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Students to present potential solution to food waste at competition

A team of three Iowa State University students recently was selected as semifinalists in the 2018 Food Solutions Challenge.

Samuel Kiprotich, graduate student in food science and human nutrition, along with friends and fellow graduate students Emmanuel Nsamba, genetics development and cell biology, and Mike Sserunjogi, agricultural and biosystems engineering, will travel to the 2018 Net Impact Accelerator April 5-7, in Oakland, Calif., to present their solution to reduce waste of the root vegetable, cassava.

The competition asks teams to come up with solutions to climate change and food security.

Kiprotich said the challenge with cassava is it has a very short shelf life. The nutty-flavored, starchy root vegetable is the second most important source of calories in sub-Saharan Africa, but 40 percent of the crop is not consumed because of its rapid moisture loss post-harvest. Currently, the only method available to increase the shelf life of cassava is through waxing and storing the root vegetable in high relative humidity conditions, which is not sustainable given the available resources and infrastructure, Kiprotich said. Finding a way to increase its lifespan following harvest is essential in reducing waste.

The idea Kiprotich and his teammates came up with involves developing a genetically modified cassava variety to help the root vegetable last longer after harvest. The students’ plan involves using a gene from a waxy desert plant and combining that gene with the cassava plant to yield root tubers with pericarps of higher wax content. The wax will help reduce moisture loss and lessen enzymatic degradation once the root vegetable is harvested, Kiprotich said.

While at the accelerator next week, the semifinalists will take part in pre-event coaching, on-site training and exercises. They’ll also receive post-event advising, according to the 2018 Food Solutions Challenge website.

Iowa State is one of five schools worldwide that will be represented at the competition, Kiprotich said.

“We know the competition is going to be stiff, but we are ready and believe that our idea, if implemented, could make all the difference,” Kiprotich said.