Yvie Morgan – Janneke Balk laboratory, John Innes Centre

Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency worldwide. As trends in plant-based diets continue to increase, the dietary reliance upon plants as a source of iron will be of greater importance for sufficient iron intake.

My interest in IDA dietary alleviation is what drew me to my current PhD project. During my 1st rotation in the UEA Norwich Medical School, I used nutritional epidemiology to analyse the UK national diet and nutrition survey, exploring potential associations between micronutrient status and COVID-19 risk. Whilst conducting my 2nd rotation at the Quadram Institute Bioscience, I learnt how to effectively simulate in vitro digestion of plant-based foods and measure micronutrient release by elemental analyses. My 3rd rotation in the Balk lab at the John Innes Centre led to my main PhD project within this lab and this utilises knowledge from the previous rotations. Owing to limited natural variation in iron content of the wheat grain, a genetic modification (GM) approach has been developed in the Balk lab to biofortify the grain with iron. Ectopic expression of a single gene encoding a wheat iron transporter resulted in redistribution of iron to the starchy endosperm, resulting in 2-3-fold increases in iron in the white flour. I will utilize 2 years of field-grown high-iron wheat, to explore iron bioavailability (release and absorption) in baked products. I will compare biofortified bread rolls with the chemically fortified bread with respect to iron bioavailability, using an in vitro Caco-2 cell culture model. This material may be used in future human clinical trials to understand the potential of the high-iron bread to alleviate IDA.