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Bioscience to battle global hunger

14 August 2012

A high-level Global Nutrition Event marked the closing of the Olympics and called on the world to improve malnutrition in the world's poorest countries. BBSRC's Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, joined representatives from international governments, charities and businesses at 10 Downing Street to strengthen commitments and challenge the world to find new ways of working to tackle malnutrition.

The spirit of the Olympics is about fulfilling potential and inspiring future generations. But for around 170 million children today, their potential will already be limited by the time they are two years old due to a chronic lack of adequate food and nutrition. This leads to stunted children who are less healthy, physically less able than their peers, and less able to earn money. Providing better nutrition to mothers and infants in the first 1,000 days after conception will stop the irreversible effects of malnutrition. With food prices rising, and pressure on natural resources increasing, the problem will worsen without action.

The global spotlight on the UK for the Olympics was used as an opportunity to highlight this issue by the current and future Olympic hosts. Prime Minister David Cameron and the Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil were joined by double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah and Olympic great Haile Gebrselassie to call on the world to do more to tackle the extensive and under-reported problem of malnutrition.

While there is no single quick fix, bioscience can play a key role by providing scientific breakthroughs and agricultural innovations that improve nutrition. The UK's world-leading scientists offer a wealth of research in basic bioscience of human nutritional needs; tackling livestock disease; engineering seeds for enhanced plant nutrition; and reducing crop losses from field to plate.

At the event, BBSRC's Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, highlighted how science can provide innovative ways of bringing nutrition to the world's poorest children. He discussed the evidence showing a direct linkage between investment in agricultural research and improvement in crop yields, focussing on UK wheat yields which have trebled since the 1940s. Professor Kell also highlighted the importance of genomics-driven breeding in improving nutritional quality as well as yields, the desirability of continuing this in partnership with other funders, and BBSRC's plans in areas such as nitrogen fixation, drought tolerance and root biology.

BBSRC and the Department for International Development (DIFID) have a successful record of working together to deliver high quality and relevant science - one forthcoming project seeks to improve the nutritional quality of rice grown in Zinc deficient soils.

BBSRC continues to invest in research in the UK for the benefit of the world, including £8M for nutritionally enhanced seed research, £15M to combat crop losses and £17M to increase the diversity of wheat.

BBSRC is also part of the UK's £400M Global Food Security Programme that brings together the UK's main public funders of food-related research to meet the challenge of providing a growing global population with a sustainable, secure supply of nutritious food from less land and using fewer inputs.

Join the twitter discussion about global hunger: #globalhunger.

ENDS

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About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.