By Ashwani Kumar
| July 23rd 2011 12:56 PM | Print
More than half of the world’s population, especially women and preschool children are victim of micronutrient malnutrition, primarily resulting from the consumption of diets with lower bio-available vitamins and mineral. The costs of these deficiencies in terms of lives lost and poor quality of life are shocking. To achieve the Millennium Development Goal of slashing-half the proportion of undernourished people by 2015, new technologies and approaches are needed to help address the problems. Plant breeders may tackle these problems by producing staple foods with improved bio-available minerals and vitamins, a process referred as “biofortification”. Biofortification provides a feasible means of reaching undernourished populations in relatively remote rural areas, delivering naturally fortified foods to people with limited access to commercially available fortified foods. The international HarvestPlus biofortification program mainly focuses on iron, zinc and vitamin-A; the three micronutrients that are widely recognized as limiting by the World Health Organization. Deploying the tools of molecular biology and biotechnology we can breed crops that are more nutrient-dense and have improved bioavailability of nutrients. The success stories of Golden Rice and iron-rich rice deserve special mention. Today, breeders have unprecedented access to a large knowledge-base with respect to genes and genomes of crop plants. This will allow a better understanding of the basic mechanisms involved in the synthesis and accumulation of vitamins and minerals in plant tissues. Because of the metabolic unity of organisms through evolution, the knowledge obtained from one organism can be readily applied to other organisms. Quantitative trait loci responsible for kernel mineral content in Arabidopsis and rice have been mapped. Moreover, variety of techniques are available for generation of mutants, mapping of traits, positional cloning, gene manipulations and genetic transformation, which have speeded up the plant breeding programmes. All of these may help us in developing staple food crops rich in micronutrients and vitamins, which in turn will be effective in fight against the hidden hunger and providing sustainable nutritional security.