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Developing natural food colouring

A number of synthetic food colours have been shown to have undesirable side effects, especially in children. Associate Professor Henrik Brinch-Pedersen has been awarded a grant of DKK 12.3 million by the Innovation Fund Denmark to extract dye from black carrots.

2015.01.21 | Janne Hansen

Associate Professor Henrik Brinch-Pedersen has been awarded a grant of DKK 12.3 million by the Innovation Fund Denmark to develop natural food colouring. Photo: Charlotte Hamann Knudsen

On a global scale, there is a considerable need to develop natural food colouring, not least because a number of synthetic dyes in food have been shown to cause unwanted side effects – especially among children. Since 2010, the European Union has required the labelling of selected dyes in food products.

Henrik Brinch-Pedersen and his research group at the Section for Crop Genetics and Biotechnology in Flakkebjerg have now set out with other researchers in Denmark and the USA to develop methods that can produce large amounts of the natural pigment anthocyanin, which is found in black carrots (Daucus carota sativus var. Atrorubens). The four-year project, which has a budget of DKK 20 mill., has received a grant of DKK 12.3 mill. from the Innovation Fund Denmark.

Until now, the plant breeding method traditionally used to increase the content of anthocyanin has been very slow and has only resulted in limited increases. In addition, our understanding of the way the substance is created in black carrots has only been sparsely described, but studies show that the synthesis is regulated to a large extent by factors at the cellular level that directly regulate how much anthocyanin is produced in the carrot genes.

Associate Professor Brinch-Pedersen and his colleagues have therefore launched a project called New Plant Breeding Technologies (NPBTs) for Bio-Sustainable Production of Natural Colours in Black Carrots. The aim is to find new alternatives to traditional breeding methods and conventional GMOs. The project will identify the key genetic components in anthocyanin synthesis in black carrots to build a comprehensive NPBTs platform and use it to accelerate production of anthocyanin. In other words, to spy on the production secrets of the carrots and improve them.

NPBTs can make it possible to regulate production of the pigment in carrots in ways that do not differ from changes introduced in conventional breeding methods or physical/chemical mutation (and without unwanted side mutations). This has great significance because the plants produced by NPBTs are expected to be less heavily regulated or entirely deregulated compared with plants that are genetically modified using traditional procedures.

In addition to Aarhus University, the following institutions are participating in the project: Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, University of Wisconsin, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), University of Minnesota and the private company Chr. Hansen A/S.

For more information please contact: Associate Professor Henrik Brinch-Pedersen,
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, e-mail: hbp@mbg.au.dk, telephone:
+45 8715 8268

DCA