ETH researchers have developed a new rice variety that not only has increased levels of the micronutrients iron and zinc in the grains, but also produces beta-carotene as a precursor of vitamin A. This could help to reduce micronutrient malnutrition, or “hidden hunger,” which is widespread in developing countries.
Scientifically, the success was the engineering of a gene cassette containing four genes for the micronutrient improvement that could be inserted into the rice genome as a single genetic locus. This has the advantage that iron, zinc and beta-carotene levels can be simultaneously increased by genetic crosses in rice varieties of various countries. Otherwise it would be necessary to cross rice lines with the individual micronutrients to reach the improved micronutrient content in rice grains.
[Navreet Bhullar, senior scientist in the Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology at ETH Zurich] hopes that the new rice lines will be tested in the field next year. But she does not know yet when they are ready for production in farmer’s fields.”It will probably be five years before the multi-nutrient rice can be used to reduce hidden hunger”, she says.
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