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A GENETIC BASIS FOR BETTER NUTRITION

A GENETIC BASIS FOR BETTER NUTRITION image

Cells are the working units of every living system. Our cells contain almost two metres of carefully folded deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which contains some 3 billion building blocks (genetic code). The sequence is highly organised although only a small percentage of the code appears to be used. These areas (genes) are 'read' by proteins to create a message that is subsequently reread by other proteins to form new proteins. It is these proteins that enable us to grow and live, and keep our bodies and minds functioning effectively. The complete package, code and genes, is the human genome. Much scientific effort is being expended on unravelling genomes from plants, bacteria and animals as well as humans. As we begin to know more about our genes - what they do and how - we also understand more about health and disease.

We eat a complex mixture of thousands of different compounds and food has a significant impact on our health. It is important to maintain a balance in which the correct amount of each food component is absorbed, stored in the right place and used at an appropriate time. We have learnt that success in these key processes is achieved by switching our genes on and off. Until recently, however, researchers could only look at a few pre-selected genes, and single or simple groups of nutrients. The human genome project, or rather the information it has supplied and the new tools developed, has enabled researchers to take a much broader view. Nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics, is the study of how food and our genes interact.

For many of us our response to food will be very similar. However, some individuals respond differently to the whole foods or food compounds, depending on their genetic make-up. Nutrigenomics has the potential for fine-tuning what foods and how much these individuals should eat as well as the population as a whole. Such information could improve public health generally but also increase quality of life as we get older.

NEW DIRECTION FOR NUTRITION

Europe has many researchers working in different centres in the field of nutritional genomics. These centres are linking up in a Network of Excellence, the European Nutrigenomics Organisation, or NuGO, within the Sixth Framework Programme. NuGO will enable researchers to work together to develop and use nutritional genomics research, and to reinforce Europe's competitiveness in this field.

Biomedical and pharmacological researchers already use genomics to search for cures for disease, new medicines and to determine how well people respond to different treatments. Nutrigenomics is attacking the problem from a different direction - how can we prevent disease by keeping our cells, tissues and organs healthy? NuGO will enhance our understanding of diet-gene interactions and consequences of these exchanges.

Researchers will study how we respond depending on our genetic make-up, age and gender. NuGO will also encourage the development of new joint research projects, using the complementary skills from the various institutions, to answer key questions. However, the project will also work with consumers, food industry and governments in Europe to determine their priorities and discuss the social, ethical, economical and legislative concerns. This dialogue will enable the population as a whole, as well as specific groups, to make informed choices about diet and lifestyle.

VIRTUAL CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE

The increased complexity of nutrigenomic studies means researchers can no longer work in isolation. NuGO will enable European centres of research to work together to develop and use genomic technologies in nutritional science. So called critical mass - sufficient experts with complementary knowledge - will facilitate a faster, more inclusive approach to problem-solving. It will attract and train a new generation of European scientists and thus contribute to improving the health of EU citizens. The food industry will be able to use this new scientific knowledge to develop innovative, functional products that satisfy consumers' needs and desires. It should also help SMEs to grow by finding appropriate market niches. Conferences and publications will help to spread existing knowledge and new information throughout the European community and beyond.

Initially, the network comprised 22 collaborators but it will remain open to new members throughout its six-year term. The work is organised into a range of distinct packages, to be reviewed at the end of every year, enabling NuGO to respond flexibly to progress in this field.

List of Partners

  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • TNO Nutrition and Food Research (The Netherlands)
  • RIKILT - Institute of Food Safety (The Netherlands)
  • Rowett Research Institute (UK)
  • University of Reading (UK)
  • University of Firenze (Italy)
  • Jagiellonian University Medical College of Kraków (Poland)
  • Maastricht University (The Netherlands)
  • National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (The Netherlands)
  • University College Cork (Ireland)
  • Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
  • University of Ulster (UK)
  • German Institute of Human Nutrition (Germany)
  • Technical University of Munich (Germany)
  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • Lund University (Sweden)
  • University of Balearic Islands (Spain)
  • University of Newcastle (UK)
  • INSERM - research unit on human nutrition and lipids (France)
  • University of Oslo (Norway)
  • European Bioinformatics Institute, EMBL Outstation Hinxton (UK)
  • Topshare International (The Netherlands)
  • Scienion AG (Germany)
Acronym:
NUGO
Full title:
European nutrigenomics organisation - linking genomics, nutrition and health research
Contract n°:
506360
Website:
www.nugo.org
Project co-ordinator:
Ben Van Ommen, TNO Nutrition and Food Research, ommen@voeding.tno.nl
EC Scientific Officer:
Jürgen Lucas, jurgen.lucas@ec.europa.eu
Valerie Rolland, valerie.rolland@ec.europa.eu
EU contribution:
€ 17.3M
Call:
FP6-2002-Food-1
Type:
Network of Excellence

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top