Using crop genetics to understand the importance of dietary resistant starches for maintaining healthy glucose homeostasis

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office


Type 2 diabetes is a major and increasing problem worldwide. Over 2.5 million individuals in the UK are affected currently, costing the NHS around £10 billion per year (almost 10% of its budget). The risk of diabetes is thought to increase with age because of poor control of blood glucose levels. There is much evidence that diets rich in a type of carbohydrate called resistant starch have a positive impact on controlling blood glucose levels, and hence reduce susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. Resistant starch is not completely digested in the upper parts of the digestive tract, and is fermented by bacteria in the colon. Fruits and vegetables contain various amounts of resistant starch, but UK diets are generally low in resistant starch. Thus there is great potential to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes by promoting the widespread consumption of resistant starch. Little is known about why particular types of starch are resistant to digestion and whether or not resistant starches can differ in their capacity to improve beta-cell function.
Our study will focus on pea, where naturally occurring variants or mutants contain different types of resistant starch. These seeds, and starch extracted from them, will be digested in an artificial gut, allowing us to assess which features of the starch are important for maximum fermentation in the colon. In parallel, selected types of pea and their flours will be used to make food products, which will be fed to human volunteers to determine the digestibility of the starch. The full spectrum of short and medium term physiological responses relevant to beta-cell function and control of blood glucose levels will be monitored. This project will provide new insights into resistant starch and will inform breeders about plant genes that are associated with providing the best protection against type 2 diabetes.


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