BiodiversitätPeter Nick

Biodiversity is not only a buzz word, but of relevance. Also for our project. Why? Because Amaranth has been domesticated at least twice - once in Peru and once in Mexiko. The origin were related, but different wild specis of Amaranth. This is important, because these wild ancestors proably differed in their content of Omega-3-Fatty Acids. The Mexican species A. hypochondriacus and A. cruentus are adapted to warmer temperatures and seem to accumulate only small amounts of the desired DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), while their Peruvian cousins A. quitensis and A. caudatus are adapted to the harsh night temperatures of the Andes.  Background is that Omega-3-Fatty Acids were, of course, not invented by plants to enable a vegan diet for us humans, but play the function to protect cell membranes fluid under cold stress. We reckon, therefore, that the accumulation of DHA represents an adaptation to cold and therefore was relevant only for the evolution of the Peruvian wild species and their domesticated descendants. To get the story even more complex, there exists a further species, A. hybridus, occurring all over Central America from Southern Mexico till Ecuador that possibly acted as "Gene Bridge" between the two centres of Amaranth domestication.

What is the impact of this intricate story on the use of Amaranth for a vegan diet? It is highly important, which Amaranth species one is dealing with. Unfortunately, the current commercial use ignores this fact completely. It should not. Which species of Amaranth is in the container ship reaching Hamburg harbour and entering our processing chain, matters for the content of DHA, but also for other properties of relevance for nutrition. Quality and, thus, consumer safety require methods to ensure that the "proper" Amaranth is cultivated and processed.

This is exactly the task of the first work package, which is dealt with mainly by the the Botanical Institute of the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in cooperation with the University of Hohenheim and the Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco (UNSAAC).