AMES, Iowa -- A new Iowa State University study has found that corn bred to contain increased levels of beta-carotene is a good source of vitamin A. The discovery gives added support to the promise of biofortified corn being developed through conventional plant breeding as an effective tool to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A. The researchers found that the beta-carotene in the corn was converted to vitamin A at a higher rate than what's predicted for corn, and higher than the rate for beta-carotene in vegetables including spinach and carrots, among others.
Wendy White, an ISU associate professor of food science and human nutrition, led the six-week study conducted at Iowa State's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center. The results validate the promise of 'orange' maize that will soon be released to combat vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to a 2009 World Health Organization estimate, vitamin A is deficient in more than half of the world's countries, with Africa and Southeast Asia having the highest deficiencies. Medical researchers have reported vitamin A deficiency to be one of the most serious causes of malnutrition in developing countries and can cause blindness, poor immune function and even premature death -- particularly in young children.
The effort to biofortify corn with beta-carotene is being led by HarvestPlus (http://www.harvestplus.org/) a global research initiative directed, in part, by the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute.
"Biofortification is a revolutionary approach to combating micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries and it has the potential to be self-sustaining," White said. "The seeds are bred by plant breeders to be naturally high in key micronutrients, such as vitamin A, zinc and/or iron. And then the seeds
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Iowa State University