Article image

Chia seeds have great potential to improve human health

Scientists at Oregon State University have made a significant advancement in the field of agricultural genomics by sequencing the genome of chia seeds. This research, detailed in their latest publication, offers a comprehensive blueprint that could revolutionize future studies focusing on the nutritional and health benefits of the chia plant.

Sequencing the chia genome

The research team, led by Pankaj Jaiswal, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University, has delved into the chia genome, uncovering genes linked to nutrition and pharmaceutical properties. These discoveries hold the potential for developing treatments for a range of ailments, including cancer and high blood pressure.

Chia seeds have garnered increasing attention for their nutritional value. High in fiber, healthy fats, and proteins, they are a popular ingredient in various health foods like smoothies, yogurt, and granola bars. This study marks a deeper exploration into the molecular aspects of chia, emphasizing its health benefits.

Local cultivation and global impact

While other researchers have sequenced the chia genome, the team at Oregon State University provides a more detailed molecular analysis. Sushma Naithani, an associate professor and senior researcher in the Department, emphasized the importance of diversifying the human diet through breeding and genetic improvement of nutrient-rich, minor crops like chia.

The findings could also inspire the cultivation of chia in Oregon, with its climate conditions resembling those of South America, where chia is primarily grown. This approach follows the successful example set by researchers in Kentucky, who have encouraged local chia seed farming.

Health benefits of chia seeds

Traditionally considered an orphan or minor crop, chia has not received as much scientific attention as staples like rice, wheat, and maize. However, its role in mitigating global hunger and contributing to food security is increasingly recognized, especially as it thrives on marginal lands.

Nutritional Properties

  • Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: These are known to improve cardiovascular health and have anti-cancer properties.
  • High Fiber Content: Beneficial for stabilizing blood glucose levels in type-2 diabetes and aiding gastrointestinal health.
  • Protein Content: Holds potential in treating cancer, high blood pressure, and boasts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties.

Chia seeds, when soaked in water, form a gel used in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals as a texture modifier, emulsifier, and gelling agent.

Enhancing chia seed variety

Parul Gupta, a research associate in the Jaiswal laboratory and the first author of the study, reported the identification of specific genes in chia. These include:

  • 29 genes involved in the biosynthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • 93 genes contributing to the gel-forming property of chia seeds.
  • 2,707 genes highly expressed in the seed, linked to the production of bioactive peptides with potential health benefits.

In summary, this study marks the first plant genome analysis with direct implications for human health. It opens new avenues for scientific exploration in improving human health through diet and holds promise for agricultural advancements in breeding chia with amplified health benefits.

The researcher team released the chia genome data via its genome portal

The full study was published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day