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Researchers Fight Malnutrition With Fortified Wheat

Instead of fortifying the cereal or the flour after the wheat has been processed, this crop is fortified in the field.(Lamoix/flickr)

A research team at the USDA Agricultural Research Service has developed several experimental strains of winter wheat that could boost the crop’s nutritional value right in the field.

With selective breeding, the team combined two key traits that could be integrated with existing crops. The breeding lines have high levels of protein and low levels of phytate, an acid that blocks the body from absorbing some nutrients. The results show that researchers could create crops to increase minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and manganese with little added cost to consumers.

Nutrients have long been added back to products like flour and rice during processing to help fight preventable health threats like anemia and other deficiencies. But that method requires additional energy to extract or synthesize the nutrients and then add them during manufacturing. Fortifying plant crops can be done by selective breeding or by genetic modification.

Many researchers around the world are working on ways to boost the nutritional value of staple crops as climate change and other pressures challenge food security. A study published in July in the Journal of Nutrition found that biofortified millet introduced into the diet of Indian adolescents led to reduced iron deficiency and improved learning skills and mental ability.

The World Health Organization said in 2016 that malnutrition threatened the lives of 52 million children under five around the world, with 155 million suffering stunted growth.

Read More:
Wheat That Pumps Iron, Naturally (Seed World)

Biofortification of Hard Red Winter Wheat by Genes Conditioning Low Phytate and High Grain Protein Concentration (Crop Science)

Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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