Corn is a diet staple in many parts of the developing world, including sub-Saharan Africa. But unfortunately most varieties of this vital grain are low in carotenoids, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A. This puts millions of people who depend on a corn-based diet at risk for health problems due to vitamin A deficiency. For example, 40 million children suffer from xerophthalmia, a condition caused by lack of dietary vitamin A that can lead to blindness.
To help remedy this problem, researchers funded in part by the National Science Foundation are working to develop varieties of corn that will have at least triple the levels of carotenoids now found in African corn. Using genetic and statistical tools, the researchers have identified two genes that are involved in increased production of the carotenoid beta-carotene in corn and have come up with faster, more cost-effective ways of screening for them.
This will enable researchers in developing countries to cross the high beta-carotene corn varieties with locally adapted ones and breed new varieties that will grow well and contain much higher levels of the needed vitamin A precursors. Development of this new high-carotenoid corn could improve the lives of millions of people around the globe.
For more information on this research, which is part of Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics and Genetic Improvement, Agricultural Research Service program #301, go to: Agricultural Research Service.