Vitacress, a fresh produce company, specialising in salads, watercress and herbs, is to fund new PhD research, focusing on the sustainable production of high quality watercress.
The research will be carried out at Vitacress, the University of Southampton and the University of California, Davis (UCD), by student Lauren Hibbert, who will work closely with Vitacress and Professor Gail Taylor. Professor Taylor is Chair of Plant Sciences at UCD, which currently ranks No.1 in the world for Plant and Animal Science.
Watercress is consumed globally and is particularly relevant to developing nations, where more than 50% of under five-year olds are iron deficient, since it is the most nutrient-dense crop when compared to a panel of 43 other similar leafy crops. Lauren will spend two weeks at Vitacress this month learning about watercress production, before starting her research at UCD.
Professor Taylor said: “This research project on watercress is ground-breaking. We are sequencing the genome of this leafy salad and studying its wild natural genetic variation extensively to provide an unprecedented understanding of what makes this food such a wonderful source of nutrients, with significant anti-cancer properties. At the same time, we want to ensure that the crop is sustainable and does no harm to the environment. This new PhD will be focused on developing new unique varieties of watercress that are more efficient at using resources – particularly water and nutrients – and which tastes amazing.”
Lauren will be based both in the UK and at the University of California Plant Sciences department, where she will investigate what makes a better watercress crop. Speaking about the project Lauren said, “I’m thrilled to be doing my PhD with Vitacress, the Taylor lab and University of Southampton. This project will not only let me explore my passion for agricultural sustainability, but also equip me with the skills necessary for a future career in agriculture. Working with Vitacress gives me the opportunity to see the real-world applications of this research which I’m really looking forward to.”
Mike Sheldon, Managing Director of Vitacress Salads, said: “At Vitacress we don’t believe in standing still, and it is crucial we undertake steps to grow produce in a sustainable manner to meet consumer demands. We’re pleased to be working with leading plant science academics and funding Lauren’s research, which we are sure will be a great success and start to pave the way for the future of watercress production.”