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Dr. Wenwei Xu, professor of Corn Breeding and Genetics, Texas A&M AgriLife Research Station at Halfway, discusses research underway at the Halfway, Texas, Experiment farm, with Dr. Patrick Stover, director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and vice chancellor of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station.

AgriLife Research institute to address chronic disease epidemic

Through precision nutrition, institute will connect agriculture, dietary health and food

With a goal of Texas serving as a world model on lowering diet-related healthcare costs due to chronic diseases, the Institute for Precision Nutrition, Responsive Agriculture and Health – led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research – received approval Thursday by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.

“It will become the guiding force in the U.S. for nutrition, food system and agricultural policy,” said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. “The new institute will forge together the linkages between food and nutrition, spanning a variety of research disciplines in finding solutions to make us healthier and reduce overall annual healthcare costs.”

Dr. Patrick Stover, AgriLife Research director, said the institute will specifically help tackle unrealized opportunities to reduce diet-related chronic diseases, which cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually and has resulted in 50 percent of U.S. adults receiving treatment for a chronic disease.

“AgriLife Research will be developing the evidence base for an agriculture and food system that lowers rates of malnutrition and diet-related chronic disease, while ensuring healthy environments, economies and sustainable agriculture,” Stover said.

Through responsive agriculture, the institute will be comprised of one center with five multidisciplinary research hubs and two core facilities. The network of hubs will carry out specific roles within the institute in the areas of precision technology, data collection and analysis, responsive agriculture, human behavior and biomedical analysis.

“The hubs will be led by faculty from the agency and other A&M System members,” Stover said. “And new faculty will be recruited to lead some of the hubs.”

Additionally, Stover said two core service facilities will support each hub and drive innovations around big data and analyses. The first of these is the Healthy Texas Food Labeling Core that will be part of the responsive hub tasked with developing analytic measures to assess food quality, which may potentially lead to a Healthy Texas label for food, he said.

The second core facility will be the big data analytics and scientific survey that will have information science expertise for developing surveys and web-based analytics to understand consumer preferences and values, Stover said. There will be computational and relevant statistical expertise to support all hubs, and the core facilities will be led by faculty from the agency and other A&M System members.

External partners include Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine; Technische Universität, Braunschweig, Germany; and The Microsoft Research – University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI), Italy.

“Collecting the evidence base that connects foods and nutrient intakes to health promotion and chronic disease prevention across the lifespan of individuals is a major gap to setting future nutrient-based and food-based requirements,” Stover said. “Guidance from nutrition experts and others regarding the desired composition and quality measures for future commodity production would be of value to producers in Texas, the nation and the world.”

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