The New Zealand Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST) developed a Roadshow to travel around New Zealand to inform people of the latest research in food. It explained the benefits of advanced research and multi disciplined research to identify a range of future food options for people.
This is not about genetic engineering as that has been so popularly written about but something much more fundamental and in the end more important.
The concept finds some of its origins in the science of nutrition, plant and animal breeding, species identification, health and medical science and genetics.
It's a field of science called nutrigenomics, and it may be one of the biggest science areas of the future. The concept that different people need different diets for optimum health is not new. There has been a rise in the range of gluten free foods, milk free diets, egg free diets, the debate around A2 milk and the list goes on. These were probably forerunners of this field. Nutrigenomics is the science of looking closely at certain human genes to see exactly why different diets work for different people.
To find out more about nutrigenomics research in New Zealand, visit the Nutrigenomics New Zealand website. You can also visit the nutrigenomics section on the Biotechnology Learning Hub website.
€While whole diets may one day be customised, there is also a trend towards customising individual foods. These foods are ‘passively customised' that is, a range of similar foods is produced by the manufacturer, and you choose the individual product that suits your health needs best. Crop & Food Research is one New Zealand Crown Research Institute (CRI) strongly engaged in work on personalised foods.€ (MoRST website). Foods are still generally treated as a commodity - everyone has the same access to the same mass produced product. With this work future food options will customise food types and food groups to meet small specific groups of people and eventually individual people.
The advantages of this multidisciplinary team approach is that research can look at crops and production from a wide range of angles. Some of these include environmental sustainability, carbon emissions and carbon miles, agricultural production techniques, health care advice before expensive treatment is required, food costs, food wastage, biodiversity retention, health care through personalised diets.
As this new field opens up more specialisations and research will be undertaken to further improve human health.
One of the current projects is research into foods and diet is Crohn's Disease which is a debilitating problem in the “gut”. Studies have shown that change in diet helps this. With intense research at the genotype level through using genomics, proteomics and metabolic approaches the goal is to develop foods to benefit the health of these sufferers and enhance normal physiological processes.
What are the implications for horticulture and gardening? There are a number of impacts on horticulture and gardening at a variety of levels. Intense scientific investigation into the nature of our food crops and cross comparison with different cultivars as well as a big comparison with older or heritage cultivars. We will probably find that there are a much wider range of cultivars or types than we currently acknowledge. This will lead to advanced plant breeding using highly technical and sophisticated tracking and plant breeding software to develop new cultivars that match the needs of particular genotypes in the population.
There will also be intense research into different foods options using plants and animals we may not currently be growing.
Horticulturists will have to develop new growing techniques and methods to ensure the right nutrients are produced by crops at the right intensity. We know that different growing conditions especially sunlight and water can affect the quality of food plants. In addition a much greater and tighter control over crop labelling and sorting will need to be introduced. New packaging may be required. Specialist growers will be involved in trial crops of new cultivars and species requiring advanced growing techniques and advanced crop recording.
New seed banks will need to be introduced to retain heritage crops and new crops for future generations and for breeding programmes.
Home gardeners will play a part in this as well. Gone maybe some of the traditional crops and cultivars growing at home in favour of special cultivars to suit ones personal diet. Home gardeners will have to become more knowledgeable.
Throughout the world there is a growing trend towards wellness, lifestyle, convenience, improved health, food choices at different life stages to match health, fresh food and wholesome food.
If there was there a challenge for horticulture and agriculture, scientists, geneticists nutritionists, and the medical professionals here it is. What a challenging field for tertiary education, business and the community.