Volume 24. Number 2. 2019

Salt is Bad For You: but How it Affects Your Body is Still Frontier Science

South Africa led the world in taking steps to reduce excessive salt intake. Its efforts seem to be having an effect. But Alta Schutte and Michél Strauss explain why campaigns should be adjusted to fit in with new scientific findings, some of which are challenging long-held beliefs about how salt affects the body. The CONVERSATION. 12 March 2019

Study Shows Surprising Environmental Impact of Organic Farming

Growing organic crops takes a bigger toll on the environment than growing crops conventionally, according to a study published recently in the journal Nature. The impact stems from the fact that more land is typically required for organic growing—something that really shouldn’t be all that surprising, according to the researchers. Read more... IFTNext Newsletter, 13 March 2019

Cloning Rice Plants may Enable Better Crop Production

University of California, Davis, plant scientists have developed a cloning technology for rice plants that has potential far-reaching ramifications for rice growers. It could be particularly valuable for poor farmers because it would allow them to grow crops that are higher yielding, disease resistant, and/or climate tolerant while saving their seeds for future use, thus reducing costs while improving crop quality. For decades, many crops have been grown from hybrid seeds created by crossing two varieties to yield seeds with superior qualities, but the seeds of hybrid crops don’t produce plants with the same desirable qualities, which means that farmers need to buy new seeds each year. In this project, the researchers used genetic engineering to clone rice plants capable of producing high-quality seeds. UC Davis professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, who developed the process says, about two years ago, the researchers realised “that we were just a few steps away from engineering plants that could produce seeds without fertilisation, so progeny would be clones of the parent. We knew that this type of reproduction, called ‘synthetic apomixis,’ had been a long-sought goal, sometimes called the ‘holy grail,’ of agricultural biotech.” In nature, there are about 400 species of wild plants that are capable of producing seeds via apomixis, but that has not been the case for commercial crop species. The plant scientists used genome editing, which allowed them “to successfully engineer rice plants that essentially cloned themselves through their seeds,” Sundaresan says. “It is a very desirable goal that could change agriculture.” IFTNEXT Newsletter March 5, 2019.

Microbial Transglutaminase: A New Potential Player in Celiac Disease

Microbial transglutaminase is heavily used in the food processing industries to improve food qualities. Being a protein's glue, by cross-linking it creates neoepitope complexes that are immunogenic and potentially pathogenic in celiac disease. Despite low sequence identity, it imitates functionally its family member, the endogenous tissue transglutaminase, which is the autoantigen of celiac disease. The present comprehensive review highlights the enzyme characteristics, endogenous and exogenous intestinal sources, its cross-talks with gluten and gliadin, its immunogenicity and potential pathogenicity and risks for the gluten induced conditions. If substantiated, it might represent a new environmental inducer of celiac disease. The present findings might affect nutritional product labeling, processed food additive policies and consumer health education. 10 December 2018.

Drought-Tolerant Corn Constitutes 22% of U.S. Corn Acres

A new report issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) examines the development, adoption, and management of drought-tolerant corn in the United States. Drought tolerance in corn is a characteristic that has been the subject of research for decades but has only recently been commercialized. Drought-tolerant (DT) corn produced using conventional breeding methods was commercially introduced in 2011. Hybrids genetically engineered (GE) for drought tolerance were introduced in 2012 but were not broadly available until 2013. The researchers found that more than one-fifth of U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT corn in 2016. In 2012, DT corn accounted for only 2% of U.S. planted corn acreage, but by 2016 this share had grown to 22%. At least 80% of DT corn acres were planted in 2016 with seed conventionally bred for drought tolerance, while just under 20% were planted with seed genetically engineered for drought tolerance. At the national level, 3% of all U.S. corn acres in 2016 were planted with seed that had been genetically engineered for drought tolerance. IFT. The Weekly: February 20, 2019

