Washington State U. lands $10M in effort to bolster nutrition and uptake of whole-grain foods

WSU associate professor Kevin Murphy. (WSU Photo)

Washington State University has landed $10 million to increase the nutrient quality of whole-grain crops and help bring them to market. The funding, announced Wednesday, is part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to promote a resilient food and agricultural system.

The project involves more than 20 WSU researchers and three investigators from Johns Hopkins University, and bolsters WSU’s existing “Soil to Society” program. Researchers in the program will grow and test six crops: barley, wheat, peas, lentil, quinoa and buckwheat.

“In addition to research to better understand the interaction between soil, plants and human health, we want to develop flavorful products from each of these crops,” said Kevin Murphy, program director and WSU associate professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, in a statement.

“One of the keys to success is releasing new varieties and having farmers grow them. Another key is getting more nutritious and affordable foods out into the mainstream and into households,” added Murphy.

Project researchers plan to assess nutrient value of the crops and its relationship with growing conditions in test fields near Mount Vernon and Pullman, Wash., with the aim of breeding more nutritious, easily grown crops.

Health scientists will assess the effects of improved crops on the human body, including on the gut microbiome, the collection of microbes in the intestine. Epidemiologists and economists will take a broader view, modeling how increased whole grain-based food consumption will affect society.

Other components of the project include developing and taste testing recipes and other outreach measures.

The long-term goal of the project is to “create more nutritious, affordable and accessible whole grain-based foods,” according to a statement in the WSU grant proposal.

The news of the funding comes the same week that WSU also landed $125 million to help prevent pandemics by surveying and analyzing animal viruses that have the potential to leap to humans.

Other partners in the new Soil to Society project include the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council, Washington Grain Commission, Ardent Mills, Rebellyous Foods, WSDA Regional Markets, Patagonia Provisions, and the King Arthur Baking Company.

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