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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
GM Crops- Altered nutrition and composition- Fortification


While GM crops have come into existence for quite some time and have revolutionized the entire farming sector in a number of countries, a lot of efforts are being made to further contribute to the path-breaking field. Some of these efforts are directed towards enhanced productivity and resistance to insects, weeds and viruses which affect the yield and consequent output. Other initiatives in the field are also towards enhancing the intrinsic nature of crops itself so as to have a definite and positive impact on human health and development.

A few such developments in the field are as under:

Vitamin-A-enhanced rice. The best-known example of a GM crop conferring enhanced nutritional properties is rice containing a high level of beta-carotene — a vitamin A precursor. Vitamin A is essential for increasing resistance to disease, protecting against visual impairment and blindness, and improving the chances of growth and development. Vitamin A deficiency in it contributes to severe illness and childhood mortality. This preventable condition increases the burden of disease on the health systems of developing countries. Vitamin A-enhanced rice and maize varieties are at present being developed for cultivation in developing countries. Current efforts are aimed at ensuring that vitamin A in rice can be absorbed efficiently in the human gut. Once this is resolved, 300 grams of transgenic rice could make a significant contribution to the daily human requirement for vitamin A and will have significant impact for the human development.

‘High iron’ rice. Prevalence of iron deficiency is very high in those parts of the world in which rice is the daily food staple. This is because rice has very low iron content. Rice seeds with the iron-carrier protein ferritin from soy were found to contain twice as much iron as seeds of non-transformed rice. Rice has been transformed with three genes which increase iron storage in rice kernels and iron absorption from the digestive tract.

Improved protein content. Researchers are also investigating methods that could improve the protein content of staple vegetables, such as cassava, plantain and potato. Results from greenhouse trials show that these tubers have 35–45% more protein, and enhanced levels of essential amino acids.

Removing allergens and antinutrients. Cassava roots naturally contain high levels of cyanide. As they are a staple food in tropical Africa, this has led to high blood-cyanide levels which have harmful effects. Application of modern biotechnology to decrease the levels of this toxic chemical in cassava would reduce its preparation time.

Altered starch and fatty acid profile. In the quest to provide healthier foods, there is an effort to increase the starch content of potatoes so that they absorb less fat during frying To create healthier fats, the fatty-acid composition of soy and canola has been altered to produce oils with reduced levels of saturated fats. R&D is currently focusing on GM soybean, oilseed rape and oil palm. Two GM crops of this nature have already been approved in the United States of America.
 

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