Biofortification: Mind your food
KHURSHID AHMED BHAT AND ZAHOOR AHMED DAR EXPLAIN THE NEED FOR DEVELOPMENT OF IRON FORTIFIED STAPLE DIETS
Iron deficiency has long been considered as a major form of malnutrition throughout the world. Its deficiency may cause death or disability either directly or by increasing the risk of death or disability from other causes. IDA (Iron Deficiency Anemia) directly causes impaired muscle function and physical performance, it cause risk factor for maternal mortality i.e. it increases a women’s risk of dying from cardiac failure in child birth. Iron deficiency is considered to potentially affect child mortality, maternal mortality perinatal mortality, altered fitness and productively and cognitive impairment. Nearly 50% of anemia is attributed to iron deficiency. As per World Health Organization (WHO) in South East Asia which also includes India, the prevalence of anemia is 60% in women, 30% in men and about 66% in children. Anemic prevalence is thus more in children followed by women. Globally 841,000 deaths and 35057000 disability adjusted life years (DALY) i.e. year of life spent in less then full health are attributed to IDA. The global distribution of the disease burden of IDA is heavily concentrated in Africa and South East Asia. These regions bear 71% of the global mortality burden and 65% of the DALYS lost while as DALYS lost to IDA in North America and Cuba amount to 1.4% only of the global total. Hence these figures acts as pointer towards the fact that there is enormous need for interventions that will work in less developed regions of the world.
Compared with other forms of malnutrition iron deficiency ranks at 9th place in terms of DALYS lost, thus if all the figures are put together there remains no excuse for scientific and public health community to be complacent about iron deficiency. Evidence is mounting about the fact that iron deficiency significantly affects neural physiology and behavior of children. Further observational studies show that IDA is associated with behaviour differences, developmental delays, lower IQ and poor school performance.
Iron deficiency adversely affects work productivity of adults as well as affecting voluntary productivity of adults. Iron deficiency in developed countries is being controlled mostly through private sector actions namely by availability of iron rich foods and iron fortified weaning foods. Public sector is shouldering the burden of iron interventions in less developed countries and a recent WHO progress report on malnutrition stated;
“Unfortunately there has been little appreciable change over the last two decades in the high world wide prevalence of IDA. Few active programmes in both developed and developing countries have succeeded in reducing iron deficiency and anemia. Important factors contributing to lack of progress include failure to recognize the cause of iron deficiency and anemia, lack of political commitment to control it, inadequate planning of control programmes, insufficient mobilization of training of health staff and insufficient community involvement in solving the problem”.
In view of this, there is a critical need to address the burden of IDA. Despite high prevalence of anemia associated with early childhood affordable, high quality and appealing supplemental forms are generally not available in less developed countries. Even UNICEF does not stock on iron supplement for young children which is a challenge as young children cannot swallow hard pills and liquid supplements are bulky to ship, store and are relatively unstable chemically. Preparations designated to appeal to children introduce the risk of toxic over-dose and alternatives have to be available at affordable prices.
A new public health approach to control different deficiencies in poor countries is bio-fortification of staple food crops. Bio-fortification involves development of micronutrient dense staple crops using the best traditional crop breeding practices and modern technology. The various advantages of this approach are first it capitalizes on the regular daily intake of consistent and large amount of staple food by all family. Staple foods being a predominant diet of poor, therefore, this strategy targets low income class. Second after one time investment to develop self fortifying seeds recurrent costs are low and germplasm can be shared across international boundaries which makes it further cost effective. Third once in place, the bio-fortified crops are highly sustainable i.e. improved varieties with respect to nutrients can be grown continuously even if government attention and funding for the issue fade. Fourth, bio-fortification of staple foods could be an effective means to reach to the remote and rural populations which otherwise have limited sources to commercially marketed fortified foods that are more readily available in urban areas.
Finally breeding for crops with higher trace mineral density will not have any adverse effects on yield potential. In fact such strategies will enhance yield as mineral packed seeds help plants resist diseases and other environmental stresses detrimental to yield. Moreover, a higher proportion of seedlings survive, initial growth is rapid which ultimately lead to higher yields.
Bio-fortification require a multidisciplinary approach, there should be direct linkage between agricultural research with human health and nutrition sector thus willingness among scientist to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and innovative funding strategies to support research and ultimate dissemination of bio-fortified seeds. The main objectives of multidisciplinary research should aim to develop varieties that combine the best nutritional and agronomic traits. Application of novel advances in biotechnology, genomics, genetics and molecular biology to identify and understand plant biosynthetic genes and pathways of nutritional importance, including nutrient absorption enhancers and inhibitors applying the above knowledge in marker-assisted selection for conventional breeding of crops could bring breakthroughs. There are various reasons why bio-fortification of staple crops is a viable option, First and foremost is the fact that there exists a vast scope of increasing micronutrient density of staple foods. Adequate genetic variation in concentration of iron and other important minerals exists among cultivars making selection of nutritionally appropriate breeding material possible. In all crops studied, it is possible to combine the high micronutrient density trait with high yield. High iron content and high yield breeding is economic because their relation is not negatively correlated unlike protein content and yield. Therefore, it is possible to improve high yielding crops with respect to content of several limiting micronutrients including iron together, thus pushing populations towards nutritional balance.
The principal costs involved in bio-fortification are mainly the cost of research to develop such varieties. Since an agricultural research system is there already in place to develop modern varieties of staple food crops, the research costs are essentially the incremental costs of enhancing micronutrient density. The research costs are single largest cost component of bio-fortification and are one time investments. Where system for dissemination of modern varieties is in place, such as in South Asia implementation costs are nil or negligible.
Thus breeding for micronutrient concentration that can have biological impacts and are simultaneously feasible with respect to incurred cost, with better consumer acceptance, can be a reality with advent of good seed systems, development of markets, products and demand creation.
(Authors are associated with Division of PBG, SKUAST-K, Shalimar, Kashmir)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 Mar 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 Mar 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Mar 2011 00:00:00 IST
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