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Australian researchers develop rice with threefold iron

(26 May 2010) Approximately 30 per cent of the global population is estimated to suffer from the effects of iron deficiency. This deficiency may cause poor mental development in children as well as anaemia and lowered immune function, and may be traced in part to the lack of vital micronutrients in rice, a staple food in Asia. Australian researchers now report biofortified rice containing three times as much iron as conventional varieties.

The traditional aims of plant breeding for cultivated crops include disease resistance, yield enhancement and drought tolerance. Biofortification also may become a key breeding goal, since it may provide economical, reliable and sustainable solutions to micronutrient deficiency, which affects more than two billion individuals world-wide. Researchers at the School of Botany at the University of Melbourne, Australia, have achieved increases of as much as threefold in the iron content of white rice and expect to apply this technology to other cereal species such as wheat.

Studies have indicated the technical and economic feasibility of biofortification. The enhancement of micronutrient content without compromising agronomic traits already has been demonstrated for plants such as the sweet potato and cost-benefit analyses infer great future significance for the technology in the global control of micronutrient deficiency.

Prior to field trials on the new rice, studies at the University of Melbourne currently are using a variety of molecular tools to investigate the genetic mechanisms behind biofortification and may yield information that is applicable to a variety of cultivated crops. Through the development of good seed systems and products, such crops may be expected to form a part of future markets.


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