The second day of the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020 had several plenary sessions laid, of which an important talk of the day was on the topic ‘Nutrition and Food as Medicine’. With an array of diseases in humans, be it malnutrition/ anaemia to obesity and several other chronic diseases linking to nourishment and food consumption pattern, the speakers of the session focused on how in the present day - science, technology and society have come together to help us tide over food-related apprehensions.
Moderating the session, Gurmeet Singh, Professor and Center Head, Trans Disciplinary University, commented, “Today the importance of food as medicine is crucial. Preventive food solution is a highly relevant topic for governments. Science, tech and society come together in this. We are having nutritional deficiencies and we are also having chronic diseases like obesity wherein all of it is linked with food and nutrition. In the last 10-15 years, we can see that food is far more than just micronutrients but various molecules and the information that is packed within it. Chemistry playing its role in genomic technology. Cardiovascular data on our wristwatch are all integration of science, tech and society coming together.”
The panelists for the session included Dr Sesikeran, Former Director, National Institute of Nutrition; Dr C. S. Prakash, Dean, Tuskegee University and Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director, Indian Institute of Millets Research.
During his address, Dr Sesikaran, spoke at length about the biofortification of foods, its advantages and also the guidelines about it. He also provided a perspective on the policy aspects around biofortification of the foods in terms of fixing levels of dosage of biofortification of foods, and the framework to use to specify dosages of biofortified foods, etc.
Dr C. S. Prakash focused on gene editing and its use for nutrient densification of food ingredients. He touch-based on both genome editing’s strengths and shortcomings. Speaking about what Gene editing can do for farming, Dr Prakash said, “It can enhance the crop’s nutrient levels – vitamins antioxidants, make them climate-resilient, disease resistant and further improve food safety and food quality. Gene editing can improve the shelf life of fruits, vegetables and flowers and also improve oil quality. The technique is known to reduce or eliminate toxins like ricin from Castor oil, cyanide from Cassava, neurotoxins from Vetch Pea and phytate from Rice and Corn.” Summarising the advantages of gene editing, Dr Prakash noted it can help to add or remove certain traits from the crops similar to that achieved in conventional plant breeding but in a more precise and faster way. Mentioning the shortcoming, he said, though it is easy to remove a trait through gene editing, trait replacement is extremely difficult.
Dr Vilas Tonapi shared insights about how millets help in the favour of health and nutrition security. He said, “We are increasingly working to make these alternate grains, dryland crops reach each and everybody’s plate in the country. We are working on crop improvement through natural breeding programme and marker breeding programme in a bid to see that these crops come back to create nutrition security throughout the country. While several crops like rice and wheat are water guzzlers, in the recently prevailing conditions of erratic monsoons, drought prevailing situation, we need crops which can complete life cycle with 310 mm of water level. Millets are known for their properties like lesser carbon footprint and methane emission. To mainstream millets in PDS is what we are looking at.” Dr Tonapi further noted the various advantages of Millets due to their dietary benefits like - they are gluten-free; have a low glycaemic index – hence an answer to antidiabetic properties; anti-hypertensive and are high in dietary fiber hence driving out obesity. The versatility of the application of millets to various cuisines and delicacies has set grounds for mainstreaming them, he concluded.