Agrotecnio and IRBLleida launch three joint research projects on agri-food and health

Proposals funded under the AgroHealth 2022 call focus on issues such as food security, anaemia and obesity

The Agrotechnology Research Centre Foundation (Agrotecnio) and the Biomedical Research Institute of Lleida Dr. Pifarré Foundation (IRBLleida), both centres staffed by researchers from the University of Lleida (UdL), will launch three joint research projects on agri-food and health next December. AgroHealth 2022 is the first call of these CERCA centres in Lleida for research into the resolution of challenges related to nutrition. Specifically, the funded initiatives will be dedicated to investigating issues such as food security, anaemia and obesity. As Ignacio Romagosa, director of Agrotecnio, and Diego Arango, director of IRBLleida, explained at a press conference held today at the Agrobiotech Lleida Park, "the aim of this call is to create a multidisciplinary working model that can continue to develop over time and help to raise awareness of the importance of agri-food innovation and its impact on health".

The following projects have been funded in this first call for proposals:

  1. 'Technological feasibility and toxicological study of a biotransformation strategy to reduce patulin in apple juices', led by the researcher from Agrotecnio's Post-harvest Biology and Technology group, Inmaculada Viñas, and by the researcher from IRBLleida's Metabolic Physiopathology group, José Serrano. The main objective of this initiative is to develop a method for reducing the mycotoxin patulin in apple juice. Therefore, the researchers will identify the patulin biodegrading agent obtained from a microorganism, evaluate its technological feasibility to introduce it into the juice production chain and ensure that the patulin degradation products are non-toxic. The technology proposed in this project could enable fruit juice processors to produce their products with safe levels of patulin, improving food safety for consumers.
  2. 'Weaning pigs: an animal model to solve iron deficiency anaemia based on biotechnologically modified yeast', led by the researcher of the Signalling in Yeast group at IRBLleida, Mª Ángeles de la Torre, and the researcher of the Animal Nutrition and Environment group at Agrotecnio, Gabriel de la Fuente. Given the similarity between the digestive processes of pigs and humans, this proposal will use weaning pigs as an animal model to study the creation of a biosustainable and safe model to alleviate iron deficiency anaemia in pig populations. This project has two objectives: to increase sustainability and animal welfare in extensive and intensive pig farming, and to find a sustainable and probiotic model to reduce iron deficiency anaemia in human populations. To achieve this, the research team will test the use of different strains of genetically modified yeast in pigs, resulting in a probiotic base and a biosustainable source of iron, and compare their effects with those of the iron salts currently used.
  3. ‘Design of functional foods with active ingredients with potential anti-obesity properties', led by Gemma Bellí, researcher in the Cell Cycle group at IRBLleida, and Olga Martín, researcher in the New Food Processing Technologies group at Agrotecnio. This project will evaluate the effects of the consumption of active principles of dietary fibres, probiotics formulated combining Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus plantarum and structures containing b-carotene, on the modulation of the intestinal microbiota and inflammatory markers associated with obesity. First, the effects on the microbiota will be evaluated in in vitro digestion models. The most efficient ones will form a nutritional supplement that will be used to study its effect on rats previously fattened as an animal model. The aim is to develop functional foods that incorporate these ingredients and help reduce the risk of obesity.

"The joint call by Agrotecnio and IRBLleida is a good example of how the first sector must be taken into account in multidisciplinary research, as this is the basis of a more sustainable economic model, and also makes it clear that collaboration between food research and research into nutrition and health can improve the living conditions of our fellow citizens," added Carmel Mòdol, Secretary for Food of the Government of Catalonia.

AgroHealth 2022 has a total budget of 135,000 euros, of which 60,000 euros come from IRBLleida, 40,000 euros from the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and 35,000 euros from Agrotecnio. Each of the three approved projects has 45,000 euros and two years for its development. The quality of each proposal submitted to the call has been evaluated by the State Research Agency of the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

The presentation was attended by the researchers who will lead the projects