Human Health

Plants, as an essential component of a balanced diet, have a direct impact on  improving human health. NIAB EMR scientists work with organisations in the health sector to explore the many mechanisms by which we can enhance the health-promoting properties of food crops as well as using non-food crops to manufacture pharmaceuticals.


One of the uses for non-food crops is the production of high value therapeutic proteins. The importance of this production in the UK is enormous and has been highlighted in a number of studies over the last few years, including recent reports from the World Health Organisation. The use of high-specification contained growing facilities, such as those at NIAB EMR, has been identified as a key component in the development of such opportunities.

Phytonutrients & Health

High dietary intake of fruits and vegetables rich in bioactive phytochemicals has been linked to the reduced risk of many chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disorders.   Compounds with anti-oxidant activity such as ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and phenolics are believed to be especially effective. Although fruit are naturally rich in bioactives, berry concentrations of these phytochemicals can be determined by several factors including genotype, environmental conditions, postharvest storage and processing.  Thus, opportunities exist to manipulate some of these factors to improve berry bioactive concentration.

At NIAB EMR, we are using several approaches to increase the bioactive content in strawberry. Reflective mulches have been used to raise light levels in the canopy thereby stimulating the production of ascorbic acid and another important anti-oxidant, ellagic acid.  More recent work has shown that irrigation management techniques such as Partial Root Drying (PRD) not only saves water but also increases the amount of antioxidants in fruits in.  This includes concentrations of ascorbic acid increasing by 55% and ellagic acid by 180%.

We are now developing novel irrigation strategies that will deliver improvements in both strawberry fruit flavour and bioactive content.

Contact: Prof Xiangming Xu

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