Malnutrition is very common problem especially in developing countries, which is caused by uptake of micronutrient deficit foods. Proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and calories may be deficit and cause malnutrition. Malnutrition is responsible for inducing the severe health hazards like; anemia, disorientation, diarrhea, irritability, anxiety, attention deficits, muscle twitches, amenorrhea (cessation of menstrual periods), goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), night blindness, loss of reflexes and lack of muscular coordination, scaling and cracking of lips and mouth, dry and pale skin, thin and easy to pull hairs, soft and tender bones, gum bleeding, swollen or shriveled tongue and sensitivity to light glaring. Toddlers, young children, teenagers and pregnant females are mostly prone to micronutrient deficiency and suffer from serious consequences regarding growth and development.
In 1990, malnutritioned peoples were 80 million which has increased to 925 million in 2010. The protein-energy malnutrition caused the death of 600,000 peoples in 2010 whereas iodine and iron deficiency caused the death of 84,000 peoples. Huge number of children suffered from stunted growth due to malnutrition. To treat the malnutrition there is need for a doctor who is specialist in treating digestive conditions (a gastroenterologist), a dietitian who organize well balanced diet plan and a nurse who is well trained in nutrition. All these clinical treatments were not in access of every one.
Enrichment of food with micronutrients is best remedy for malnutrition which can be accomplished by biofortificaion of main agricultural crops. Iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A and B are among the main micronutrients which are deficit in food and needed to be supplemented. Dietitians recommend the supplementation (tablets and syrups), diversification (eating variety of food items), fortification (artificial addition of micronutrients in food items during processing i.e. salt fortification with iodine) and biofortification (increasing bioavailability or amount in edible parts) as remedies to address the malnutrition. Among all these strategies, biofortification is most convenient, appropriate, accessible and cost-effective technique to solve the issue of the malnutrition. Conventional plant breeding and transgenic tools are used to increase the level or bioavailability of micronutrients in edible parts of the crops. Conventional breeding is used to increase the level of zinc, iron and pro-vitamin A carotenoids in staple foods. Germplasm or seed banks are searched for high quality varieties which are then crossed high yielding cultivated varieties and resultant varieties have high yield along with high nutritional value. Genetic engineering is used for genetic modification of crops for development of transgenic crops which have high nutritional value. Golden rice is genetically engineered rice which has high level of β-carotenoids. However, genetic modification of crops is not preferred in scientific community. Harvest Plus and CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) are the leading global biofortification programmes. Wheat, rice, maize, millet, sweet potato, common bean and cassava are the main target crops for biofortification.
There are following prerequisites for biofortification to be successful; biofortified crop should be high yielding and cash crop, crop should be efficient and effective in reducing the malnutrition, crop should be preferred by targeted population. Several trials have been conducted on biofortification of different crops for different nutrients depending on the targeted population. Pro-vitamin A‐enrichment in cassava, maize and sweet potato, ironenrichment in beans, rice and wheat, zincenrichment in beans, rice and wheat showed that biofortification was very cost effective relative to supplementation and fortification.
In any region, more than one crops are generally used as staple like, wheat and rice in Pakistan so, biofortification of more than one crop for any specific region will be more effective to combat with malnutrition. Biofortification of foods result in change of colour and taste of foods which is not acceptable by regular users as they are conscious for taste so, there is need for highlighting the importance of biofortified foods which is basic theme of this discussion. Overwhelmed challenge for biofortification is the lack of awareness among the society. Awareness can be developed by dissemination of knowledge, change in behavior and strong communication between scientists and end users.
The authors are associated with the Plant Breeding and Genetics, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan.
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