A project that began as part of an ongoing humanitarian effort to improve nutrition in low-income countries has received more than $1 million to adapt a more nutritious, naturally selected variety of corn—Orange Corn—to the United States. Purdue University-affiliated startup NutraMaize LLC was recently awarded a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Research grant of nearly $750,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue work on Orange Corn. This funding follows a previous NSF Phase I award of $225,000, as well as a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Phase I award and matching funds from the state of Indiana totaling approximately $200,000.
The startup was cofounded by Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson endowed chair in Translational Genomics for Crop Improvement in the Purdue College of Agriculture’s Department of Agronomy, and his son, Evan, to commercialize Orange Corn in the United States.
Torbert Rocheford began working on naturally increasing the amount of health benefiting carotenoids in corn over 20 years ago to help address vitamin A deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was not until much later that he realized his unique variety could benefit Americans as well. “Most Americans are at an increased risk of losing their vision as they age because they don’t get enough carotenoids,” said Torbert. “There is a very real nutritional need here in the United States that Orange Corn can help address.”
Currently, NutraMaize is bringing Orange Corn to consumers through its retail brand Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn that sells premium-milled products like grits. Long-term, NutraMaize plans to work with food processors to produce widely consumed staples like breakfast cereals and snack foods. Further, NutraMaize is working with the livestock industry to improve the nutritional quality of animal feed and resulting animal products like eggs, which is the focus of its USDA-funded work.
The Orange Corn variety is licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. NutraMaize also received guidance from the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.