Unravelling the health-giving properties of fruit and veg

08 May 2008 00:01:00.000


Scientists at The University of Nottingham are to use their share of a unique £6.5m research award to discover which genes control the health promoting properties of fruit and vegetables.

As part of a cross-channel partnership to enhance international collaboration in Systems Biology Graham Seymour, Professor of Plant Biotechnology, and Charlie Hodgman, Director of the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology, will be working on a systems biology approach to understand the metabolic networks underlying health based quality traits in tomato fruit.

With their award of nearly £300,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) the bio-scientists will be working in collaboration with Royal Holloway University of London, the National Scientific Research Centre, Paris (CNRS) and the Plant Genomics Centre, INRA, Evry, near Paris.

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Professor Seymour said: “The health promoting properties of diets rich in fruit and vegetables has been attributed to the synergistic effects of various phytochemicals in food such as vitamins, flavonoids and carotenoids.

"This project aims to study an experimental model tomato that has very high levels of these health-related compounds. The researchers aim to use a systems biology approach to integrate information at many different levels about the tomato and to produce a predictive model of how the formation of these phytochemicals is controlled.”

Professor Hodgman said: "The long-term intention of the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology which is funded by the BBSRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is to apply work and techniques developed on model plant organisms to crop species. This tomato work is a very welcome first step."

BBSRC and ANR, the leading public life-science funding agencies in the UK and France, are funding a total of 10 new projects involving 22 different universities and institutes in the UK and France.

Each project has at least one UK and one French partner institution and the initiative aims to build European collaboration in Systems Biology. BBSRC has already invested over £70m in UK and European Systems Biology initiatives and the UK is one of the world leaders in this new and growing approach to tackling bioscience problems.

Systems biology is a revolution in the way bioscientists think and work. It brings together researchers across different disciplines, combining theory, computer modelling and experiments. Systems biology will make the outputs of bioscience research more useful and easier to apply in the real world, as well as advancing our understanding of biological processes.

The new projects will give the researchers involved access to complementary expertise and skills and will help develop the field of Systems Biology by coordinating BBSRC and ANR resources.

Mr Steve Visscher, BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, said: “Systems Biology holds great promise for delivering real, practical advances in healthcare, biotechnology and environmental research much faster than traditional biology. Collaborative initiatives with international partners enable us to increase the impact of our funding and the impact of the research being done by our scientists.

“We have been pleased to see that not only has the partnership between BBSRC and ANR resulted in a successful initiative but that the range and quality of the projects funded is also broadening the areas being studied by Systems Biology.”

Mrs Jacqueline Lecourtier, ANR General Manager, said: “As a young agency created in 2005, this was the first bilateral call undertaken within the Health & Biology Department. By answering this call, Systems Biology growing communities showed that they were ready to share their views and expertises. Moreover, this initiative allowed BBSRC and ANR to fund high quality and cross-disciplinary proposals, which is one of our missions.

“ANR and BBSRC cooperation was very successful on both levels, management and scientific. Future collaborations involving additional countries are already on their way through the ERANET ERASysBio.”

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Notes to Editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THES) World University Rankings.

It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.

Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy).

Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for four years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.

Additional information The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

The French National Research Agency — ANR — (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) is the funding agency for research projects, created in 2005. For the year 2007, ANR has a total available budget of €825 million for research projects with a maximum duration of four years. Among which €166 million are dedicated to health and biology research projects. http://agence-nationale-recherche.fr

Story credits

More information is available from Graham Seymour on +44 (0)115 951 6323, graham.seymour@nottingham.ac.uk; or Matt Goode, in the BBSRC Media Office on +44 (0)7766 423372, matt.goode@bbsrc.ac.uk  
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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