High iron and zinc rice gives hope to micronutrient deficient billions

Thursday, 08 September, 2011

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG)  team, based at the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne, South Australia, and Flinders University is funded by the Australian Research Council and HarvestPlus to genetically modify rice to increase the amount of iron that is transported to the endosperm of the grain (the part that people eat).The result is rice that has up to four times more iron and twice the zinc levels than conventional rice.

"Rice is the primary source of food for roughly half of the world’s population, particularly in developing countries, yet the polished grain, also known as white rice, contains insufficient concentrations of iron, zinc and pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements," said Dr Alex Johnson from ACPFG.

"A lack of genetic variation in rice has hindered efforts by conventional breeding programs to address iron levels. These programs have not been able to achieve the level of iron and zinc in the rice grain that we are able to achieve with a biotech approach in our glasshouse experiments,"’ said Dr Johnson. 

This research represents the first time rice lines have been reported with iron levels at or higher than the daily recommended levels.

According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world and affects more than two billion people (30% of the world’s population). Symptoms include poor mental development, depressed immune function and anaemia.

"The development of new cereal varieties containing increased concentrations of iron and other essential micronutrients, an approach known as biofortification, offers an inexpensive and sustainable solution to the chronic micronutrient malnutrition problems that currently plague people in developing countries," said Dr Johnson.

View the results of this research at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024476 

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