Any way you slice it, bread that contains critical nutrients could help combat severe malnutrition in impoverished regions. That is the goal of a group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduate students who are using synthetic biology to enhance common yeast so that it yields beta carotene, the orange substance that gives carrots their color. When it's eaten, beta-carotene turns into vitamin A.
The students' project is the university's entry in iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. After a regional judging earlier this month, the undergraduates' project, called VitaYeast, has advanced to the iGEM finals, scheduled for Nov. 5-7 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the annual iGEM contest, students from around the world present projects based on synthetic biology, a burgeoning field in which researchers manipulate small bits of DNA and other biological material to make cells carry out new tasks.
The Johns Hopkins participants say that no matter what happens at the iGEM finals, they will continue to tout their enhanced bread as a relatively simple way to help hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering from malnutrition.
Team member Arjun Khakhar, a junior biomedical engineering major, grew up in Bombay, India, where he saw widespread poverty and malnutrition. "The major problem in developing countries right now is not that people are hungry and starving because they don't have enough food," he said. "What people don't have now is the [right type of] food that they need to survive. Vital nutrients like vitamins are just missing from their diets, because they can't afford fruits and vegetables. That's what we wanted to provide through VitaYeast."
Producing a new food to save malnourished people around the globe may sound like an audacious goal for a group of 15 to 20 students who haven't yet picked up their college diplomas. But Arjun doesn't think so. "How do I get the idea in m
|Contact: Phil Sneiderman|
Johns Hopkins University