Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Industry Co-funded Studentships

Achieving micronutrient security in a post pandemic and post EU-exit world – “Parsnips as a superfood”

Project No. 2147

Primary Supervisor

Prof Guy Poppy – Biological Sciences University of Southampton


Dr Jenny Baverstock – University of Southampton
Dr Eleftheria Stavridou – NIAB EMR
Prof Philip Calder – University of Southampton
Dr Frances Gawthrop – Tozer Seeds


The micronutrient content of diets is an important factor in addressing non communicable diseases (i.e. diabetes and cardiovascular diseases).

It is apparent from health outcomes in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that being overweight/obese is a major risk factor. Micronutrient status is often overlooked in western diets and micronutrients are essential in establishing immunity and health in combating infection. Coupled with the pandemic, the UK will be entering a phase of new trade deals, it will be important for the UK to sustain and grow a food system that will provide essential micronutrients.

Britain is the biggest parsnip market in the world, but its nutritional value has long been underestimated here in the UK. Parsnip breeding currently targets root shape and “whiteness” and the principle aim of the project is to identify parsnip cultivars which have these desired traits coupled with the potential to be micronutrient “super foods”.  Tozer have a 44% market share of a global 6.2M in terms of parsnip seeds, this is expected to grow with the recent introduction of the crop into China.

Among the factors that may alter the nutrient composition of a food are: i) genotypic variation, ii) local agronomic factors and weather conditions, iii) agronomic practices.

Working with Tozer the project aims are to:

  • investigate genetic variability which will be determined both on commercial cultivars and on Tozer’s genome sequenced parental lines. This will help breeders on selecting nutrient dense cultivars which also have appropriate “whiteness” or root length.
  • determine the effect of agronomic practices on nutrient content. Controlled environment experiments and a survey across commercial production sites.
  • understand the vulnerabilities in nutrient levels in UK food security in relation to the different levels of micronutrients identified.

Understand the bioavailability of parsnip micronutrients through in vitro and/or a pilot human study.