The New Zealand research organisation is two years into the six-year collaboration, called Nutrigenomics New Zealand. The programme also involves AgResearch, the University of Auckland and Crop & Food and its ultimate aim is to spur development of gene-specific foods that will deliver proven health outcomes to consumers.
"People react differently to foods, and one of the ways they do so is genetic," Karl Crawford, HortResearch food business leader Karl Crawford told NutraIngredients.com.
He told NutraIngredients.com that the project covers all kinds of foods not just fruit, HortResearch's area of speciality. The initial primary focus is on gut health and in particular Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disorder.
There has been anecdotal evidence for some time that the disease symptoms can be controlled by paying close attention to diet. Crawford said that at the outset the researchers thought there was one gene involved, but it now appears there are several.
Specifically, the researchers are looking at the NfkappaB inflammation pathway. "We have shown that fruit can positively influenced this pathway, opening up new opportunities for foods which help manage inflammation," said Dr Lesley Stevenson, science group leader for health and food.
HortResearch has found that certain apple extracts can inhibit production of the inflammation marker TNF Alpha in cell systems. "Inhibiting its production indicates these extracts may have anti-inflammatory properties," Stevenson said.
Although the indications are good, Crawford stressed that HortResearch is a long way from recommending that apples be consumed by sufferers of inflammatory bowel disease and more work remains to be done on gene responses.
He said that, for now, the project is very much science focused, but that the teams "would like to have a commercial end goal, to develop a food that would help with Crohn's disease".
While HortResearch's work involves "a lot of deconstructing fruit", it does not usually develop extracts for use as ingredients but tries to relate its findings back to the whole fruit.
Crawford explained that this is because there are around 5000 known polyphenol compounds in fruit but probably just as many that are not known, and there are synergies between the different antioxidants.
However the approach for nutrigenomics could be different since it is a very medicalised area. The hope is that a number of different components, from all different kinds of foods, could be identified and ultimately used to develop a food.