The Wellcome Trust will financially support two research projects of Wageningen UR. One project aims to identify and cultivate insect species with high levels of iron and zinc, to be used as healthy and sustainable food. The other project will investigate the potential of duckweed, the world’s smallest flowering plant and one of the fastest-growing, as a sustainable new source of protein for human consumption. The Wellcome Trust supports the projects within its ‘Sustaining Health Programme’ initiative that investigates the connections between environment and health.
The Wellcome Trust launched the major international initiative ‘Sustaining Health Programme’ to build understanding of the complex links between the environment and the long-term health of our species. It aims to develop a stronger evidence base that will allow individuals and governments all over the world to make informed decisions about health and the environment, which will ultimately help to safeguard our future.
There is a growing understanding that many of the changes we could make to benefit the environment could also benefit human health, while many aspects of a healthier lifestyle could in turn support a more sustainable planet. The Wellcome Trust is investing £75 million over the next five years into research to investigate these complex interactions.
One project will investigate the potential of duckweed, the world’s smallest flowering plant and one of the fastest-growing, as a sustainable new source of protein for human consumption. Coordinator Ingrid van der Meer: “Duckweed has around ten times the protein content of soy per hectare, doesn’t need arable land use and can even be grown on waste water that it simultaneously cleans up. At this moment it cannot be used as food or feed because of novel food legislation. We want to deliver the scientific evidence about safe use for human nutrition.”
As the global population grows and countries become more affluent, the demand for protein increases. Animal protein sources have a relatively large impact on the environment through greenhouse gas emission and water use, so finding additional plant protein sources, such as duckweed, could provide a more environmentally friendly solution. Scientists of Food & Biobased Research and of Bioscience will analyse the safety, nutritional value and the digestion of duckweed protein by humans and compare it to references like casein, soy and pea. The results will reveal whether the plant is suitable as a new healthy protein source for human consumption and test consumer and food industry acceptance of this new source.
The other project, involving the chair groups Entomology and Human Nutrition, will investigate the possibility of using insects as a sustainable source of proteins and micronutrients. Coordinator Marcel Dicke: “Insects are high in protein and micronutrients, and require relatively little land and feed. They therefore offer excellent potential as a sustainable and health-promoting food source.” This project will identify and cultivate insect species with high levels of iron and zinc and will investigate their bioavailability. The aim is to sustainably combat major health problems such as anaemia. Insects can be reared on organic side-streams such as food waste, so the potential of removing a source of waste to provide insect feed will also be explored.