Tomato salad to combat vitamin D deficiency

Tomato salad to combat vitamin D deficiency

Modern breeding methods can contribute to better health. For this reason, Bayer wants to use genome editing to breed more nutritious vegetables. In collaboration with the South Korean biotech company G+FLAS, tomato varieties are to be developed that are enriched with vitamin D3. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and can lead to health problems such as rickets or osteoporosis.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The majority of Swiss people suffer from a vitamin D deficiency at least some of the time. This is according to the University Hospital Zurich on its website. The Federal Commission on Nutrition (FCN) also assumes that there is a «widespread vitamin D deficiency» in Switzerland. This deficiency is particularly acute in the winter months. The reason is simple. Vitamin D is produced by the body itself. However, the skin must be in contact with sunlight to produce it.


No vitamin D without sunlight

Vitamin D is important for the formation of bones. It supports the absorption of calcium and phosphate. According to the University Hospital Zurich, it is also involved in metabolic processes and the formation of muscles. Strictly speaking, vitamin D is not really a vitamin at all, but a type of hormone, because the body can produce it itself. «Vitamin D is produced in the body in a complicated process involving the skin, liver and kidneys. This process starts when sunlight hits the surface of the skin - more precisely, the UVB radiation contained in the light.»


Avoiding bone fractures in old age

A vitamin D deficiency entails health risks. Osteoporosis is a major issue in old age. «Vitamin D deficiency was found in 80 per cent of patients with a broken hip», writes the university hospital. A vitamin D deficiency can also lead to chronic kidney disease. Rickets in children is another clinical picture.


Combating malnutrition with healthy foods

Bayer quotes JD Rossouw, Head of Fruit and Vegetable Research at Bayer's Crop Science Division: ‘We are focused on our mission of «Health for All, Hunger for None» and are proud to use cutting-edge technology to tackle a widespread nutritional problem and promote healthy eating. In our collaboration with G+FLAS, we are using their genome editing technology and combining it with Bayer's genetic material and expertise.» Consumers not only want food that tastes good, they also want it to be healthy. Breeding new vegetables is therefore also about addressing nutrient deficiencies. These are real innovations. And they are urgently needed, because many people around the world suffer from malnutrition.


Genome-edited leafy vegetables: higher nutritional value and better flavour

Genome-edited leafy vegetables from the agricultural technology start-up Pairwise are already available on the North American market. Bayer has concluded a licence agreement with the company. The breeding is a mixture of colourful leafy vegetables with a higher nutritional value than lettuce and a unique, fresh taste, which was achieved through the use of genome editing.

Bayer writes: «This agreement and its focus on genome-edited products is an important part of our open innovation approach. We look forward to working with Pairwise on their innovative leafy greens. It is a new flavourful and nutritious alternative. The latest agreement creates added value that goes beyond the mere sale of a product. It also includes rights to the future use of the knowledge, intellectual property and technology.» The licence includes marketing rights for the varieties developed by Pairwise as well as rights to develop new varieties. This is a type of cooperation that we often see in knowledge-based industries such as pharmaceuticals and food technologies: Start-ups innovate, but need financially strong, large corporations as partners for (global) registration and commercialisation, because the higher the regulatory hurdles, the more expensive the market launch.

Open innovation platform

The collaboration with G+FLAS and Pairwise exemplifies the direction of Bayer's innovation strategy - namely to combine the company's leading research and development capacities with the knowledge and inventiveness of external experts. As part of this approach, Bayer has now launched a new open innovation platform focussing on genome editing in fruit and vegetables.

«Important innovations need bright minds and the creative power of many experts. That is why we are looking for partnerships with academic researchers and companies. Together, we want to develop new fruit and vegetable products that have a higher nutritional content, a positive impact on the environment or a greater appeal to consumers by utilising the speed and precision of genome editing and new breeding techniques», says JD Rossouw. These types of collaborations are becoming increasingly important to address the global complex challenges of our food systems.

Openness and transparency is also guaranteed by patents. Every invention that is patented must be published in return. Thanks to this information, it is possible for other innovators to further develop the technology on this basis and then patent it themselves. Patents are essential, especially for start-ups and small companies.

Swiss-food shows how small breeding companies can benefit from openness and transparency. Industry agreements such as the ‘Patent Information and Transparency Online’ (PINTO) database have further increased transparency in the area of seed patents beyond mandatory publication. It links variety names with patents relating to novel plant traits. Other breeding companies can then licence these and market their own varieties that also contain these newly invented traits. In the vegetable seed sector, family and large companies have jointly created the «International Licensing Platform Vegetable» (ILP-Vegetable). A patent overview and a licence can be easily obtained there.

These industry solutions are constantly evolving: the Agricultural Crops Licensing Platform (ACLP) for arable farming became operational at the beginning of 2022. It aims to drive innovation in plant breeding by providing customised solutions to the challenges of accessing patented traits. Each member of the platform commits to enter data into the EUROSEEDS PINTO database mentioned above to ensure the transparency of commercial varieties available on the open market that contain patented traits in Europe. Like the ILP for vegetables, this platform also covers Switzerland and is open to patent holders and users. These solutions particularly benefit small companies in the breeding sector and strengthen them in this highly internationally networked industry.

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