I attended the Rothamsted Open Innovation Forum (ROIF 2017) last week and I was intrigued to hear Matthew Ryan from CABI explain to the audience that commitment, communication and co-operation are 3 key things he needed to bring the right people together to work on the plant microbiome project. He then invited us to join a discussion group on how to make the project happen.
The plant microbiome is the environment around the plant containing fungi, bacteria and yeasts that help to provide nutrients, fight disease and pests and support the plant’s growth.
His challenge is that the study of the plant microbiome is a multi-disciplinary task involving plant pathologists, microbiologists, crop scientists, data analysts and many others. In fact, to map the microbiome of plants is even a bigger task than mapping the human genome because of the different species and environments involved. In addition, the environments in which plants live, are constantly changing so it is a task similar to the one faced by the Forth Road bridge painters, before a sustainable solution was found!
So why would I, a technical and nutrition consultant working in the food industry, want to take part in this discussion?
Three words – commitment, communication and co-operation. In any discipline, these three elements make challenges possible to overcome.
One of the key questions in my Nuffield project is “how do nutritionists, farmers and food manufacturers work together to bring improvements to human nutrition?”
So far, I have come across products that deliver nutritional benefits such as vitamin D enriched mushrooms, selenium enriched tomatoes, Omega 3 enriched eggs, high beta-carotene sweet potatoes and A2 milk. Projects do exist that bring the different specialists together but is this a subject area too important to be left to private and commercial initiatives?
In the UK, food and nutrition policy is handled by the Food Standards Agency and Defra. The Department of Health also has a role in food policy and has the Public Health England (PHE) agency focusing on nutrition. PHE is committed to advising and supporting on key areas for example, sugar reduction and producing the Eatwell Guide. SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition), advises PHE and other government institutions on nutrition and related health matters.
The multi-agency approach is well established but could we be doing better to commit to working across the various disciplines, communicating nutritional health priorities and co-operating on projects to improve the nutritional value of food in the U.K?