Biofortification is the process of creating micronutrient-rich food crops by conventional breeding or genetic alteration utilizing modern biotechnology. This is a realistic and cost-effective source of conveying micronutrients to those populations who have limited access to different diets and other micronutrient interventions. It differs from ordinary fortification and it focuses on improving the nutrient profile of the food crop as it grows and matures instead of manually adding nutrients to the food while it is being processed. Biofortification of staple food crops has emerged as a very potent solution to tackle this problem of deficiency of nutrients in developing countries where a large section of the population cannot afford enough fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and other food products to meet their essential nutritional requirements. The methodology of Biofortification involves two primary methods:
- Selective breeding – This is the traditional technique, which calls for breeding naturally nutritious crops with high-yielding cultivars. The development of the hybrid varieties must be monitored by nutritionists to check whether the improved levels of nutrients can be used by the consumers and how these levels are affected by the storage, processing, and cooking of the food crop.
- Genetic modification – Altering the genetic makeup of a crop by introducing foreign genes from the wild crop of the same species or other species that code for the increased production of certain nutrients or disease resistance could make the host crop rich in nutrients and increase its quality. Alternatively, different genes which code for different nutrients can also be stacked in a crop to make it rich in a wide variety of nutrients. One of the most glorious examples is that of golden rice which has been enriched with beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.
Some of the biofortification projects around the world:
- Iron-bio fortification of rice, beans, cassava, legumes, and sweet potato.
- Zinc-bio fortification of rice, beans, maize sweet potato, and wheat.
- Provitamin A carotenoid-bio fortification of cassava, maize, and sweet potato
- Amino acid and protein-bio fortification of cassava and sorghum.
Dr. Md. Monirul Islam
ASRBC, ACI Seed