Naturally selected Orange Corn has abundance of antioxidant carotenoids

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A project that began as part of an ongoing humanitarian effort to improve nutrition in low-income countries has received more than $1 million to adapt a more nutritious, naturally selected variety of corn to the United States.

Purdue University-affiliated startup NutraMaize LLC was recently awarded a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Research grant of nearly $750,000 from the National Science Foundation to continue work on Orange Corn. This funding follows a previous NSF Phase I award of $225,000, as well as a USDA Phase I award and matching funds from the state of Indiana totaling approximately $200,000.

The startup was co-founded by Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair in Translational Genomics for Crop Improvement in the Purdue College of Agriculture’s Department of Agronomy, and his son, Evan, to commercialize Orange Corn in the U.S.

An agbioscience startup that originated at Purdue University was one of the big winners at AgriNovus Indiana’s 2019 Ag+Bio+Science Start-up Showcase in Indianapolis. NutraMaize, which specializes in non-GMO orange corn won the People’s Choice award and $2,000. The company’s main product, Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn, was developed by Purdue agronomy professor Torbert Rocheford and its original purpose was to help alleviate malnutrition in Africa.

“These funds are helping us develop improved varieties of Orange Corn that will be able to deliver better nutrition on a population-wide scale,” said Evan Rocheford, NutraMaize CEO.

Torbert Rocheford began working on naturally increasing the amount of health benefiting carotenoids in corn over 20 years ago to help address vitamin A deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was not until much later that he realized his unique variety could benefit Americans as well.

“Most Americans are at an increased risk of losing their vision as they age because they don’t get enough carotenoids,” said Torbert Rocheford. “There is a very real nutritional need here in the U.S. that Orange Corn can help address.”

Currently, NutraMaize is bringing Orange Corn to consumers through its retail brand “Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn” that sells premium-milled products like grits. Long-term, NutraMaize plans to work with food processors to produce widely consumed staples like breakfast cereals and snack foods. Further, NutraMaize is working with the livestock industry to improve the nutritional quality of animal feed and resulting animal products like eggs, which is the focus of their USDA-funded work.

“Corn is the largest staple crop in the U.S. and an essential building block of our food system. That means if we make corn better, we fundamentally improve the American diet,” Evan Rocheford said.

The Orange Corn variety is licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. NutraMaize also received guidance from the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at otcip@prf.org. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org.

ORIGINAL SOURCE