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Conference - Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: options from life sciences and biotechnologies
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What could life sciences and technologies do to improve the health and nutrition of the poor, thus fostering social and economic development, without comprising food safety and the environment?

Food: Enhancing nutritional quality and developing wider uses for sorghum

Two related research projects have developed methods to improve the nutritional value of grain sorghum and to increase its use as a source of protein. Sorghum grains are indigestible, but malting and fermenting processes used in the first project improve protein availability, resulting in sorghum products which can be incorporated into bread and weaning foods. The second project is enhancing the nutritional value of grain sorghum by introducing two genes from maize and barley to stimulate the production of key protein components.

Sorghum is adapted to semi-arid conditions. However, while it is widely available, it is indigestible, and thus offers limited nutritional benefit. The first project, which ran from 1996-99 under the European Commission’s INCO programme, developed the processes of sorghum malting and fermenting, which makes the grain protein available for food.

The aim of the second project, running for three years from October 2000, is to produce grain sorghum with better nutritional value, contributing significantly to the diet of people and livestock for whom sorghum is a major protein source.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Ferdinand Kaser at Research DG
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Diet, genetics: Giving rice an added edge

RiceVitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children in developing countries and contributes to high mortality rates from illnesses such as measles, infectious disease and diarrhoea. While this can easily be tackled through better nutrition, many countries lack the infrastructure or finance to do so with food supplements – an expensive and short-term solution.

A European Commission FAIR project, ‘Carotene Plus’, aimed to tackle the problem of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) by developing a genetically modified variety of rice able to produce beta-carotene.

Rice is the staple diet in many countries with a vitamin A problem. Ironically, grains often lose much nutritional value through milling, a process that prevents them becoming rancid in storage.
Through genetic and plant biotechnology developments in Europe, an opportunity arose to develop a rice variety containing high quantities of beta-carotene. This would allow people to absorb enough beta-carotene to synthesise the vitamin A that they lack.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Ciaran Mangan at Research DG
Website
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Food Safety: Breaking down natural toxins in fermented foods

Sorghum breadIn sub-Saharan Africa, maize and sorghum are the main staple food and feed crops and are often consumed in the fermented state, particularly in West Africa. In common with peanuts and cottonseed, maize and sorghum have been shown to contain a number of highly toxic substances including aflatoxins, formed by the fungi growing on crops in conditions of high temperature and humidity.

A European Commission-funded project, linking research organisations from Europe with institutes in Africa, is developing a biological method to break down the aflatoxins, using the enzymes of bacteria. The project aims to develop the technique for use in food products on an industrial scale.

Aflatoxins are among the five most toxic contaminants of food and feedstuffs. They are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as liver carcinogens, causing particular damage if the hepatitis B virus is present. One of the most toxic (AFB1) is the subject of this project. Research partners come from institutes in Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Ferdinand Kaser at Research DG
Website
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Food safety: Controlling the occurrence of mycotoxins in Latin America

Mycotoxin contamination of food and animal feed is among the highest priority issues for human and animal safety. Mycotoxins have been defined as a “fungal metabolites” which, when ingested, inhaled or absorbed through skin, cause lowered performance, sickness or even death in humans or animals. Thresholds for these substances in traded commodities are becoming more and more restricted, to the point of turning into a potential barrier to the export of some agricultural products by developing countries.


A European expert cluster on fungal toxins is working with South American partners to improve the competitiveness of domestically and internationally traded cereals by controlling the occurrence of mycotoxins in maize and wheat products used as human food and animal feed.

The ‘Mycotox’ project, funded by the European Commission’s INCO programme, focuses on developing means and ways to minimise fungal infection and growth and improve detection and control at key stages in production and processing. The work relates to wheat and maize commodities produced in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

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Element graphique For a fuller description of this project click here for PDF (135Kb)
For more information, email: Gerasimos Apostolatos at Research DG
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