Cracking the scientific food code at ANSTO with study into plant nutrients and links to diet

6 November 2018

The Leader 5 November 2018

Nuclear science is helping researchers at Lucas Heights understand how nutrients are accumulated in the food we consume.

The aim of the research being performed at Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is to improve the health of plant crops, which in turn, improves the quality of the human diet.

A technique that has the potential to do this, was part of a study that was published, co-authored by principal sciencist of x-ray fluorescence microscopy at ANSTO, David Paterson.

The study examined living plants, and at different stages, re-measured leaves to see how nutrients moved.

Different zinc fertilizers were applied to plant leaves. Plants were then scanned repeatedly see how they absorbed zinc. 

“As we were working with a living plant, we needed to be able to do the measurements very quickly, otherwise the plant would be damaged, and the Synchrotron beamline enables that,” Dr Paterson said.

“It is estimated that 31 per cent of the global human population suffers from a dietary deficiency of zinc.

“The aim is to ensure that the zinc accumulates in our foods in forms that are available for humans to absorb. We have been examining how to efficiently increase the zinc concentration in crops.

“We were able to clearly see the uptake of zinc into the plant, and see exactly where they accumulate.

“From this we can develop novel zinc fertilizers that are more effective and efficient – the implications are far reaching, particularly in the agriculture space.”