Posts Tagged ‘AgResearch’

Food exports of the future boost brainpower, flavour and texture

AgResearch scientists are leading new research which they say could revolutionise New Zealand foods – with new ways of boosting flavour and texture, and products designed to make our brains perform better.

Supported by industry and research partners, AgResearch programmes have recently been awarded more than $21 million by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.

“The future for New Zealand food exports to the world is premium quality and adding as much value as possible to our products,” says AgResearch Science Group Leader Dr Jolon Dyer.

“This cutting edge research will look at how we can help deliver premium foods by taking the eating experience, and the health benefits of the food, to new levels.”

The first of two AgResearch-led programmes, supported by commercial partner Fonterra, and with research partners, the Riddet Institute, the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, Flinders University (Australia), University College Cork (Ireland), and Illinois University (USA), is called Smarter Lives: New opportunities for dairy products across the lifespan, and focuses on how foods can influence brain performance via the `gut-brain axis’.

“Our gut influences just about everything we do and its connection to the brain is essential to leading healthier lives. People are looking for products that help brain development in children and provide better brain performance through adulthood,” says programme leader Dr Nicole Roy.

“One way is through eating foods that boost brain performance. There is mounting evidence to suggest that frequent consumption of dairy products or probiotics may do just that, but we don’t yet know how. The key is in the two-way communication between the gut and the brain.”

“We’ll be using cutting-edge techniques to understand how dairy ingredients and probiotics can work together to send signals from the gut to optimise brain development and performance. We’ll also be developing prototype foods that combine ingredients in a way that promotes those benefits.”

The second programme, Accelerated evolution: a step-change in food fermentation led by AgResearch, with research partners the Riddet Institute, Callaghan Innovation, Teagasc (Ireland), University of Bologna and Kyoto University, looks at how fermentation – one of the oldest and most economical methods of producing and preserving food – can make products stand out from the crowd, with fewer additives.

Common fermented foods include cheese, yoghurt and sauerkraut.

“We’ll be looking at the process of fermentation, and how we accelerate the process using different scientific methods to create new and desirable flavours and textures for products such as dairy, meat and seafood,” says programme leader Dr Li Day.

“We’ll also determine how these new fermented foods can be identified uniquely with New Zealand, and experienced and enjoyed by consumers internationally.”

Advertisements

Researchers find a2 Milk is digested differently to conventional milk

New research from New Zealand has found that a2 Milk™ prevents some symptoms of dairy intolerance and eases others, even though it contains the same amount of lactose as conventional cow’s milk.

The research findings were presented to a major conference in Chicago early this week.

A strikingly different pattern of digestive symptoms was found in people identified as lactose intolerant after drinking a2 milk compared to conventional milk, says study lead Dr Amber Milan, a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute (see press statement HERE).

The institute is conducting the research jointly with AgResearch.

“a2 Milk was at least as effective as lactose-free milk at preventing or easing some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance, including nausea, stomach pain and bloating, but didn’t reduce levels of flatulence and gastric reflux,” says Dr Milan.

“The women’s self-ratings of ‘overall digestive comfort’ were the same after a2 Milk™ as after regular milk, suggesting over the course of 12 hours, the other symptoms were unpleasant enough to not shift overall digestive comfort.”

Conventional milk contains both the A1 and A2 types of beta-casein, a protein comprising 25-30 per cent of total milk protein. It’s thought that originally all cows produced only the A2 protein type, and the A1 mutation appeared 5000-10,000 years ago. a2 Milk ™ comes from cows that naturally produce only the A2 type.

“There is some eevidence that the symptoms of lactose intolerance may be influenced by the proteins in milk,” says AgResearch senior research scientist Matthew Barnett.

“We wanted to investigate this more closely.”

Globally, about 70 per cent of adults consider themselves lactose intolerant, and experience bloating, nausea or other unpleasant symptoms after consuming it.

The study was the first to compare the digestive response to conventional milk, a2 Milk and lactose-free conventional milk between people who are able to digest lactose, people with lactose intolerance and people with dairy intolerance.

It was funded through the New Zealand Government High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge with co-funding from The a2 Milk Company Limited.

Participants were 30 healthy young women (aged 20-30, BMI in the normal range) who said they had trouble digesting milk, and a control group of 10 dairy-consuming women.

First they drank 50g of lactose – equivalent to about a litre of milk – to determine if they had lactose intolerance or not. Then, on three separate visits, the same women drank 750ml of the three types of milk.

Immediately after the women consumed the milk, and at 30 minute intervals for three hours, the researchers took blood, urine and breath samples, measured their waist, and performed MRI scans. The women also recorded how they felt for the 12 hours following consumption.

