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Plant genetic engineering to fight hidden hunger

Date: 19.10.2020 

More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition due to deficiencies in minerals and vitamins. Poor people in developing countries are most affected, because their diets are typically dominated by starchy staple foods, which are inexpensive sources of calories but contain low amounts of micronutrients.

Kredit: CC0 Public Domain.Often, the people affected are not aware of their nutritional deficiencies, which is why the term 'hidden hunger' is also used. One intervention is to breed staple food crops for higher micronutrient contents, also known as 'biofortification."

Over the past 20 years, international agricultural research centers have developed biofortified crops using conventional breeding methods, including sweet potato and maize with vitamin A and wheat and rice with higher zinc contents. These crops were successfully released in several developing countries with proven nutrition and health benefits. However, conventional breeding approaches for biofortification have limitations or are not possible in several other staple crops.

In the Nature Communications perspective, the scientists report how genetic engineering can help to further enhance the benefits of biofortified crops. "Transgenic approaches allow us to achieve much higher micronutrient levels in crops than conventional methods alone, thus increasing the nutritional efficacy. We demonstrated this for folates in rice and potato," says Dominique Van Der Straeten from Ghent University in Belgium, the paper's lead author. "We also managed to reduce post-harvest vitamin losses significantly," she adds.





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