Healthy People

Healthier oats for a healthy diet (Marshall)

Healthier Oats for a Healthy Diet

Research-based oat breeding programme creates benefits for health and the UK economy

Research carried out at IBERS has led to the development of new and improved varieties of oats that can reduce heart disease and have produced benefits for the UK economy. The research is led by Professor Athole Marshall, Head of the Oat Breeding Programme at IBERS.

There are approximately 7 million people in the UK living with cardiovascular disease, 3.5 million men and 3.5 million women, and the disease causes over a quarter of all deaths.

Oats contain a specific type of fibre known as beta glucan that helps prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Studies also show that beta glucan can help those suffering with diabetes as they experience lower rises in blood sugar. Oat varieties developed by the IBERS oat breeding programme seek to contain higher levels of beta glucan than other varieties and therefore offer enhanced health benefits. The team is also working on other grain components that may offer significantly improved nutrition.

The health benefits of eating oats have become clearer over recent years, and the beneficial effects of beta-glucans on heart health are one of the very few EU-approved health claims for food ingredients.

One in four people in the UK eat oats daily, and IBERS oat varieties account for approximately 65% of the oats sold in the UK. These varieties may therefore have a significant impact on health and welfare. There is a growing demand for oat products, both in the UK and globally – the expanding instant oat breakfast market sector alone is worth £160 million per year. Consumers are increasingly opting for on-the-go convenient breakfast foods, cereal bars, instant porridge, and other oat-based snacks and light meals.

 IBERS research on variation in β-glucan content in oats has been incorporated into the winter and spring oat breeding programmes, providing suitable varieties for the UK milling industry. The oat varieties are marketed through a strategic alliance with the company Senova, and their milling quality is tested in collaboration with the British Oat and Barley Millers Association, which represents the major oat milling companies within the UK.

"Oats are used extensively for human and animal consumption and the market is growing at around 5% per year. It is estimated that IBERS'; contribution to the UK oats market generated more than £19,000,000 GVA for the UK economy in 2012/13 and supported more than 800 jobs." -Biggar Economics, ‘Economic Impact of IBERS’, Report to Aberystwyth University, 2014

We are:

  • Developing new varieties of oats with healthier properties
  • Developing new varieties that are adapted to environmental and climate change
  • Creating new varieties that are economically viable and attractive for farmers to grow and manufacturers to process

 For more information, contact Prof Athole Marshall,

Pearl millet and diabetes (Yadav)

Boosting health and wellness around the globe through improved pearl milletp

Building health considerations into crop research produces benefits for consumers and farmers 

A key challenge for food security is not only to produce enough food calories for a growing human population, but also to provide the correct nutrition for maintaining overall well-being and health.

In the UK, 3.9 million people live with diabetes, a number that is expected to rise to 5 million over the next ten years. In India, diabetes currently affects approximately 40 million people, which is also increasing. This incidence means a reduced quality of life for a very large number of people, along with significant health care costs. It is estimated that for a low-income Indian family with a diabetic adult, as much as 25% of family income may be devoted to diabetes care.

Pearl millet is a staple crop for the populations of Africa and South Asia, and grows in hot, dry climates and in poor soils, where other crops cannot. Ongoing research at IBERS, led by Dr Rattan Yadav, is examining genetic variation in pearl millet, looking to identify varieties beneficial to people suffering from type-2 diabetes and other health conditions.

The new research is aiming to breed varieties with increased nutritious value. These varieties could then be used on a global level to make food products that could help reduce the occurrence of disease or even improve the health of existing patients. For example, the research team is working on increasing the levels of iron and zinc in the millet grain, which may help people with deficiencies in these nutrients. They are also developing varieties with increased levels of calcium, which could help people with osteoporosis. To target diabetes, the idea is to produce a grain with optimised starch profile and improved glycaemic index.

The challenge is to breed a grain with improved health benefits, but which can still grow in difficult conditions and produce sufficient yields to be profitable for farmers. This is an area of expertise at IBERS, with a strong track record of developing new pearl millet varieties with improved yields and resistance to stresses, like drought and disease.