Analysis revealed that the lactose intolerant women:

    • Did not feel nauseous or have an urgent need to go to the toilet after drinking a2 Milk and lactose-free milk,but did after drinking conventional milk;
    • Had fewer bowel movements over the three hours both after a2 Milk™ and lactose-free milk compared to conventional milk;
    • Were half as likely to report abdominal pain, fullness and bloating over the course of 12 hours both after a2 Milkand lactose-free milk relative to conventional milk;
    • Experienced a smaller and later rise in breath hydrogen after a2 Milk versus conventional (breath hydrogen is a by-product of gut bacteria digesting any lactose that isn’t absorbed by the body, and is partly responsible for symptoms like bloating and flatulence);
    • Experienced the same levels of flatulence and gastric reflux after drinking a2 Milk and conventional milk, self-reported similar levels of “overall digestive discomfort” both after a2 Milk and conventional milk (lactose-free milk was rated most comfortable on this measure);
    • Experienced a higher spike in insulin levels immediately after drinking lactose-free milk, but not after a2 Milk and conventional milk (to be expected because lactose-free milk is created by breaking down lactose into two simple sugars). Spikes in insulin can affect metabolism in many ways, for example lowering blood sugar and making you feel hungrier sooner.

Dr Milan says animal studies show a breakdown product of the A1 protein causes inflammation in the small intestine, which seems to somehow exacerbate lactose intolerance.

“What our findings suggest is while we can’t fix the inability to digest lactose, we might be able to minimise the exacerbating action of the A1 protein.”

The researchers also showed that dairy intolerance is distinct from lactose intolerance. Dairy intolerant women reported all three milk types as equal in terms of digestive discomfort over the first three hours.

A planned second study by the same team will track the effects of a2 Milk on gut comfort over two weeks, focussing on small intestinal inflammation.

 

Fencing of waterways an effective tool to combat pollution

Fencing of waterways has proven very effective where it has been used to combat the risks of contamination from agriculture, AgResearch says.

AgResearch’s Professor Rich McDowell, the chief scientist for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, was speaking after the publication of a study looking at policies for fencing waterways on contamination loads in New Zealand waterways.

His paper was published in the American Journal of Environmental Quality.

The Ministry for the Environment’s Our Freshwater 2017 report indicates that urban waterways have the worst overall water quality in New Zealand, but much of the public focus in recent years has been on the impact of agriculture – particularly dairy farming – on waterways in rural areas.

“Fencing is very effective at reducing contaminant loads to waterways – by 10 to 90 per cent depending on the nature of the contaminants and local issues,” Prof McDowell says.

“Fencing works especially well for the likes of E. coli or phosphorus contamination that can result from animal wasteor stream bank destabilisation. However, fencing all waterways in New Zealand is impractical and in some places other good management practices may be more cost-effective.”

“A combination of better awareness of the issues and the use of good management practices (including fencing) in the right place is starting to reverse degrading trends in the likes of phosphorus and sediment in the water over the last decade,” Prof McDowell says.

Dairy farmers had invested in a major programme of fencing waterways to the equivalent of nearly 27,000km. They should continue to do so as it is effective at reducing waterway contamination, Prof McDowell says.

“The fact that most of the contaminant load comes from areas not requiring fencing reflects the much greater number and areas occupied by small streams – potentially from steeper country where dairy farming is unlikely to be present. Other work also indicates that a substantial proportion of contaminant concentrations may be from natural sources.”

AgResearch Research Director Greg Murison says there is a big focus by his own organisation and others, including DairyNZ, to support farmers in developing management practices that reduce the risk of water contamination.

“The number of science programmes looking at these issues demonstrates how scientists are being responsive to what is important to New Zealanders.”

You can read the study HERE.

Decades-old DNA match aids battle against pasture pests

AgResearch research associate Nicky Richards and her colleagues, recently confronted with a Porina (Wiseana) caterpillar found in Southland, were challenged with identifying which species of the pasture-munching Porina pest they were looking at.

Some species of Porina pose a much greater threat to pasture on New Zealand farms than others. Although seven Porina species are recognised, and the species can be identified by sight at the adult moth stage, it is impossible to do the same with the caterpillars because they look identical.

The research team suspected the caterpillar found in Southland was from an elusive Porina species known as Wiseana (W.) fuliginea.

To confirm this they needed to analyse an adult moth of the same species.

Mrs Richards explains:

“Unfortunately, no adult W. fuliginea had been found by us in our previous 20 years of field collections. So we had to find another way. Our connections led us to museum specimens held in the New Zealand Arthropod Collection hosted by Landcare Research. There we found dried adult W. fuligineaspecimens that had been identified and preserved after their deaths 33 years ago.”

“We took legs from these long-dead moths to generate genetic sequences – which takes more work when the DNA has broken down over time. It’s basically like putting together pieces of overlapping Lego to build what you need.”

Information gleaned from the 33-year-old specimens proved identical to the sequence from the caterpillar found in Southland. In other words, the researchers had a DNA match.

The work has helped in the development of a new DNA-based method to identify Porina caterpillars. By building a better understanding of this pest, scientists can learn how best to help farmers prevent the hundreds of millions of dollars of damage it can do to pasture on New Zealand’s farms each year.

