Phytochemical Analysis of high value botanicals: Exploring Blockchain Technology to Investigate Quality, Sustainability and Safety Along Various Value

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: School of Pharmacy


This project builds upon previous work done on turmeric value-chain that highlight risks associated with poor-quality products, and on a broader scale the resulting implications this has on the ethnobotanical industry. The aim is to contribute towards guaranteeing the sustainable supply, production, manufacturing and distribution of good quality, safe and effective foods and herbal medicines.

Ethnobotanical products are increasing in popularity and so too is the demand for better quality, sustainable and effective products. Similarly, blockchain systems whilst still nascent technology are becoming more wide-spread and their application into the value-chains of the food, medicine and natural products industry represents an underexplored and promising area of research and innovation1. Moreover, there is a need for greater regulation, quality control and ecological practices in the ethnobotanical sector2. For example, adulterated or contaminated Turmeric samples that are a potential risk to public health and which can negatively affect consumers' lives have been reported in the literature recently3. Also, the blockchain technology when used alongside portable phytochemistry techniques (NIR & Raman Spectroscopy) offer a unique opportunity to gather insight into the points along the value-chain where quality and sustainability issues arise. It may be that blockchain technology when integrated with analytical techniques that assess quality markers of plants such as Turmeric (e.g. curcuminoids) will result in research that empowers consumers and safeguards the public from potential harms arising from poor-quality herbal products. As well as this it allows for the earlier detection of issues and a dissemination of relevant harm-reduction information along the value-chain. Further, the application of blockchain technology in the context of natural product value-chains is currently limited, this project therefore aims to act as a pilot study establishing proof-of-concepts and the protocols required to conjoin phytochemistry with these emergent technologies (the blockchain) to promote more sustainable industry practices.

There are two main phytochemical methods to pilot in this project for the analysis of biochemical markers of quality in the field and also the laboratory. In the case of Turmeric, the plant can be tested in the field using portable tools such as Near Infrared Spectroscopy and Raman Spectroscop devices, of which the results can then be further validated and verified with established pharmacopeial methods and tools such as HPLC in the laboratory.

The main method for incorporating the phytochemistry data back into the blockchain system is dependent upon internet based wireless tools, such as an IoT device being connected with the analytical equipment e.g. the handheld NIR device (the IoT devices and blockchain technologies are already established by various groups). The combination of these different tools will therefore allow the chemistry data from the plants to be uploaded back into the blockchain via the internet in an efficient way at various steps along the value-chain.
The project partner will facilitate access to their field sites especially in India and to the production of the materia prima. They will facilitate both the local contacts and access to samples. As part of the PhD Pukka will provide the student an opportunity to work at Pukka for three months to fully understand the quality and supply chain processes as part of our sustainable business model. The student will gain experience of working within a certified B Corporation and global ethical business by being a fully integrated member of the Quality Team. Their offices at Keynsham near Bristol house the majority of the Pukka staff including finance, commercial and herbal research, quality and development, and the student will have inductions with teams across the business.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513143/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2318984 Studentship EP/R513143/1 02/12/2019 01/12/2023 ZACHARY BELLMAN