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Researchers Found 1044 Underutilised Plants that can Help in Vitamin Deficiencies

The researchers obtained data on vitamin B levels in roughly 300 plant species with known nutritional characteristics. The researchers analyzed evolutionary relationships for these plants to forecast vitamin values for over 6,000 edible plant species described worldwide, finding that closely related species have more similar nutritional values than distantly related ones.

Shivam Dwivedi
Picture of variety of plants in a nursery
Picture of variety of plants in a nursery

New research has identified over 1,000 edible plants that could help thousands of people overcome vitamin B deficiency. Scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Imperial College London, and collaborators from the UK and the US present the findings of a study that identified 1,044 plant species with the potential to be a source of vitamin B in a new paper published today in Nature Plants.

Vitamin B, in all of its forms, aids in the digestion and release of energy from food, as well as the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. It is vital for human health, yet both developed and poor countries are deficient in it.

The researchers obtained data on vitamin B levels in roughly 300 plant species with known nutritional characteristics. The researchers analyzed evolutionary relationships for these plants to forecast vitamin values for over 6,000 edible plant species described worldwide, finding that closely related species have more similar nutritional values than distantly related ones.

According to their findings, some 1,000 plant species have been identified as possible suppliers of five B vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9. In addition, they revealed that 63 of the plants are endangered in their natural habitat.

Future of Food

Aoife Cantwell-Jones, a Ph.D. researcher at Imperial College London's Department of Life Sciences and the paper's lead author, said: "To better understand how edible plants can contribute to human nutrition and what we can do to preserve them for future generations, we need to pay more attention to their incredible diversity. Our research is a significant step in that direction."

The conservation status of 358 additional potential source species has yet to be determined, so the number of species in danger of extinction could be significantly higher. Many of these vulnerable and nutrient-dense species can be found in malnutrition hotspots around the world, including Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These findings underscore the critical need for more conservation efforts to ensure that edible plant diversity remains a reservoir of nutrition for future generations.

Sources of vitamin B

Meats such as livers, kidneys, poultry, and shellfish, as well as dairy products, eggs, lentils, and some fresh fruits, are the most common modern sources of B vitamins. Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast, can also be used to augment B vitamins.

The Digitaria genus, which includes numerous grass species with great nutritional potential, including fonio and its wild relatives native to West African savannas, is one example of non-threatened plants newly identified as possible B vitamin sources. They are also fast-growing and very resistant to hot and arid areas, thus they could be a major food source in the future.

The fruits and seeds of numerous iconic Baobabs (Adansonia) unique to Madagascar are threatened potential sources of B vitamins. They may be good sources of folate (B9), yet they are "Critically Endangered" because they are used locally for a variety of reasons, including food, charcoal, and lumber. Mining and agriculture are also significant threats, with some species having only a few wild populations.

Aoife explained how to make use of these prospective source species: "We must first ensure that they are present in the wild for the long term and that we understand how to best utilize them. As a result, conservation of both source species and traditional knowledge surrounding them should be addressed."

Chemical approaches should also be used to examine the nutritional profiles of these species, she added. "If we don't over-harvest them in the wild, they could be employed alongside other crops to diversify and supplement our food systems through conventional breeding, enhanced domestication, or direct consumption."

(Source: Imperial College London)

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