Environmentally friendly treatments for Porina outbreaks can be explored and species that are the key pasture annihilators targeted, Richards said.

More can be learned about Porina and other pests at www.agpest.co.nz.

Ground is broken on new ag-science development at Lincoln

The start of a joint $200 million development between Lincoln University and AgResearch demonstrates a strong commitment to agricultural research and teaching in Canterbury, Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith says.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held today for the five-building facility at Lincoln to house around 700 staff from Lincoln University, AgResearch and Dairy NZ.

“Students want to study in the best facilities and learn from the best. The environment around them makes a big difference both to their experience of studying, and to choosing to go there in the first place,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“This investment from the Government, Lincoln University and AgResearch allows both institutions to deliver that quality experience for not only students, but teachers, and researchers as well.

“With the closer linking of research and teaching and scientific disciplines, students can be immersed in the very best agricultural science.”

The new facility is a significant physical and financial undertaking, with a total floor area of 27,000 square metres, or nearly three hectares.

Both Lincoln University and AgResearch’s facilities were damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes and the Government was keen to see a new joint facility between the two to increase research collaboration.

“This is a stake in the ground for the future of agricultural research in New Zealand and will mean new ways of working and learning for everyone involved,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“Removing the barriers between university and industry researchers and introducing the best new facilities will be key for attracting the best staff and students for years to come.”

The Government is contributing $85 million to Lincoln University for the project, with the rest coming from AgResearch and Lincoln.

The new buildings will be a key part of the Lincoln Hub – a specialist land-based innovation cluster in partnership with Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Landcare Research and DairyNZ

The economic impact of weeds seems much greater than previously estimated

The true cost of weeds to New Zealand’s agricultural economy is likely to be far higher than previous research would suggest, according to a new study funded by AgResearch.

AgResearch and Scion scientists worked with economists from Lincoln University’s Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit to review the available published research on the costs of weeds to New Zealand’s productive land (for the pastoral, arable and forestry sectors). That review reached a conservative overall estimate of $1.658 billion a year (based on 2014 costs).

“The research on weed costs done previously used differing approaches, and the numbers were sometimes outdated or contained guesswork,” says AgResearch principal scientist Dr Graeme Bourdôt.

“In addition, the estimate of $1.658b only covers the few weed species – 10 of the 187 pasture weeds, some arable land weeds and forestry weeds – that have been the subject of research into their impacts. The focus has largely been on the loss of production. The substantial costs of weed control, such as the use of herbicides, was not always considered.”

“Given all of these limitations, the true cost of the weeds to the agricultural sector is likely to be much higher than the $1.658b estimate.”

The study looked at the economic impact of some of the more widespread and destructive weed species such as gorse, broom, yellow bristle grass and Californian thistle.

“We also developed a dynamic approach for estimating the potential costs of weeds that have not yet realised their potential range in New Zealand, taking account of possible rates of spread, maximum geographic extent and changes in consumer prices for agricultural products,” Dr Bourdôt says.

“This dynamic approach applied to the Giant Buttercup weed in dairy pastures indicates that this weed alone would cost the dairy industry $592 million per year in lost milk solids revenue if it were to spread across its entire range over the next 20 years.”

“New Zealand has one of the highest levels of invasion by introduced plant species in the world, and there has always been a shortage of information when it comes to their economic costs on productive land.”

Knowing more about these costs is important to developing cost-effective ways to tackle weeds, and in quantifying the benefits of research aimed at ensuring New Zealand does not lag other countries.

$85 million for new education and research facilities at Lincoln University

The Government will provide Lincoln University with $85 million to support the construction of new education and research facilities to be shared with AgResearch on the university’s campus.

The investment will help Lincoln University’s recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes by replacing earthquake damaged buildings with modern teaching and research spaces.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith, announcing the investment today, said it would benefit “students, the primary sector, and New Zealand as a whole”.

“The new 27,000m² joint facility will enable increased collaboration, with researchers and academics organised by discipline rather than organisation, leading to an increase in the quantity, relevance, and quality of agricultural related research.

“The new facility will make an important contribution to creating a globally competitive agri-tech industry. By creating better links between research and industry the new facility will improve innovation and the applicability and speed of technology transfer to industry,” Mr Goldsmith says.

The new buildings will be a key part of the Lincoln Hub – a specialist land-based innovation cluster in partnership with Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Landcare Research and DairyNZ.

“The new facility will assist the growth of the ecosystem of science and education at Lincoln. It will play an important role in promoting a career in the agricultural sector for prospective students and staff, and will increase the number and quality of land-based sector graduates.

“I’m excited for this innovative new facility and I look forward to seeing its benefits realised,” Mr Goldsmith says.

The new facility will accommodate almost 700 staff, students and academics and is comprised of five linked buildings which will be home to Lincoln University science research and teaching spaces, AgResearch laboratories, corporate facilities, and office spaces and facilities for DairyNZ.

Construction of the new buildings is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.