Newsletter: May 8, 2018

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.

mushroomsGrowing conditions impact cocoa bean chemistry, chocolate flavor
Drought conditions and low moisture levels in soil affect the chemical composition of cocoa beans and may produce more flavorful chocolate, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Cocoa trees grow in hot and humid climates near the equator, such as the lowlands of Bolivia. They grow in a system called agroforestry, where the cocoa trees are shaded by other trees and crops and protected from harsh environmental conditions, explains Wiebke Niether, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the University of Goettingen. 

Niether and his research colleagues analyzed cocoa beans that were grown in an agroforestry system and full-sun monoculture under both organic and conventional farming as well as beans grown in a highly diverse successional agroforestry system under organic farming, according to the study. Niether explains that even though the production systems had no strong effect on the cocoa beans, the polyphenol content of the beans increased and the fat content decreased during the dry season (decreased relative humidity and low soil moisture). “Therefore, climatic conditions may influence not only the production per se, but also the seasonal variations. This implies a variability of product quality over the seasons and years and may therefore affect also the processing industry. Precipitation and temperature patterns are predicted to affect many cocoa-producing regions worldwide: agroforestry systems act as buffers to protect the cocoa tree and therefore may also reduce the variability and enable farmers to produce cocoa with a consistent quality and quantity in the long-term.” 

Now, Niether and colleagues are taking the next step of evaluating the organoleptic properties of beans from the different production systems.  


dog foodProtein in egg whites may help in clean energy production
While hydrogen is a potential clean energy source, generating it is not. Fossil fuels are typically used, which produce carbon dioxide. Researchers at Osaka City University have shown that protein-rich egg whites can potentially be used in a process to produce hydrogen cleanly. They published their study in Applied Catalysis B: Environmental

In particular, it is the porous lysozyme crystals in the egg whites that are key in the process that can generate hydrogen. “We provided a new catalytic material to produce a clean energy, hydrogen, without fossil fuels,” says Hiroyasu Tabe, a co-author of the study with Osaka City University. “This material is prepared by a protein molecule, lysozyme, obtained by chicken eggs. We have previously reported other materials which have lots of tiny holes to trap chemical components for hydrogen production. However, we found lysozyme crystals are the better one.” Tabe adds that egg whites not used by the food ingredient industry can be used in the system the researchers developed after they have gone through a purification process. 

The research shows the potential of using proteins as industrial compounds, says Tabe. “We know that most of industrial materials are made from minerals and resins, although proteins are usually applied only for drugs, due to their cost and preparation process. We expect that our concept for the material preparation can be applied for minerals and resins to obtain environmental-friendly energy production systems.”  


wine grapesIsolation of wheat gene may hold key to increasing cereal crop yields
By identifying a gene that controls the shape and size of wheat spikelets, researchers from the John Innes Centre have unlocked a genetic mechanism with the potential to increase yields in a variety of cereal crops, including wheat, corn, barley, and rice. 

Results of the breakthrough study, led by Scott Boden and published in The Plant Cell, detail the implications of the discovery for optimizing floral development. Boden explains, “Research in plants has shown that there is great potential to improve grain and fruit production by modifying the function of genes that control flower development. As there is an urgent need to improve productivity of our major crops, such as wheat, due to the increasing global population, we embarked on this research to identify the genes that determine flower number with the aim of eventually producing higher yielding wheat cultivars. 

“We isolated the gene by studying a modified version of flower arrangements called ‘paired spikelets,’ which occur sometimes in modern varieties. By studying plants that form this altered arrangement of flowers and comparing them to plants with normal arrangements, we can determine the genes that contribute to flower formation.”  

The study revealed that the gene TEOSINTE BRANCHED1, which regulates wheat inflorescence architecture, could contribute to improved wheat production by using alleles that make additional flowers, contribute to more fertile flowers, or optimize the number of branches (or tillers) that a plant forms.  

Although the study represents a significant first step, Boden says there is a need to “test how this gene and its alleles contribute to yield, and how this gene will behave in multiple environments. For example, it may behave differently in wheat adapted to America and Mexico compared to wheat adapted to the UK. We also know that there are multiple genes that can influence the ‘paired spikelet’ trait, and so we are continuing this research to identify more genes to better understand flower development in wheat.” 

Boden hopes the results of the study will encourage others to continue investigating the possibilities for increasing wheat yields. “A dream for the future,” he says, “is to produce higher yielding wheat plants that reduce the amount of arable land required for this crop, thus allowing for more land to be used for other crops or to reduce the demand on our environment.” 



Categorized under: Newsletter
Brought to you by

IFTNEXT content is made possible through the generous support of Ingredion, the IFTNEXT Platinum Content Sponsor.


Ingredion Incorporated

Subscribe to the
IFTNEXT Newsletter

Published every Tuesday, this newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food.