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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.
Nearly every second person eats primarily rice to meet the daily calorie needs. A meal of rice stops the hunger, but contains only very few or none of the essential micronutrients. As a consequence, large segments of the human population are malnourished, especially in Asia and Africa. They do not obtain enough iron, zinc and also vitamin A to stay healthy. Insufficient iron intake results in anemia, retards brain development and increases mortality among women and infants. If children are deficient for vitamin A, they can turn blind and their immune system is weakened, often causing infectious diseases such as measles, diarrhea or malaria.
Malnutrition - ETH - Researchers - Ingo - Potrykus
To combat malnutrition, ETH researchers led by Ingo Potrykus developed a new rice variety already many years ago that in 2000 became known as "Golden Rice." This was one of the first genetically modified rice varieties in which the researchers could produce beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, in the endosperm of the rice grain. Golden Rice was later improved and is now used in breeding programs in several countries, primarily in Southeast-Asia. To address other micronutrient deficiencies, researchers in the Laboratory of Plant Biotechnology of Professor Gruissem at ETH Zurich and in other countries also developed rice varieties with increased iron levels in the rice and wheat grains, for example.
All of the new transgenic rice varieties have one thing in common, however: they can only provide one particular micronutrient. Until to date, combining several micronutrients into one rice plant was a dream that had not been realized.
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