A new approach that saves eyesight and lives in the developing world

May 3, 2010

Two Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are part of an international team that has found a way to boost the nutritional value of corn. This has the potential to reduce the number of children in developing countries who lose their eyesight, become ill or die each year because of vitamin A deficiencies.

Corn contains carotenoids, some of which the body can convert to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is the best vitamin A precursor, but only a very small percentage of corn varieties have naturally high beta-carotene levels. In Africa and other developing regions, corn is a major staple and hundreds of thousands of children become blind, develop weakened immune systems and die because of diets based largely on corn that lacks sufficient beta-carotene.

Marilyn Warburton, a geneticist with the ARS Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit in Starkville, Miss.; Edward Buckler, a geneticist in the ARS Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in Ithaca, N.Y., and their colleagues published results identifying genetic sequences linked to higher beta-carotene levels in corn and demonstrating an inexpensive and fast way to identify that will produce even higher levels. The report, recently published in , is considered a breakthrough in nutritional plant breeding.

The project was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and included major scientific contributions from Torbert Rocheford of Purdue University and Jianbing Yan of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

In their study, the researchers surveyed the genetic sequences of corn from around the world through association mapping, a method made possible by recent breakthroughs that accelerate the genetic profiling of crops.

The genetic survey revealed natural variations in one linked to higher beta-carotene levels. These variations interacted with a gene identified previously, and the best variations of the two genes together led to an 18-fold increase in beta-carotene, according to Warburton. The mapping survey identified molecular markers that breeders can use to incorporate the desired gene variants into for the developing world. Warburton and Yan are now working with breeders oversees to train them on use of the new techniques.

Explore further: Discovery in orange cauliflower may lead to more nutritious crops

Related Stories

Genetic link to vitamin A deficiency

November 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Almost half of UK women may be lacking an important source of vitamin A due to a previously undiscovered genetic variation, scientists at Newcastle University have found.

Increase of beta-carotene in corn improves human health

March 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A Michigan State University researcher is among a team of scientists that have uncovered the mechanism by which the amount of beta-carotene, or provitamin A, is increased in corn, a finding that can help ...

Orange corn holds promise for reducing blindness, child death

March 29, 2010

Decreasing or increasing the function of a newly discovered gene in corn may increase vitamin A content and have significant implications for reducing childhood blindness and mortality rates, according to a Purdue University-led ...

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.