Public Summary


Principal investigators: Dr Jody Miller, University of Otago
Industry Partner: Wakatū Incorporation (Wakatū)
High-Value Nutrition funding:

Advancing Kopakopa as functional foods for South Asian markets

The consortium seeks to provide evidence for digestive health benefits of Kopakopa, a Taonga species, as a whole food and in different food formulations. Kopakopa has higher lipid concentrations than Greenshell™ mussels (GSM). They both contain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) with the most important being eicosapentoenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and in the case of Kopakopa only, high levels of eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA). PUFAs are known to modulate inflammation and have other health benefits. Kopakopa (and GSM) contain more n-3 PUFA than fish oil. Kopakopa oil has twice the ETA compared to GSM oil. Kopakopa oil has stronger anti-inflammatory and tissue repair effects than GSM oil, and the tissue repair bioactivity remains after heat treatment for Kopakopa extract only.

Previous research with n-3 PUFA has mainly focused on inflammatory diseases with limited reports on gut function and its microbiota. Recent reports highlight that n-3 PUFA exert effects on the composition of the gut microbiota and the host (immune) – microbiome interaction and could be linked to ameliorated gut symptoms. These recent findings provide a unique opportunity for Kopakopa that would differentiate it from GSM in consumer markets.

This programme will build a portfolio of scientific evidence for Kopakopa to underpin food solutions for the digestive health space by:

  • Completing a systematic review of the literature on n-3 PUFA and digestive health and use this to reaffirm or add to measures and biomarkers to be used in a future clinical study (Otago).
  • Providing detailed chemical profiles of whole, extracts and processed food formats of Kopakopa (Riddet Institute and fee for servies to Plant and Food Research, Ferrier, AgResearch).
  • Evaluating the effects of Kopakopa (whole, food formats, extracts) in an in vitro model of human digestion and fermentation (Riddet Institute) and Kopakopa (whole) postprandially and as part of habitual diet in healthy adult participants (Otago, Riddet Institute) to obtain insights on digestive function and nutritional value.
  • Developing, designing and optimising processed food formats containing Kopakopa and bioactive Kopakopa ingredients in food products that will meet consumer expectations and regulatory requirements (Wakatū-AuOra).

This programme will be conducted with contractual support from Wakatū Incorporation. Wakatū Corporation will contribute in-kind Kopakopa extracts and/or products and the AuOra R&D team will actively participate in the research planning and implementation.

The programme aligns with the HVN aim of developing high-value foods with validated digestive health benefits to drive economic growth of a Māori-owned food and beverage business. The research outcomes will provide scientific evidence for an endemic (Taonga) New Zealand species of well-characterised chemical composition, beneficial effects on the gut and its microbiota and evidence of nutritional benefits to design future clinical interventions to further evaluate the digestive health benefits of Kopakopa (whole and different formats). The Wakatū-AuOra strategy is to enter the market with this species, with premium pricing from the “get go”, through a focus on market entry as a whole food and in other food formats (ingredients, oils) with proven digestive health benefits and claims.

Research Team

Dr Jody Miller


Professor Nicole Roy

Dr Nicole Roy is a Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago. She is based in Palmerston North and leads the Digestive Health Priority Research Programme for the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

Nicole completed her PhD in Canada and the United States and post-doctoral studies in Scotland. Here she focused on how nutrition and food components can modify inter-organ nutrient partitioning and communication using tracer kinetics, animal models and in vitro models.

Nicole is also an Adjunct Professor at the Riddet Institute.