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The future of food

In Episode 3 of Ever Wondered?, Dr John Watt engages with scientists involved in developing ‘foods for the future’. This includes mood foods, functional foods, nutrigenomics and techno foods.

Mood food

John meets up with Dr Arjan Scheepens, a neuroscientist and senior researcher employed by Plant & Food Research, Auckland. Arjan is the lead researcher in the Mood Food programme that aims to develop a beverage that will calm people down and relax them but at the same time keep them alert. The research focuses on products from the New Zealand horticultural sector such as dark-coloured berry fruit.

Food and wellness research

Next, John meets up with Dr Roger Hurst, Science Group Leader for the Food and Wellness Group at Plant & Food Research, Palmerston North. Roger is investigating the antioxidant properties of New Zealand blackcurrant juice and its use in the prevention of muscle damage during exercise.

As the ‘ever willing’ volunteer, John drinks a blackcurrant solution and then undergoes a series of physical tests that not only puts him under oxidative stress (rowing machine) but also muscle stress (squats). A small sample of John’s blood is then taken and analysed to measure the effectiveness of the blackcurrant drink in preventing muscle damage and oxidative cell damage. The results show a positive response.

Watch Episode 3, Part 1

Recharge

With a few aching muscles in tow, John visits the Fonterra research laboratory in Palmerston North. Here he meets up with Dr Jeremy Hill, the Chief Technology Officer, to find out about the development of a new ice cream called ‘Recharge’. Working closely with Associate Professor Geoff Krissansen, an immunologist from the University of Auckland, as well as Steve Flynn from Tip Top ice cream, this ice cream has been specifically developed to assist cancer patients in dealing with the undesirable side effects that accompany chemotherapy.

Fonterra decided that ice cream would be an ideal way to administer this breakthrough science to cancer patients, many of whom, as a result of chemotherapy, have lost the desire and ability to eat. ‘Recharge’ is now undergoing clinical trials in New Zealand, and since it is the first time a medical food has been based on an ice cream, it has attracted a lot of international interest.

Watch Episode 3, Part 2

Nutrigenomics

Having been ‘Recharged’, John now visits Dr Lynn Ferguson who is Head of Nutrition at the University of Auckland. Lynn’s research work is in nutrigenomics, which is the study of gene/diet inter-reactions.

By carefully analysing genomic population data, it would appear that there are between 3–5 different groups of people genetically, and they are probably the same groups of people that have different types of dietary requirements. Lynn believes that, at the moment, we do not know enough about the gene diet interactions to utilise the full potential of this field of research. However, within 10 years. we could be going to our local supermarkets and purchasing foods optimised for our own genotype that will keep us in good health.

Techno foods

With a sampling of mood foods, antioxidants, ‘Recharge’ ice cream and nutrigenomics now well digested, John’s final appointment is with Dr Richard Archer who is the Head of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at Massey University in Palmerston North. Richard’s research investigates future trends in the food industry with a view to developing foods not currently available.

Following on from a prediction that the next trend could well be in the fast, artificial, and highly technological, Richard and his team are designing and building completely new foods called ‘techno foods’. These foods will exist only in software form before being made and will link in with the food genomics revolution. Richard predicts that it will be the young people who want to eat this food as well as people who are looking for a new experience. It could well be the ‘new’ fast food.

Watch Episode 3, Part 3

Activity idea

In conjunction with this episode of Ever Wondered?, your students may enjoy these activities, which link to Dr Lynn Ferguson’s research into the different dietary requirements of different groups of people.

In this Biotechnology Learning Hub activity, students investigate the occurrence of food-related conditions, for example, lactose intolerance, within their school or community in order to make a packed lunch suitable to take on a school tramp.
Unit Plan: Developing personalised solutions for specific diet restrictionsexternal link

In this Biotechnology Learning Hub video clip, students can watch some researchers involved in Nutrigenomics New Zealand explain why the ‘optimum diet’ for each person is different because we all have different genes. 
Nutrigenomics and personalised foodexternal link

Context links

To further investigate the future of food, check out these Science Learning Hub contexts.

Food Function and Structure: This context provides information on the structure and function of the fundamental materials required to keep our bodies functioning.
Food Function and Structure

Sporting Edge: This context provides an article on energy for exercise.
Sporting Edge

You could also check out the Nutrigenomics focus story on the Biotechnology Learning Hub, where you will find information sheets on the effects of food on people with genetic diseases and how foods are separated out into component molecules.
Nutrigenomicsexternal link

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