Research Topic

Biofortification: how can we exploit plant science to reduce micronutrient deficiencies?

About this Research Topic

In many areas of the world, inadequate amounts of micronutrients in the human diet have more devastating consequences than low energy intake. As examples, deficiencies in zinc, iodine, iron and vitamin A account for 11% of deaths of all pre-school aged children; also, sub-optimal intakes of vitamin C and ...

In many areas of the world, inadequate amounts of micronutrients in the human diet have more devastating consequences than low energy intake. As examples, deficiencies in zinc, iodine, iron and vitamin A account for 11% of deaths of all pre-school aged children; also, sub-optimal intakes of vitamin C and folate present significant health threats in several developing countries, as well as in developed ones.

Micronutrients are involved in all aspects of growth and physiology of the human body, even as early as during embryonic development. Micronutrient deficiencies can cause birth defects, permanent physical and mental impairment and increased risk of death by infectious diseases.
As plant scientists, we are now facing ever more challenging and urgent goals with respect to the quality of our food supply. As important players in the global effort to improve crops, we should ask ourselves: how do we feed the world’s increasing population and how do we feed it better? In other words, we need to increase food crop productivity in a sustainable manner, and such food should be of high nutritional value.

To reach the goal of nutritional adequacy, it is not sufficient to merely increase the concentration of a given micronutrient in the edible part of a plant of interest, but also to increase concentrations to appropriate, knowledge-based levels (i.e. nutritionally adequate, yet non-toxic) and to ensure that the micronutrient is effectively absorbed (i.e. bioavailable). These types of decisions and assessments, with the long-term goal of improving quality of life, will require a stronger interaction between plant scientists, human nutritionists, social scientists, and epidemiologists. Communication among these disciplines is critical to understand which nutritional/health targets should be addressed, what are the possibilities from a food-based approach, and how can all sides come together to deliver new improved varieties to farmers and consumers.

Moreover, the increasing evidence of the relevance of dietary patterns on the fitness of the human gut and its microbiome opens new promising lines of research that could contribute to the micronutrient issue. For instance, changes in the intake of dietary prebiotics could enhance and/or alter the diversity of gut microbial populations and hence contribute to the absorption of micronutrients.

We believe that interest in the topic of biofortification is expanding, and it is indeed gaining attention from several fields of science and from various governmental and policy-based organizations. Thus, we believe a continued dialogue and sharing of ideas amongst plant scientists is critical to see sustained growth and success in the area of micronutrient biofortification. Our intent, therefore, is to bring together the most recent experimental advances in the field, along with comprehensive reviews of the different approaches, new ideas, and thought-provoking opinions.


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