Can the way farmers work their land contribute to the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as chronic intestinal inflammation and type 2 diabetes? A large consortium, consisting of the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), various faculties of Leiden University and growers, wants to answer these and more questions. They will receive 1.8 million euros for this from science financier NWO, LUMC reports.
Jeroen Maljaars and Maarten Tushuizen
The way growers work the soil affects the microbiome of the soil. And the microbiome of the soil in which vegetables grow affects the microbiome of the person who eats these vegetables. The researchers expect that eating crops from a soil with a rich microbiome (or with many different microorganisms) will have a positive effect on our health. By experimenting with different methods of tillage, they hope to gain a better understanding of the effect of the soil microbiome on the vegetables that grow in it, and ultimately our gut health.
Microbiome refers to all micro-organisms, such as bacteria and yeasts, that live in the soil or our intestines. We need enough microbes to keep our guts healthy. And we mainly get it from food. Due to a lack of microbes in the soil, for example due to the use of fertilizers and pesticides that kill some of the microbes in the soil, vegetables grown in this soil are probably less healthy. In this way, the researchers believe that poor soil is directly linked to diseases such as diabetes, fatty liver disease and chronic intestinal inflammation.
Top chefs in the lab
To investigate this, the expertise of several universities and institutes comes together. The researchers will first determine how different agricultural methods influence the soil microbiome. More than fifty growers participate from whom samples are taken. In addition, Leiden University will also grow its own crops in a controlled environment. Researchers from the Biology Institute in Leiden will measure the quality of these crops. This concerns the microbiome, metabolites and nutritional properties of the crops, but also the taste. For the latter, a professional panel with top chefs is called in.
Diet with vegetables from different soils
Gastroenterologists Maarten Tushuizen and Jeroen Maljaars from the LUMC mainly look at the medical side. “We will first do this in a model that mimics the stomach and intestines,” says Tushuizen. “Later, we will give patients with stomach and intestinal diseases different diets. We can then compare the health effects of a diet with vegetables from intensive agriculture with that of less intensive agriculture.”
The researchers are very excited to work on the project for the next six years. “In scientific research we often only look at one part of the story. Now we can take all aspects into account. And that is extremely interesting,” says Maljaars.