Study sets ambitious new goals for nutrition science

How can nutrition science help to achieve healthy nutrition for everyone? An urgent question in a world where 795 million people are chronically undernourished (FAO) while 1.9 billion people are overweight or obese (WHO).

"To deliver successfully, nutrition research needs a bold dose of innovation," writes an international team of researchers from across the Life Sciences in the open-access journal Frontiers in Nutrition. In their study - aptly termed a "Field Grand Challenge" - they reach out to their peers with an ambitious set of research goals for nutrition science for the period 2015-2020.

"This initiative by the Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Nutrition deals with a long-overdue issue: to bring researchers from all the scientific disciplines working on nutrition-related questions together, to think and work on trans- and interdisciplinary topics," says Professor Dietrich Knorr from the Department of Food Biotechnology and Food Process Engineering at the Technical University Berlin.

The experts identify questions that need to be answered, methods that need to be developed, and foundational data that need to be collected within the next five years along eight axes of research: (1) Sustainability in food and nutrition; (2) Identifying and mitigating methodological errors in nutrition science, to increase rigor, objectivity, reproducibility, and transparency; (3) Generation and analysis of highly dimensional "Big Data", for example in nutrigenomics; (4) Authenticity and safety of foods; (5) Food-related human behavior; (6) The molecular and physiological link between nutrition and brain health; (7) The human microbiome; and (8) Nourishing the immune system and preventing disease, for example through medical nutrition and neutraceuticals.

"We feel the topics described represent the key opportunities, but also the biggest challenges in our field," says Dr Johannes le Coutre, Senior Research Scientist and Head of Perception Physiology at the Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne, Switzerland, and Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Nutrition. "Five years seemed long enough for a scientific program to bear measurable fruit -- yet with a clear scope and focus."

The authors stress the need for a transdisciplinary systems-science approach to nutrition research, generating and integrating data at all levels of complexity and from all relevant disciplines, including genomics, medical science, physiology, bioengineering, food science and technology, analytics, and biomathematics.

"Nutrition science is evolving from reductionist approaches centered around the study of single molecules and pathways to in-depth, quantitative, systems-wide analyses of massively interacting systems (i.e., nutrition, microbiome, immunological and metabolic networks) that delineate health outcomes. This article articulates the Grand Challenges in 21st Century Nutrition Research and Discovery and provides paradigm-shifting solutions such as informatics, data analytics and modeling approaches in combination with pre-clinical and clinical validation studies," says Prof Bassaganya-Riera, Director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech.

The authors hope their Grand Challenge will provoke a lively discussion among their peers about how to improve nutrition as a science, allowing it fulfil its potential and make meaningful, sustainable contributions to global nutrition.

"At Frontiers in Nutrition, we are excited to develop and share an open-science platform for this discussion. Healthy nutrition for all is an ambition too important to be handled by detached interest groups," concludes le Coutre.


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