Iron-Rich 'Super Rice' Signals Hope for Poor Nations

Australian scientists have fortified rice so it can meet daily iron needs in a breakthrough that could create a super food for the world's under-nourished, The Advertiser reported Thursday.

The breakthrough promises to provide a solution to the iron and zinc deficiency disorders that affect billions of people throughout the world.

Alex Johnson, from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, says the genetically modified rice has up to four times more iron than conventional rice and twice as much zinc.

"We just tricked the plant into thinking it doesn't have enough iron," he said. "By making the plant think it doesn't have enough iron, it takes up more iron and it puts more iron into the grain."

Rice is the main food source for roughly half the world's population, including billions of people in developing countries across Asia, but the polished grain is too low in iron, zinc and Vitamin A to meet dietary needs.

Iron deficiency affects more than two billion people worldwide, so the race is on to produce grains with higher nutritional value.

The team of researchers—from three universities in South Australia and the University of Melbourne—is the first to raise rice plants in the greenhouse with the desired level of iron and zinc. Field trials began in the Philippines, in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute.

It will take several seasons for the scientists to determine if the rice is growing properly and consistently taking up sufficient iron and zinc. Bangladesh would be the first country to try the product, because it is a developing country where the people rely heavily on rice.

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