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IIT Roorkee researchers identify nutrition-improving yak cheese enzyme
Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, Uttarakhand, claimed to have identified a new enzyme from yak cheese that has the potential to improve the nutritional value of cereals by improving the bio-availability of vital minerals.
 
“This will be of great benefit to India where the deficiency of micronutrients, such as phosphorous, iron, calcium and zinc, is a major health issue, particularly for vegetarians,” said the premier institute in a statement.

Besides Naveen Kumar Navani, associate professor, department of biotechnology, IIT Roorkee, and leader of the research, the team included Rekha Sharma, Piyush Kumar and Vandana Kaushal of IIT Roorkee, and Rahul Das of Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Kolkata.

Speaking about the importance of this project to the country, he said, “As per reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), micronutrient deficiency (also regarded as hidden hunger) afflicts one in three people globally.”

“This results in severe debilitation at the mental and physical levels, specifically for children. Enzymes like Phytase have the ability to reduce such burden of hidden hunger by making non-available micronutrients available for the body,” he added.
 
Navani explained that in plants, phosphorous was stored mainly as organic phosphorous called phytate, which is an anti-nutritional factor (ANF).

“Nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are rich in phosphorous, while vegetables and fruits have lesser quantity. Despite this, people with vegetarian diets not only exhibit deficiency of phosphorous, but other minerals as well. This is because humans lack an enzyme called phytase needed to convert phytate into free phosphorous for absorption by the body,” the research said.
 
Navani said that newly identified enzyme promises to address this problem. It has been found to effectively dephytinise the phytate and generate free phosphorous. Researchers have also shown that it also helps to increase the bioavailability of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
 
Elaborating on his research, he added that the phytase enzyme was identified, cloned and characterised from a probiotic bacterium called Lactobacillus fermentum NKN51. The bacterium was isolated from ethnic cheese (called churpee) made from the milk of the Himalayan yak from Khardong village in Nubra valley, Leh. The enzyme has been named phyLf.
 
Navani and his team were now collaborating with Ajit Yadav of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) - Central Avian Research Institute, Izzatnagar, to apply this purified phytase enzyme along with other plant-derived antimicrobials to see their efficacy on reducing the load of pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and improving the growth performance of poultry. In the long term, this enzyme could be used in enhancing the micronutrient availability to infants, pregnant women and the elderly.
 
“Nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are rich in phosphorous, while vegetables and fruits have it in a lesser quantity. Dephytinisation of durum wheat and finger millet flour with the purified enzyme, followed by in-vitro model of gastric digestion, shows increased levels of bio-accessibility and dialysability of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium contents,” said Navani.
 
“Conventionally, phytase enzymes are derived from fungi and are considered fit for use to improve nutritive values of poultry and other livestock feeds. And my team was looking for a source that could be used to improve food items consumed by humans - a food-grade bacterium. We tried samples of milk and other dairy products of cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats from different parts of the country,” he said.
 
Started in 2016, the research was funded by the National Agricultural Science Fund of ICAR and Uttarakhand Council of Science and Technology. The researchers have published results of their work in a recent issue of journal Bioresource Technology.
 
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