Berry useful properties of soft fruit under research

6th May 2014

As the world’s population tries to adapt to climate change, many industries are still heavily reliant on fossil fuel resources to make components in the pharmaceutical, food, cosmetics and other sectors – but the plant kingdom, and particularly berry crops, could hold the key to breaking this dependence.

That is precisely the aim of BacHBERRY, a three-year, €9.5M project funded by the EU under the FP7 programme. It is being delivered by an international scientific consortium including the James Hutton Institute to study the sustainable use of diverse and complex natural molecules derived from berries for a wide range of applications.

As part of this international research effort, the James Hutton Institute is using state of the art analytical technologies to screen a global range of cultivated and wild berries, including UK favourites blackcurrant and raspberry, for natural molecule diversity. These common and unique chemistries identified will be assessed for a broad range of bioactivities against conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Furthermore the compounds will also be screened for broad and specific antibacterial activities as well as use as functional antioxidants and colourants in food and cosmetic industries.

The first step is to identify natural compounds with the best bioactivities or functions (e.g. specific colour). Then, genes that code for them will be identified and then copied into bacteria for use in industrial fermentation systems. This will allow the production of these valuable compounds at high purity without any interfering contaminants, thereby ensuring safety for the ultimate user whilst optimising their treasured bioactivities and function in the ultimate product.

Project co-ordinator Dr Jochen Förster, of he Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, Technical University of Denmark, is leading a multidisciplinary team of 18 partners from 10 countries all around the world with a vast array of expertise, technologies and know-how. The consortium assembles a full chain of research and innovation, composed of 12 research and technology organisations, 5 small to medium enterprises and a large enterprise, with the capacity to exploit novel bioactivities from berry fruits diversity.

Professor Derek Stewart, leader of Enhancing Crop Productivity and Utilisation at the James Hutton Institute, said: “This combination of scientists and companies represent an exciting opportunity to capture real value from our berry diverse germplasm to address multiple end uses, in particular the conditions such as Type II diabetes and debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By lifting the biosynthetic pathways from berries and placing them in bacterial cell factories we have a full manageable, natural and sustainable production system for some potentially potent bioactive compounds that can be produced in high quantity and purity.”

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