New Chocolate has Its Own Pro-GMO Label to Promote GMO Farming

Newly-released brand Ethos Chocolate has a line-up of irresistible chocolates that proudly bears a pro-GMO label. The brand boasts of its new label and aims to promote GMO farming as a sustainable solution to save the cacao tree, which scientists predict will be extinct as early as 2030 due to climate change and plant disease. Ethos Chocolate is produced by SPAGnVOLA, a single-estate artisanal chocolatiers and family-run cacao farm in the Dominican Republic. They feature four kinds of chocolates, each one representing a fruit associated with a GMO success story. These are: (1) The Optimist, representing the cacao tree and the international initiative to save it through GMO farming; (2) The Survivor, representing the Rainbow Papaya that saved Hawaii's papaya industry in the late 90s; (3) The Trendsetter, representing the Arctic Apple© whose breakthrough technology allowed apples to stay appetizing even when sliced or bruised; and (4) The Hero, representing the orange which, like the cacao, is endangered by plant disease. But through research, a new variety is being developed to save the Florida staple fruit through GMO farming. Crop Biotech Update. 13 February, 2019. Read more about these enticing chocolates in A Fresh Look and Well and Good.

GMOs Not the Cause of 'Monarch' Butterfly Decline, Study

'Monarch' butterflies and their principal host plant, the milkweed, have been declining in abundance even before GM crops were planted. This was the result of an extensive study conducted by Jack Boyle, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow of Environmental Science and Policy at College of William & Mary. Boyle and team's study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS). The researchers gathered the digital records from museums and herbaria throughout the North America and analysed the relative abundance of both monarchs and milkweeds for over a century (1900-2016). They found that both monarchs and milkweeds were highly abundant in the early 20th century and the recent declines allegedly attributed to herbicide tolerant crops were actually part of a declining trend observed to begin at around 1950. The paper concluded that herbicide resistant crops are clearly not the only culprit, and likely not even the primary culprit. Not only did monarch and milkweed declines begin decades before GM crops were introduced, but other variables, particularly a decline in the number of farms, predict common milkweed trends more strongly over the period studied. Crop Biotech Update. 13 February, 2019. Read more from and the research article in PNAS.

Fermented Dairy Products Found to Promote Heart Health

When it comes to bolstering cardiovascular health, dairy products aren’t necessarily the first food group that comes to mind, but a new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland has shown that consuming fermented dairy products may be protective against heart disease. Read more... IFTNEXT Newsletter 6/2/2019

EAT-Lancet Report Recommends Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems

Transformation to healthy diets from sustainable food systems by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%, declares a report from the EAT-Lancet Commission. The IFT Weekly 24 January 2019

Scientists Create Protective Gel for Probiotics

Prebiotics (fermentable fibres) and probiotics (beneficial microbes) are key to establishing a healthy gut microbiome. While most dietary prebiotics can successfully traverse the digestive system, most dietary probiotics cannot survive digestion. Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences have developed a gel to help probiotics reach their destination: the colon. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when ingested, populate the colon with good microbes that benefit the host. However, very few, if any, probiotics can survive the journey through the gastrointestinal tract: It is a harsh environment consisting of digestive enzymes, bile salts, and hydrochloric acid that destroys both pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms. Researchers had tried encapsulating probiotics in alginate, a polysaccharide found in brown algae, to protect the beneficial microbes during digestion, but they found that alginate also breaks down easily in the stomach. Hao Zhang and his research collaborators recently tried adding cellulose to the alginate capsule to augment its stability. Upon placing the cellulose-alginate encapsulated probiotics into a simulated stomach acid–like environment, Zhang and his colleagues found that the cellulose-alginate mixture held onto the probiotics. They also determined that the mixture properly released the bacteria in a simulated intestine environment. As a next step, the scientists plan to test this probiotic encapsulation system in animals. IFT Newsletter. 29 January 2019. The research study was published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Snippets - contributions are welcome. Edited and produced by Dr. B Cole. - / Fax +27 (0)86 625 2869 with the help of the Northern Branch Committee.