Science - April 27, 2006

Inref gets another six years

Six years of interdisciplinary research by Wageningen University was brought to a close on Tuesday 25 April with the presentation of a special edition of the NJAS, Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences.

The Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) started six years ago as the successor to the Wageningen University support offices in Costa Rica and Burkina Faso. The programme has now also been extended for another six years. The results of the first period of the INREF programme are presented in a special edition of the NJAS, and the emphasis is on interdisciplinary work.

Rector Martin Kropff said during the presentation that the UN Millennium Goals would form a core part of the new Wageningen UR strategic plan which is being compiled at present. According to Kropff, interdisciplinary research is necessary if the UN goal of reducing poverty is to be achieved.

The work done by Dr Maja Slingerland, coordinator of the INREF programme, is a good example of how communication between disciplines can lead to solutions. A problem in many developing countries is the lack of uptake of iron from food. One of the causes is a high phytate content in food crops, such as sorghum, which prevents iron and zinc from being absorbed by the human gut. Agronomists came up with the idea of increasing phosphor fertilisation of crops. However, that would not only increase yields but also the content of phytates in the crops. By collaborating with nutritionists, however, it became clear that is possible to reduce the level of phytates by changing the way sorghum grain is processed. In this way an joint, interdisciplinary solution was found: increased yields through phosphor fertilisation, followed by a reduction in phytates by processing the grain. / JT

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