NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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Novel and Non-food crops

Contact: Dr Lydia Smith

The Novel and Non-Food Crops team focus on 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 little research or improvement for cultivation. These partnerships could include growers, industry and academic specialists providing vital skills such as analytical techniques, scale-up and product development capabilities. The work is supported by DEFRA, BBSRC AHDBEU and industry.

There is a need to find alternatives to the fossil reserves (coal, gas and oil) that provide not only 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 worked closely with industry to find renewable ingredients from crops to replace synthetic petrochemical feedstocks. In another, the potential for utilisation of novel antioxidants, from Rosmarinus officinalis, was investigated.

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 investigated UK cultivation of Papaver spp. Artemisa annua, another species of interest, producing artemisinin used in malaria treatment. In the health area, the team also worked on Buglossoides, a very promising source of omega 3 rich oil.

In an EU-funded Marie-Curie training programme recently completed, 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.

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 users can now view these species at the Innovation Farm Facility, which has been running since 2009 and is open to showcasing innovation from partner organisations, including industry. Please click here for information about this 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