Capability

Overview

Established in January 2010 to co-ordinate food security research at Reading, our Centre exists to capitalise on our reputation for food chain research.

We recognise that global food security is a grand challenge which requires co-ordinated action to deliver. Thus we invite partners from government, academia and commerce to join us in exploiting our expertise in the agri-food system.

The Centre has two strands to its activity, the first exists to deliver a step change in research funding for food security research at Reading and the second is to engage in knowledge exchange in order to facilitate collaborative working

Summary of capability

The Centre for Food Security at the University of Reading joins together areas of excellence and expertise to provide a platform for policy and business relevant research on the challenges of ensuring global food security. We collaborate with policy makers, industry and the research community to help ensure resilient, sustainable and healthy food chains. At Reading we have an international reputation for research spanning the whole food chain, and in particular we have strengths in the areas of food chain and health, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity. We also have expertise in climate systems science and in diet and human health.

The challenges that are grouped together under food security are complex. The drivers of change range from population growth, through climate change to increased competition for resources. Responding to increased population is not just a matter of producing enough food however; it is a matter of producing enough food to meet the changing demands of the population whilst ensuring that the nutritional needs of a healthy population are met.

There is a danger that by taking a narrow reductionist perspective in addressing food security challenges, we risk creating unforeseen new problems or failing to develop science that is capable of translation into practice. Whilst increasing potential yields of our major carbohydrate producing crops is undoubtedly part of the solution, doing this without recognising, for example: that farming systems/economic incentives in many parts of the world are not up to the level required to achieve potential yields of existing crops; urban diets of the poor have a tendency towards micronutrient deficiency; economic growth is going to mean that demand for animals will increase; that our crops are produced in ecosystems which deliver a range of services other than food, carries with it the danger that we will only partially address the challenges.

The Centre for Food Security enhances Reading's position as a leading Centre of excellence building upon our long standing and well-deserved reputation in the research that contributes to the food security agenda, and enables increased coordination and focus across the disciplines. Our integrative, systems based approach which brings together natural and social sciences provides a platform for research outputs that address the need for multidisciplinary approaches that have been highlighted by the wealth of recent reviews and policy documents in this field. By integrating a technical approach with social, economic and ecological adaptation, we are creating an arena in which science is responsive to signals delivered from other components of the system and vice versa. The Centre currently has ~50 associates from across a range of Faculties and Departments including Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Sciences, Geography and Environmental Science, Mathematics, and Economics.

Our strategy

The breadth of the reputation at Reading positions the Centre as an important partner for national and international research in food security. The Centre is building on Reading's reputation and developing the capacity for integrative research by strengthening our areas of excellence and by establishing strategic alliances with industry and other research institutions to ensure that basic research meets the needs of society and that this knowledge is translated into practice.

The Centre's strategy reflects the increasing emphasis on integrative research. There are therefore two aspects to the strategy of the Centre:

1. To focus on developing our scientific capacity in the following areas:

    • Food Chain and Health
    • Biodiversity and the Agri-environment
    • Sustainable Food Systems

2. To build on our reputation and capacity for integrative research along the food chain by maintaining and enhancing an external facing profile that seeks strategic alliances with research and business organisations that complement our scientific expertise.

The five areas of scientific capacity identified above represent current research strengths as well as areas that we believe are important for future food security. Our capacity and strengths in these areas are described below.

Assets

The university's reputation for research is borne out by its research assets both in terms of facilities and expertise.

The Hugh Sinclair Nutrition Unit has significant expertise in planning and conducting human nutrition trials using our in-house clinical unit, supported by studies using in vitro cell or animal models to develop understanding of mechanistic and functional aspects of the interaction of food with human health. The Unit is particularly well recognised for its work on lipids and phytochemicals in relation to human health and the impacts of these food groups on lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognitive disease. Key techniques include FMD/LDI for non-invasive measurement of blood vessel elasticity in humans, MRI in relation to cognitive function, and the development of biomarkers and human metabonomics using NMR.

Our interfaces with the human nutrition work by conducting analysis of the ways in which changing animal nutrition can impact on the animal based food. The University is home to the £10M animal science research facility at Centre for Dairy Research and as a result much of this work focuses on dairy products although we also have expertise in poultry and sheep meat science. A second line of research in the animals group examines the efficiency of feed use in ruminants and in particular the factors which influence greenhouse gas emissions from livestock systems.

The Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences houses a comprehensive pilot plant that includes extensive facilities for postharvest research such as modified atmosphere packaging, texture analysis, gas analysis, and multiple shelf life environments. East Malling Research has recently become an Associated Institution of the University, thus giving us access to additional controlled atmosphere storage facilities and precise climate controlled 'GroDomes'. We complement physiology and agronomy expertise with more fundamental work to analyse phytonutrient profile, structure and perception through an extensive suite of LCMS, GCMS and NMR facilities. These techniques underpin a world-leading reputation for flavour chemistry and sensory science. The latter uses the most sophisticated GCMS systems available, together with a GC-odorport and two sensory panels - the human olfactory instrument - which each meet twice per week.

Plant breeding of horticultural crops for increased pre and postharvest quality is a key strength at Reading. The University of Reading hosts the The International Cocoa Quarantine Group, ensuring that all cocoa germplasm that is exchanged around the world is clean and disease free. As a result of this facility we have also developed mapping populations for cocoa and a substantial amount of effort is invested into improving the quality of plants in cultivation around the world. The University is also the scientific curator of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. Population genetics is used to map traits relating to the shelf life, appearance, flavour and nutritional quality of fresh fruit and vegetable crops (lettuce, brassica, strawberry at present). The Crop quality trait analyses, in relation to post-digestion and in vitro cell biology, is taking the metabolomic analyses platform to a new level as we start to interface which regions of the crop genome regulate these qualities and determine human health benefits.

Collaborations

The Centre for Food Security recognizes that the breadth of Food Security is such that no one University can have expertise in every area. It is for this reason that we have cultivated and currently enjoy close links with a large number of researchers from other research institutions in the UK and overseas. In this way we can utilise our complementary strengths when undertaking research in any aspect of the Food Security arena.

The Centre for Food Security is keen to collaborate with other research organisations, as well as undertake consultancy, contract research or collaborative research with businesses, NGO's and policy organisations. If you are interested in discussing this further, please contact us. 

 

Contact us

Page navigation

 

Search Form

A-Z lists