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Iron-Enriched Rice to Boost Nutrition

31 January 2012

AUSTRALIA - Despite being a major food source for billions of people in developing countries, particularly in Asia, polished or white rice does not contain enough iron, zinc or pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements.

A new iron-enriched rice variety developed recently by Melbourne and Adelaide researchers could help solve iron deficiency problems that currently affect more than two billion people. According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional disorder.

The new rice variety has up to four times the iron content and twice the zinc content of ordinary rice grains, reports the Australian Synchrotron.

A scientific team from the Australian Centre for Functional Plant Genomics produced the mineral-rich rice variety using gene technology to increase the amount of iron transported into the endosperm, the part of the rice grain that most people eat.

“Rice doesn’t exhibit a lot of genetic variation for iron accumulation in grain, and this has hindered conventional breeding programs trying to increase iron levels in rice,” says Alex Johnson from the ACFPG team. “These programs have been unable to match the iron levels we’ve achieved in our glasshouse experiments. We’ve produced the world’s first greenhouse-grown rice plants to exhibit such high levels.”

The researchers used the Australian Synchrotron to investigate the distribution of iron, zinc and other minerals in the rice grains, particularly the endosperm. The x-ray fluorescence microscopy beamline, which features the award-winning Maia detector, can produce detailed maps of elemental distribution at resolution down to sub-micron levels.

Following the team’s success in growing their iron-rich rice plants in a greenhouse environment, the next stage of the project involves conducting field trials in the Philippines in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute. The aim of the trials is to demonstrate that the rice grows well and takes up enough iron and zinc in a field environment to maintain the enriched levels in the endosperm.

TheCropSite News Desk

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