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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 1 May 2006 Referencing Hub media
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Lynn Ferguson from New Zealand and Jim Kaput from the United States both lead teams that are recognised internationally in this field. Here they explain their research goals.

 

 

Transcript

Mercury Bay Area School: What is the goal of nutrigenomics

Lynn Ferguson (Nutrigenomics New Zealand)

The science, in general, is basically understanding the interaction between diet and genes. If we are thinking about the goal of what we are doing with nutrigenomics in New Zealand, we are trying to do a lot more than that: We are trying to think about how we can optimise the health of New Zealanders through tailoring diets, or through tailoring foods, that are optimal for the genes of specific groups of people.

There has been work done going back as far as the 1980s, where a group led by a very innovative doctor called John Hunter in Cambridge in the UK, actually recognised that diet was so important in this [especially in controlling certain food-related diseases].

They took people and they broke their diet. They took them right back - they took solid food out of their diet and gave them a sort of high health, boring old milk shake sort of stuff. I mean, milkshakes are fine to start with, but by the end of the week if you had nothing else, they are pretty boring. And what he did was slowly re-introduce food. So you just have milkshakes one week, and then next week perhaps you would start eating Weetbix, or any other sort of breakfast cereal, and you’d ask the question each day — they were very high intensity things - Are you feeling better or are you feeling worse? People sort of thought they were okay still, and they would keep on eating the Weetbix or whatever breakfast cereal it was. If they didn’t feel so great on that, then they’d pull back; they’d eliminate that from the diet and start eating say Frujus or something like that. So they were gradually taking foodstuffs and introducing them one by one into the diet. And it was quite clear that you could work with people - it was highly labour intensive, it took a long time to do it - but you could develop a diet that kept things under control for an individual.

Now what we are hoping is that we can use the scientific basis we’ve got of things now, and come up with diets based on genotypes.

Jim Kaput (The NCMHD Centre of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics)

Dr Ferguson used the term genotype. What that means is that all of you have the same set of genes, but then you might have variations. And if you look to the right or left of you, you differ from the person sitting next to you by 3 million of these changes in DNA. They are very small, but what they do is they give us the different height potential, how much weight you could put on, or your incidence of these diseases - your susceptibility to these diseases. For now you can just say that there are single nucleotide polymorphisms, or single base changes in your DNA. And they are natural. It’s not like one person is unusual and one person isn’t; it’s just natural variation which give us all the variability in the human population