Biofortification: Rationale and feasibility

MALNUTRITION IS a state when our body is lack of essential nutrients caused by less availability of food, decreased diversity among intake materials or inability of body to use the food that one does eat. Human body requires 22 essential elements for proper growth and development of body but now a days many people are facing deficient amount of Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper, Iodine, Selenium and in nearby future, Manganese and Boron will also be deficient in our diet. No doubt these elements are required in very little amount by our body for its proper functioning but the quantity and quality of available food in certain areas of the world is not up to mark to fulfill our body requirements. More than 50% of individuals facing this problem are natives to developing countries.

This problem is being highlighted as a serious threat to human health especially for nourishing mothers and actively growing children but no solid and fruitful efforts have been made yet to tackle this problem. In 1980, it was suggested that calories deficiency is not a big problem but hidden hunger of micronutrients should be avoided as early as possible. In 1990, many big organizations of the world including WHO, FAO and UNICEF accept this big challenge of Global Health and targeted to remove the deficiency of Iron, Iodine and Vitamin A but failed to do so. In 2001, again it was planned to fulfill the deficiency of Iron, Iodine and Vitamin A up to 2015 but all of us are well aware of the current situation.

No doubt, our body is not able to absorb/use all the nutrients present in a food material but they can also be lost by different ways. Antinutreint is a commonly used term in Nutritional studies refers to any substance which suppresses the absorption of an essential material by gut like Phytic acid and Tannins cause a reduced availability of Zinc and Boron. So we also have to deal with the efficient delivery of food constituents to human body which is known as bioavailability. Bioavailability is the actual amount of an element in the food that can be absorbed and used by a person eating the meal. Bioavailability can be increased by Supplementation and fortification. Supplementation is the addition of an element as a diet to make up for insufficiency.

Generally, Fortification refers to addition of any particular substance in the food aiming to increase the concentration of that particular constituent. It is possible by two main approaches viz Industrial and Biological (Biofortification). The Industrial/commercial method of fortification is already in practice like Vitamin A fortified oil and Zinc fortified water but this way has some limitations. Firstly, these artificially enriched foods are not easily available and accessible to the every individual of a community in different parts of the world. Secondly, only a limited amount of certain element can be added to a food by artificial methods. Lastly, foods prepared by such approaches are not consumed regularly by an individual. Biofortification is an artistic tool which covers all these problems. Biofortification can be defined as “The sum total all approaches aiming towards the increase in bioavailable concentration of a nutrient in edible portion of crop plants through Genetic or Agronomic interventions”. Biofortification offers us a long term and sustainable solution of Malnutrition. In this way we can increase the amount of a targeted constituent in our daily meal which is regularly being consumed by almost every individual of a society. Biofortification is possible by two ways.

Firstly, selection is a methodology in which the genotypes (cultivars or verities) with higher potentials are selected. It is followed by screening in which we sort out our best genotypes. By using these genetic procedures, we can pick out the plant groups which provide us with higher amount of targeted constituents in edible portions. They are multiplied and are provided to the farms for an open scale cultivation of field crops, fruits and vegetables. In this way the deficient nutrient can be in access of every person of a community. In rice, there is a wide range of Iron and Zinc among different cultivars. They can be crossed in many ways to get stable concentration but it requires 8 to 10 years to do so.

Polished rice is the rice grain with absence of brown layer on it which is being highly preferred for cooking. People from areas where rice (Polished rice) is being consumed as a staple food like in South East Asia are facing Vitamin A deficiency. Transgenic approaches under the umbrella of Genetic Engineering offer us a solution to this problem. Golden Rice is a cultivar of rice crop which is able to yield grains with higher β-carotene (Vitamin A) and Iron contents. Golden Rice is an output of such efforts which has developed by International Rice Research Institute in Philippine and is being grown inBangladesh, India and Vietnam to cope with malnutrition in these areas.

Agronomic approach is the second possible way of biofortification. By this way micronutrients can be directly applied on crop plants at different growth stages to make those nutrients a definite part of grains or any other edible part of plants. It can be done by Foliar application in which solution of a particular element is sprayed directly on crop foliage or it can be applied to the crop as a micronutrient fertilizer whose definite fraction will become a part of edible part. Similarly we can also produce many anti-cancerous food items with higher fractions of functional elements including antioxidants and vitamins like in Pigmented rice.

Pharma-Farming is the only way to introduce micronutrients in human food chains. It is the cheaper way to fight with hidden hunger that ensures global health on long term basis. Farming is a life lasting industry that is why it can provide us a very much sustainable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally safe solution to malnutrition by growing biofortified crops. There is no other best way to conclude the whole discussion than by using this saying “Health comes from Farm, not from Pharmacy”.

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