Future Food Discover how we’re fighting hunger

Future Food addresses the challenge of feeding a growing population in a changing world.

In the face of climate change we must develop new, resilient crops. Yields must also increase to feed the additional two billion people expected by 2050. Better access to healthier, safer, more nutritious food is needed in all countries due to the growing prevalence of pollutants, nutrient deficiencies and over-processed foods.

Our researchers have expertise across the food chain – from soil to molecule to meal – to deliver sustainable solutions to global food challenges such as ‘hidden hunger’: less diverse diets, naturally low nutrients in our staple crops, and an increasing reliance on over-processed foods mean that more than a quarter of the world’s population are not getting the goodness they need from what they eat.

Watch how we are finding new ways to feed the world

Two billion extra people on the planet expected by 2050

New crops, healthier foods

Our experts offer novel solutions to tackling hidden hunger by examining:

  • make-up of soil and its relationship to our health
  • root systems - how they take up nutrients and block toxins
  • new ways to adapt plants and farming practices in response to this global challenge.

We are working to develop plants that more efficiently take up and store nutrients from the soil. This allows us to pioneer the development of more resilient crops, to ultimately deliver healthier and more nutritious food and help combat hidden hunger.

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Working globally to deliver nutrient-smart crops

Our research into nutrient-smart crops is being applied in collaboration with rice breeders in the USA, India, China and Bangladesh, and brassica (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) producers in the UK.

In China and many other countries, where hidden hunger is prevalent, a huge population is dependent on rice crops that contain relatively low levels of nutrients and are increasingly susceptible to transferring pollutants such as arsenic from the soil to the table.

How we are improving broccoli.

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X-ray vision into the life of a plant

State-of-the-art X-ray CT scanning at the University’s Hounsfield Facility allows our researchers, for the first time in 10,000 years of plant breeding, to see the structure of the roots growing through the soil.

Using X-rays our researchers can now ‘see-through’ the soil and visualise the roots in 3D. This non-invasive technology offers unprecedented insight into the previously ‘hidden half’ of plants. This informs design of roots that capture water and nutrients more efficiently, and will therefore boost crop yields in challenging conditions such as drought and flooding.

Putting plant and soil sciences on the world stage

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Sharing knowledge to secure the future of food

Hidden hunger is a complex global issue.

The unrivalled scope of our transdisciplinary expertise, international partnerships and pioneering use of technology is creating a remarkable database for plant scientists worldwide.

To capture this wealth of data on plants and nutrients, we have created the ionomics Hub (iHUB) – an online environment that is open to all.

Some 15,000 users worldwide are accessing, sharing and crowd-sourcing this knowledge, accelerating advances that will help secure a future where improved crops will deliver healthier, more plentiful food for us all.

Together, our researchers are unearthing some of the answers to one of the biggest challenges facing the world today – securing our food for the future.

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Future Food: building on over 50 years of
world-leading research

1970s

Professor John Monteith, one of the founders of environmental biophysics, conducts pioneering studies to reveal how solar radiation and crop productivity are linked, increasing our understanding of the relationship between the environment and agriculture.

1980s

Professor Donald Grierson performs pioneering studies to genetically manipulate ripening in tomatoes. His innovative research led to the first GM food product sold in Europe.

1990s

The Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre is created by Dr Mary Anderson and Professor Sean May.

It holds more than one million seed stocks and distributes more than 130,000 samples a year to researchers. Arabidopsis (mouse-ear cress) is a model for studying plant biology and was the first plant to have its genome fully sequenced. These stocks underpin our world-leading position in plant sciences research, and are used in 1000s of laboratories around the world.

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2000s

Research at our world-class research facilities, including a working dairy farm at our Sutton Bonington Campus, and our strong partnerships with industry drive several breakthroughs that influence dairy farming and animal food production in the UK and around the world.

Professors Sandra Hill, Julian Wiseman and John Mitchell increase our understanding of how starchy foods are modified by processing. Their discoveries enable manufacturers to modify production procedures, increasing profitability and the nutritional quality of animal feeds.

Professors Peter Buttery and Tim Parr and Dr Ron Bardsley identify calpastatin as a protein linked to tenderness in meat. This underpins genetic approaches to allow breeding for improved meat quality in livestock.

Declining fertility of dairy cows threatens the sustainability of the dairy industry worldwide. Professors Bob Webb, Kevin Sinclair, Phil Garnsworthy and Tony Flint, identify key drivers for fertility, and provided genetic and nutritional tools for the industry, to help combat the decline in dairy cows.

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2006

The opening of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The first new vet school to open in 50 years. Co-located and complementing existing research strengths of the Sutton Bonington campus now boasts soil, crop, farm, biotechnology and Veterinary research.

The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science is dedicated to improving the well-being of animals and people through world-leading innovative research and technology transfer in basic, applied and clinical sciences.

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2007

The UK Government funds a new type of scientific institute at Nottingham, bringing together biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers in The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology.

This centre pioneered our understanding of how plants control their growth and development, developing a systems-led approach to plant biology and offering insights into root growth and how crops absorb water and nutrients. To address the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population this Centre and its pioneering ways of working is now an intregal part of Future Food.

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2010

Professor Simon Langley-Evans influences the development of health policy in the UK and across the world after research at the University overcomes widespread scepticism to show that the risk of diseases related to obesity and insulin resistance can be linked to poor nutrition in early life.

Medical experts, nutritionists and health organisations use these findings to frame recommendations for nutrition in pregnancy and infancy, benefitting women and children worldwide.

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2012

Professor Graham Seymour leads the UK team in an international project to completely sequence the tomato genome.

This landmark research underpins Professor Seymour’s identification of a key gene that regulates tomato ripening. By identifying how to breed fruit of better texture and quality, our scientists will help improve health across the world by developing access to new varieties that remain rich in vitamins and minerals.

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2014

Plant, soil and computer scientists Professors Malcolm Bennett, Sasha Mooney and Tony Pridmore explore the ‘hidden half’ of plants. The Hounsfield Facility is established in 2014 to use innovative X-ray CT scanning to study root and soil biology, giving unprecedented – and visually stunning – insights into how roots grow and adapt.

By capturing in 3D the secret world of roots as they grow, plant scientists are helping to develop the next generation of crops better adapted to absorbing nutrients and water in future climates.

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2016

Professor Ian King and Dr Julie King establish the Wheat Research Centre. By pinpointing the genetic segments in wild wheat that are essential to increase yield, improve disease resistance and enhance tolerance to heat and drought, their work will help sustain one of our leading sources of food.

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2017

Dr Daniela Dietrich leads scientists from Nottingham to solve a mystery that has fascinated scientists since Charles Darwin - how plant roots sense water and change direction to find it.

In a world where water for agriculture is a global challenge this could lead to new crop varieties that are better at foraging for water.

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