Scientists are seeking to solve an age-old sleep-ruiner for new parents with next generation baby food that could help stop hungry infants waking during the night.

The new investigation, to be led by renowned Otago University microbiologist Professor Gerald Tannock, is one of seven million-dollar research projects to be launched under the Government's latest "National Science Challenges".

Professor Tannock's team will look to develop a new weaning food for evening meals, containing novel dietary fibres that better sustain energy release through the night.

With optimal mixtures of dietary fibres, enough sustained energy would be harvested by bowel bacteria to satisfy the infant body's needs until morning.


"Bowel bacteria degrade and ferment dietary fibres that are otherwise indigestible," Professor Tannock explained.

"The products of this fermentation are organic acids that are absorbed from the bowel and provide energy to the body."

As opposed to energy gained from easily digested food, this process took time and provided a slower, more sustained energy release into the body,

His team will draw on a wide range of scientific expertise, ranging from microbiology, nutrition, carbohydrate chemistry, food science to sleep and energetics.

Another research project, led by the Nelson-based Cawthron Institute and Sanford Limited, will seek to identify and validate the health benefits of New Zealand Greenshell mussels, investigating at its potential anti-inflammatory qualities, improved joint and bone health and increased mobility.

"Our aim is to add even more value to this gourmet delicacy by fully understanding and proving its known health benefits," Cawthron scientist Dr Matt Miller said.

Today, Greenshell mussels attracted $280 million in export earnings each year, largely for their highly desirable taste and plate appeal.

Sanford's innovation general manager Andrew Stanley said the new research would help move Greenshell mussels from a relatively low-price commodity protein market to a market position where products were valued for their unique nutrition and functional properties.


Other research projects under the just-launched "High Value Nutrition" National Science Challenge include:

• Unlocking the natural traits of milk for benefits like reducing risk of allergies

• Potentially blending food proteins into foods aimed at older people to help maintain muscle maintenance and to help mobility

• Researching whether milk from A2 cows prevents intestinal inflammation, and is therefore suitable for people who don't consume milk due to intolerance symptoms

• And investigating whether kiwifruit can assist in maintaining blood glucose levels.

Professor David Cameron-Smith, who is directing the wider challenge, said the projects aim to put New Zealand at the forefront of international food-for-health research.

"This investment enables research teams working across New Zealand to focus their unique expertise to build the scientific knowledge and substantiation that is required to bridge the gaps between complex health needs and the development of new innovative foods that will make a difference," he said.

"If through this High-Value Nutrition research New Zealand can enable businesses to create a milk powder that helps prevent allergies, foods that can help a baby sleep through the night, and that can help elderly with their mobility -- it will help establish us as a world leader in the science behind the globally trending food-for-health.

"The level of innovation and science sophistication in the development of these projects are world class."

Further, the research would create "significant" export opportunities for New Zealand food and beverage businesses, he said.

"No more so than in Asia -- where a rising tide of health problems and rising wealth has created a huge consumer demand for foods-for-health."

The Government is investing around $84 million in the challenge, which is hoped to help grow exports by $1 billion by 2025.

Its 11 National Science Challenges, each at different stages of development and progress, combine the brightest minds from the country's universities, research institutes and other agencies.

They focus on a range of big issues facing New Zealand, ranging from Antarctic research, marine science and ecology to nutrition, healthy ageing and technological innovation.