Micronutrient deficiency, sometimes called the “hidden hunger,” causes severe health problems in hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and is particularly damaging to children, in whom it can impair both physical and cognitive development.
Biofortification is one of the most promising tools available for alleviating this problem, but is a multifaceted challenge involving not only creating nutrient-rich crop varieties, but also ensuring bioavailability of these nutrients, protecting against increased uptake of toxins such as cadmium, and adoption by affected populations.
In an open-access paper published this week in Nature Biotechnology, a team led by researchers at the Donald Danforth Center for Plant Science in St. Louis reports successful development of an iron- and zinc- fortified variety of cassava, representing a substantial leap forward in this effort. The interdisciplinary effort reports that the new variety accumulates 7-18 times greater iron and 3-10 times greater zinc than controls, and includes detailed evaluation of the accessibility of these nutrients after being prepared for food. Adoption of this cassava variety could provide up to half of the iron and two-thirds of the zinc required for women and children among particular West African populations who rely on cassava for a substantial fraction of overall diet.
Image: X-ray Fluorescence images, obtained at CHESS, comparing localization of Fe, Zn, and Ca in the stems and storage roots of several genetically distinct varieties of Cassava; (from Narayanan et al, doi: 10.1038/s41587-018-0002-1). Scale bars: 1 mm.