Could Potatoes Tomatoes and Saffron Help Fight Disease?

As the third most important global food crop, potatoes have got everything you need to survive – but could they also help fight illness and alleviate pain? That’s the question a four-year, €8.5M scientific project by a multi-national consortium, including the James Hutton Institute, aims to answer. The project will investigate the potential of naturally occurring chemicals in potatoes, tomatoes and saffron to combat human diseases such as cancer and arteriosclerosis and ease the pain caused by various ailments. It also hopes to find sustainable ways of producing these chemicals, known as bioactive compounds.

Building on the recent identification of plants from the Solanaceae (such as potato, tomato, aubergine) and Iridaceae (such as saffron, crocus, freesia) families as promising sources of bioactive compounds for human health and the treatment of degenerative disease, the EU-funded DISCO project aims to further investigate these natural, sustainable sources and to fine-tune procedures to generate greater levels of, as well as extract, these bio-compounds.

Could Potatoes Tomatoes and Saffron Help Fight Disease?
Project co-ordinator Professor Paul Fraser, of the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, said: “Despite notable scientific achievements there have been relatively little commercialisation or feasibility studies performed to date on the production of bio-compounds from renewable sources. Therefore one of our major objectives within DISCO is to address these issues and to create a framework that can act as a generic pipeline capable of taking discovery and innovation through application and validation, to translation and industrial valorisation.”

Commenting on the role of the James Hutton Institute in the project, Professor Derek Stewart, Enhancing Crop Productivity and Utilisation Research Theme Leader, said: “Building on our expertise in potato research we will work with vibrant Scottish company SB Drug Discovery Ltd, to mine the wonderful diversity of natural compounds in wild and cultivated potato for a whole range of bio-activity against a range of degenerative conditions, as well as for potential pain relief.”

The DISCO partners, which include 15 organisations from seven countries, aim to capitalise on their experience in metabolic engineering, hyper-production of high-value plant substances, and in bringing technology to the market.

Dr Mark Taylor, also from the James Hutton Institute, said: “The consortium is able to build on achievements funded by both Scottish Government and preceding EU projects to deliver scientific excellence with economic and societal impact.”