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Novel and Non-food crops

Contact: Dr Lydia Smith

The Novel and Non-Food Crops team focus on a growing area of research centred on development of plant-based sources of products in biopharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and other aspects of nutrition, biomaterials and some types of fuel. Most of NIAB’s activities in this area are built around partnerships, with NIAB providing key skills in the development of species. These may include established crop species or wild ones, which have undergone very little research or improvement for cultivation. These partnerships include industry and academic specialists providing vital skills such as analytical techniques, scale-up and product development capabilities. The work is supported by DEFRA, especially the Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Materials LINK programmes; by HGCA, HDC, EU and industry.

There is a need to find alternatives to the fossil reserves (coal, gas and oil) that provide not only most of the world’s energy, but many of the building blocks used to produce a multitude of domestic and industrial products including plastics, stabilisers, lubricants and health and hygiene products. In one project, for example, we will seek to improve oils sourced from crops to replace synthetic lubricants. In another, the potential for utilisation of antioxidants, derived from Rosmarinus officinalis, is being investigated, replacing synthetic stabilisers that are currently sourced mainly from petrochemicals.

Plants can also provide key active ingredients for probiotics or specific pharmaceuticals. In the recent past, industry has sought to manufacture products de-novo wherever possible, but it is clear that some complex secondary plant metabolites cannot be manufactured reliably or economically. Morphine, derived from Papaver somniferum, is perhaps the best known; work at NIAB is investigating UK cultivation of Papaver spp. Artemisa annua, is another species of interest, producing artemisinin, used in malaria treatment. In the health area, the team is working on Buglossoides, a plant that yields a very promising source of omega 3 rich oil.

In an EU-funded Marie-Curie training programme students are developing sainfoin, a crop with beneficial health and nutritional properties. Another project is developing feed-wheat varieties with benefits for monogastric animals. Harvested grain contains high levels of available inorganic phosphate relative to currently available feed wheat. Both projects also have environmental benefits for in terms of reducing diffuse pollution arising from animal waste.

The novel and non food crops area has grown over the past ten years and it became clear that there was a need for some practical demonstration of novel species considered. Farmers and other uses can now view these species at the Innovation Farm Facility, which is being piloted in 2010 and will be expanded further in 2011. Please click here for information about this new facility using this link or contact Dr Lydia Smith

For further information on the expertise and projects associated with the Novel and Non-food Crops group please click here