New pearl millet varieties that have already reached the market are having major impact. Research carried out in partnership with Bangor University led to a disease-resistant variety (HHB67-Improved), the first product of the marker-assisted breeding approach to reach cereal producers in India. By 2011, it was grown on over 700,000 ha and currently three million people have improved food security as a direct result of this work.

"The net additional benefits to the farming community from cultivation of HHB 67 Improved, compared to the local landrace varieties in Rajasthan and HHB 67 in Haryana, reached $13.5 million in 2011 alone." -The Jewels of ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics)

We are:

  • Developing new varieties of pearl millet
  • Breeding a grain with health benefits, which can still grow in difficult conditions and produce sufficient yields
  • Working with industry to develop food products for the people with diabetes
  • Working to improve the lives of farmers and consumers in India

For more information, contact Dr Rattan Yadav,

Dietary biomarkers (Draper)

Supporting Healthy Diets Through Biomarker Monitoring

New way to objectively monitor food intake will allow personalised nutrition advice for improved health and well-being

The Diet and Health research team at IBERS, led by Professor John Draper, is developing new tools based on biomarker technology to link what we eat to our health and well-being.

Diet has a major impact on our risk of developing chronic diseases, including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer. It is difficult to understand exactly how specific foods or diets are linked to health or disease, however, because monitoring food intake is much harder than it seems. People forget what they’ve eaten, are less-than-truthful in surveys, are too unwell to keep track, or don’t know exactly what is in their prepared or processed foods. This may be why different studies on what makes up a healthy diet have conflicting conclusions, confusing consumers.

Without better ways to measure what people really eat, it would be very difficult to tell whether public health campaigns or dietary interventions are making people any healthier.

New technologies developed at IBERS are providing industry with more robust tools for personalised nutrition, to monitor the diet of healthy or unwell populations. Through partnerships with IBERS, companies across Europe are using these technologies to design new systems that health care providers can use to improve the quality of life of people affected by frailty.

 We are: 

  • Identifying biomarkers that can be used to determine what people have eaten
  • Working with industry to develop tests to objectively and easily monitor diet
  • Developing easy ways to monitor diet quality in vulnerable people, such as those in care homes

For more information, contact Prof John Draper,


Parasites (Hoffmann)

Developing new tools to combat flatworm infections

IBERS leading international effort to understand debilitating parasitic diseases

Parasitic flatworms cause some of the most debilitating infectious diseases on the planet, with a major impact worldwide on the health and well-being of both humans and livestock.

Schistosomiasis, snail fever or bilharzias, is one of the world’s most cruel chronic infectious diseases – second only to malaria in terms of its impact on human lives. It is caused by the body’s reaction to the eggs of a parasite and kills as many as 300,000 people each year and leads to chronic sickness amongst a further 200 million.

A team of IBERS researchers, led by Prof Karl Hoffmann, are developing game-changing research tools for the study and manipulation of the parasitic flatworm species responsible for this and other devastating diseases.Together with scientists from the UK, Germany, France and the USA, the IBERS team has launched the ‘Flatworm Functional Genomics Initiative (FUGI)’ with £3.7M of funding from The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest private funder of biomedical and veterinary research.

A major challenge for flatworm researchers is the lack of suitable tools to effectively investigate the function of flatworm genes, which is critical to be able to develop drugs or vaccines that can be used for human or veterinary applications. 

To overcome this challenge, Professor Hoffmann and his research collaborators in the FUGI project are generating the very first tools to functionally manipulate parasitic flatworm genomes using the genome-editing, CRISPR/Cas system.  

These techniques will enable the flatworm community to conduct the gene-level investigations necessary to fully understand how each gene participates in flatworm development, parasite-host interactions and the development of disease.  

By producing new translational tools and resources, this work will provide the research community with the flexible experimental systems that are needed to make strides towards developing urgently-needed, next-generation anthelmintic drugs and vaccines. 

We are:

  • Using the latest knowledge to understand and combat debilitating diseases in humans and livestock
  • Developing new tools that will allow a step-change in vaccine and drug development for parasitic infections

For more information, contact Prof Karl Hoffman,