Nutrigenomics will underlie food future, Chr Hansen
industry's future away from one-size-fits-all nutrition, and has
placed exploration of this area high-up on its R&D agenda.
The Danish company, which is active in cultures and enzymes (for healthy and technical food use), and colours and flavours, unveiled a plan to explore nutrigenomics as part of an announced ten per cent increase in its R&D budget for 2007/8 to around €30m. This figure relates to spending across the company as a whole, but a firm emphasis will be on how ingredients can contribute to combating the swell of lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Nutrigenomics is described as the study of how food, genes and lifestyle interact. Chr Hansen does not have its own internal nutrigenomics research programme, executive vice president of R&D Peter Olesen told FoodNavigator.com, since the knowledge base is still at a relatively early stage. Rather, the company is funding projects conducted by partners and building links with other groups exploring the area. Olesen notes that some companies say they are already active in nutrigenomics on a commercial scale. But he does not view nutrigenomics as a product category in itself, but rather as supporting technology for the development of foods of greater nutritional value, and of functional foods. The current trend, he said, is away from the mass market and towards products that are more closely matched to nutritional requirements. In terms of health conditions, Olesen said that a "stronghold" of the company's research is in immune health and how probiotics can reduce infections and counter inflammation involved in metabolic syndrome. "In this area Chr Hansen will continue to break new ground and pioneer product developments." The company has also underscored the core of its approach to innovation as finding solutions that address its customer's specific needs. Olesen said that the company's internal R&D gives it a strong platform in probiotic genomics - that is, genomic variations in lactic acid bacteria. Chr Hansen's customers "require and value" that research as it directly relates to their business areas. Building on this, he said: "Nutrigenomics is the genomics of you and me." In June, Chr Hansen announced that it has teamed up with researchers from Denmark and Japan in an effort understand the genetic make-up of bacteria and see whether this knowledge can be used to improve probiotic food products. The scientists are using bioinformatics, using complicated mathematical models and statistics, to analyse the bacteria. Martin Pedersen, group leader of the genomics team for the company, said that involvement in this project gives the company access to state-of-the-art bioinformatics methods, and it is hoped that even more advanced methods will be developed within the four-year duration of the project.