Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison of the University's Department of Biology has recently returned from a meeting of the European Commission's Crocusbank Project held in Albacet, Spain.
The Crocusbank project centres round saffron as a spice and is supported by the EU Agricultural Directorate. Its aim is to improve saffron production, a crop which is grown in many of the poorer parts of Europe and is both sustainable and of very high value. The condiment is valued for its unique aroma, flavour and colour in celebrated dishes from round the world.
Professor Heslop-Harrison explained: "Saffron is all hand-harvested, hand processed and dried in different ways, which is why saffron from the major growing areas of Spain, Italy, Greece, Iran or Kashmir all have different qualities and characteristics.
"What we've been looking at is the genetic diversity within the different types of saffron that are grown and we have found that many of the clones grown worldwide are genetically identical. It's only the processing that makes the product different.
"However, it looks as though there are a few varieties that have different genetic makeup from the others and we're now focusing on finding out what they are, their special characteristics, and why they've dropped out of production in many of the world's saffron producing areas."
An area of research where Leicester's world-renowned expertise in genetics is leading the way is in the attempt to re-make saffron from its 'ancestors', the two original wild strains which were used to produce the sterile hybrids that are around today.
"We know one of the ancestors but the other hasn't yet been traced. With modern molecular biological methods, especially those developed at Leicester following the genetic fingerprinting discovery of Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, we are now able to suggest which wild species were involved in making this hybrid," said Professor Heslop-Harrison.<
|Contact: Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison|
University of Leicester