More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition due to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Poor people in developing countries are most affected because their diet is usually dominated by a starchy staple food that is a cheap source of calories but does not contain micronutrients. In a new outlook article, an international team of scientists, including the University of Göttingen, explains how plant genetic engineering can help sustainably address micronutrient malnutrition.The article was published in Nature Communications..
Malnutrition of micronutrients causes serious health problems. For example, vitamin A and zinc deficiency are major risk factors for child mortality. Iron and folic acid deficiency contributes to anemia and physical and cognitive development problems. Often, the affected people are unaware of their undernourishment. Therefore, the term “hidden hunger” is also used. The long-term goal is for everyone to be aware of healthy nutrition and earn enough income to provide a balanced diet all year round. However, in the short and medium term, more targeted intervention is needed.
One intervention is to breed staple crops for higher micronutrient content, also known as “biofortification”. For the past two decades, the International Center for Agricultural Research has developed bioenriched crops using traditional breeding methods, including sweet potato and vitamin A-containing corn, and zinc-rich wheat and rice. These crops have been successfully released in various developing countries with proven nutritional and health benefits. However, traditional breeding approaches have certain limitations.
In the outlook article, scientists report how genetic engineering can help further enhance the benefits of biofortified crops. “The transgenic approach is more nutritious because it allows crops to achieve much higher micronutrient levels than traditional methods alone, which we have demonstrated with folic acid in rice and potatoes,” said the lead author of the article. Professor Dominique Van der Stryten of Ghent University said. “We were also able to significantly reduce post-harvest vitamin loss,” she adds.
Another advantage of genetic engineering is the ability to combine large amounts of micronutrients in the same crop. “This is very important because poor people often suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies,” says Dr. Howarth Buis, co-author and 2016 World Food Prize winner at the International Food Policy Research Institute. ..
Genetic engineering also helps to combine micronutrient properties with productivity-enhancing agricultural properties such as drought resistance and pest resistance, which are increasingly associated with climate change. “Farmers do not have to make difficult choices between crops that improve nutrition or enable productive and stable harvests. Both aspects need to be combined, which also supports widespread adoption. “Masu,” says Professor Matankaim, co-author of the University of Göttingen.
The authors admit that genetic engineering is skeptical of many, even though the resulting crops have been shown to be safe for human consumption and the environment. I will. One of the reasons for public reservation is that genetic engineering is often associated with large multinational corporations. “Since these crops are developed for humanitarian purposes, bioenriched crops may alleviate some of the concerns,” the authors say. “Public funding is the key to widespread acceptance.”
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