Researchers identify 1,044 underused plants that could combat vitamin deficiency

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New research has identified more than 1,000 edible plants that could address the B vitamin deficiencies of thousands of people.

In a new article, published today in nature plantsScientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Imperial College London and partners from the UK and US reveal the results of a study identifying 1044 plant species that have the potential to be a source of B vitamins.

Vitamin B in its various forms helps break down and release energy from food and helps maintain a healthy nervous system. It is essential for human health, but is commonly deficient in both developed and developing countries.

The researchers collected data on the B vitamin content of nearly 300 plant species with known nutritional profiles. Finding that closely related species exhibit more similar nutritional values ​​than distantly related species, the researchers used the for these plants to predict the vitamin values ​​of more than 6000 species of edible plants documented worldwide.

Their findings show that approximately 1,000 plant species were recently identified as potential sources of five different B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9. They also found that 63 of the plants are threatened in their natural environment.

the future of food

Doctor. Researcher Aoife Cantwell-Jones, from Imperial College London’s Department of Life Sciences and lead author of the paper, said: “We need to pay more attention to the incredible diversity of food plants to better understand how they can contribute to human nutrition and what we must do to preserve them for future generations. Our study represents an important step in that direction.”

The conservation status of another 358 of the possible source species has not been assessed, so the number in danger of extinction could be much higher. Many of these vulnerable and nutrient-rich species are found in global hotspots of malnutrition, such as Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These findings highlight the crucial need for more conservation action to ensure that food plant diversity remains a reservoir of nutrition for future generations.

Dr Samuel Pironon, a research fellow with the Kew Ecosystem Stewardship Team and a co-author on the paper, said: “More than two billion people are undernourished worldwide, so improving long-term access to a diversity of micronutrient sources from wild and cultivated plants”. to human subsistence.

“Yet very few of the thousands of edible plants found on Earth have been characterized for nutritional content, making their preservation and sustainable use difficult. This study illustrates how our fundamental knowledge of plant diversity and the relationship evolution can provide tools to preserve nature and its contributions to people, including the most essential: food”.

Vitamin B sources

Today’s most popular sources of B vitamins include meats such as liver, kidney, poultry, and shellfish, as well as dairy products, eggs, legumes, and some fresh fruits. B vitamins can also be supplemented with fortified foods, including breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Some examples of non-threatened plants recently identified as potential sources of B vitamins include the genus Digitaria, which is made up of many species of grasses with high nutritional potential, including fonio and its wild relatives that are native to West African savannahs. These could represent an important food source for the future since they are also fast growing and very resistant to hot and dry climates.

Several species of oats (Avena sp) found in Europe and the UK may represent important sources of thiamin (B1). Ethiopian oats (Avena abyssinica) is also a traditional and underutilized food with high potential for .

Threatened potential sources of B vitamins include fruits and seeds of several iconic baobabs (Adansonia), native to Madagascar. They can be good sources of folate (B9), but are used locally for a variety of purposes, including food, but also charcoal and wood, leading them to be “Critically Endangered.” Mining and agriculture are also major threats, and some species have only a handful of populations in the wild.

Secale africanum is a wild rye found only in the Karoo in southwestern South Africa. It used to be common in the area, but has seen a severe decline due to overgrazing by livestock, poor land management, and disease. Similarly, Durio kutejensis is a wild species of Durian from Borneo, Indonesia, which is threatened by and expansion of agriculture.

Make the most of new sources

To make use of these potential source species, Aoife said: “We must first ensure that they remain available in the wild for the long term, and that we know how to make the best use of them. Both the source species and the traditional knowledge surrounding them are by Therefore, they should be prioritized for conservation.”

In addition, he said, these species should have their nutritional profiles controlled using chemical methods. “Then they could be used alongside other crops to diversify and supplement our food systems through conventional breeding, enhance their domestication, or be consumed directly, as long as we don’t overharvest them in the wild.”


Local communities around the world warn of the disappearance of wild food plants


More information:
Aoife Cantwell-Jones et al, Global plant diversity as a micronutrient reservoir for humanity, nature plants (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-022-01100-6

Citation: Researchers identify 1,044 underused plants that could combat vitamin deficiency (February 24, 2022) Retrieved February 24, 2022 at https://phys.org/news/2022-02-underused-combat-vitamin-deficiency .html

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