Newsletter: February 12, 2019

Researched and written weekly by the editorial team of Food Technology magazine, the IFTNEXT Newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food through original reporting of scientific breakthroughs, leading-edge technology, novel food components, and transdisciplinary R&D.

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Omega 3

Products of omega-3s may be anticarcinogenic
Omega-3 fatty acids are more commonly associated with reducing inflammation and protecting against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels, improving the function of blood vessels, and decreasing the risk of cardiac arrhythmias. A recent study suggests they may also play a role in fighting cancer.

Studies indicate that inflammation is associated with the growth and progression of cancer. To combat inflammation, the human body naturally makes endocannabinoids, which combat inflammation and pain. Endocannabinoids are similar to the cannabinoids in marijuana, but they do not have the same psychotropic effects. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) previously determined that the body metabolizes dietary omega-3 fatty acids into endocannabinoid epoxides that have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. They have recently learned more about how endocannabinoid epoxides combat cancer.

Their study involved administering endocannabinoids derived from omega-3 fatty acids to mice with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that is painful and very difficult to treat. The researchers found that the endocannabinoids slowed the growth of cancer cells and inhibited their migration to other organs. These findings suggest that endocannabinoids fight cancer in several ways, including inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels to supply nutrients to tumors.

UIUC professor Timothy Fan, a coauthor of the study, said that therapies such as endocannabinoids that can potentially impede cell migration may be useful in slowing or preventing the metastasis of cancer cells; however, endocannabinoids are not as effective as chemotherapeutic agents. Still, the UIUC research team plans to conduct further studies to determine the effect of endocannabinoids on other types of cancer cells.


Protein Bar
Photo courtesy of Exo

Promoting taste helps make insect-based food more appealing
For some people around the world, insects are part of their everyday cuisines. For others, however, the thought of eating insects is unappealing. Advocates who support eating insects say that it offers health and environmental benefits, but a recent study found that this might not be the most effective way to encourage people to eat insect-based food. The results of the study found that promoting the enjoyable features of insect-based food is more effective than emphasizing the health and environmental benefits.

The study subjects were shown an advertisement for an insect-based food product that either highlighted the health and environmental benefits of the food or one that promoted the pleasurable aspects, including taste and claims of quality and luxury, of the food. Then the subjects were given the option to try a chocolate truffle made with mealworm. The results found that the ads promoting the health and environmental benefits were significantly less effective than those that touted the pleasurable aspects at making subjects more willing to try the mealworm chocolate truffle.  



Genetic landmarks may help breed aphid-resistant soybean varieties
Soybean aphids are a damaging pest, causing billions of dollars in annual crop losses for states in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. But a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota shows promise for identifying new soybean genes associated with aphid resistance.

Lead author Aaron Lorenz and his colleagues embarked on the study to see if they could use existing information to identify additional genes in soybean that contribute to aphid resistance. If the genes confer some broad-spectrum resistance, they would be valuable in breeding programs. The researchers were concerned about the harm caused by insecticides applied to soybeans, both to pollinators and to human health, especially since the amount of insecticide used in Minnesota has increased by more than 100-fold since 2004, according to Lorenz. “On top of this,” he says, “my collaborator Bob Koch has found populations of soybean aphid with resistance to commonly used insecticides, indicating this tool may lose its effectiveness over time if overused.”

The scientists began by performing a genome-wide association study, which associates variation in DNA markers (landmarks in the genome that can be assayed) with variations in resistance to the soybean aphid across many different accessions (or genotypes) of soybean held in the United States Department of Agriculture Soybean Germplasm Collection. “A statistically significant association indicates that there may be a gene nearby that confers resistance to the soybean aphid,” explains Lorenz, “although some follow-up work is required to confirm this. Our findings imply that there are many loci that contribute to soybean aphid resistance that are yet to be discovered, with some of these loci harboring alleles that provide resistance to multiple soybean aphid biotypes. Our results form a good point from which follow-up studies can be performed to discover novel alleles at previously unknown loci.”

The next phase of the team’s research will entail identification of the soybean accessions that carry resistance alleles at the novel loci and crossing them with susceptible soybean varieties (or varieties carrying known forms of resistance). The goal, says Lorenz, is “to develop breeding populations from which new varieties could be bred carrying these new forms of resistance, as well as mapping populations that we could use to validate the new loci as being important for aphid resistance.” The mapping populations, he adds, “would form the start of a series of experiments that could ultimately allow us to identify the actual gene. Once the gene is known, we would know the potential that gene editing and transformation technologies could have on creating even more forms of resistance that could be even more durable and robust.”