Pumping iron

This research project aims to boost iron in wheat varieties

Graduate student Jorge Venegas inspects wheat-breeding lines, University of Nebraska greenhouse.

Biofortified wheat could certainly make it easier to help some humans get proper nutrition.

Biofortification is the process of naturally increasing the nutritional value of a crop. Unlike fortification, which might add a mineral like iron directly to something like bread dough, the goal of biofortification is to have the wheat naturally contain more iron.

Robert Graybosch of the USDA Agricultural Research Service explains that about 60 per cent of the world’s population doesn’t get enough iron. This happens because the food people eat doesn’t contain enough minerals or contains what are called “antinutrients” which prevent the body from absorbing nutrients.

However, some people are hesitant to eat products with what they think might be weird ingredients. Graybosch is trying to naturally enhance the minerals of wheat flours to help people around the world get more iron.

“Biofortification can be done via traditional plant breeding using natural genetic variation or natural mutations, or via genetic engineering,” he said.

Graybosch and his team developed experimental breeding lines of winter wheat. Breeding lines are the first step in the long process of creating a new type of wheat that farmers can grow. The team tried to combine two properties — low phytate and high grain protein — without lowering grain yield. Phytate is an antinutrient that prevents the body from taking in some minerals.

Their results show that combining the two traits without any bad effects on grain yield is possible. It increased the amount of zinc, calcium, and manganese humans could get from it.

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