99 of Nestlé's most popular products in the United States and France in 2009-2010 and compared them with the same products in 2014-2015, after the NNPS had been applied. The products were selected from eight product categories in the United States and France: pizza, milk-based beverages (as a snack), water ice and sorbet, and complete meals for the United States; and children's ice cream, center of plate food items (main protein carriers), soups, and cold sauces for France.

Applying the NNPS, Nestlé found that in all categories combined, the percentage of products meeting all the nutrient targets for the category (classification "yes") increased from 36% in 2009-2010 to 61% of products in 2014-2015. Among the products classified as "no," 33.3%, 46.1%, 25.6%, and 17.9% required a further reduction in total sugars, saturated fatty acids, total fat, and sodium, respectively. Between 2009-2010 and 2014-2015, there was a downward trend in the amounts of all nutrients to limit. Sodium was cut by 22% on average in eight food categories, and total sugars by 31%. Products targeted to children had the largest reductions in total fat.

From the case study, the researchers concluded that the NNPS system "sets meaningful and realistic nutrient targets for nutrition-oriented manufactured food (re)formulation while maintaining consumer preference." The researchers noted that more work is underway to confirm the extent to which reformulation guided by NNPS helps people eat more healthily and improves their health. IFT Weekly 18-2-2016

Snippets - contributions are welcome. Edited and produced by Dr. B Cole. - / Fax 011 660 6444 with the help of the Northern Branch Committee.