Can corn combat anemia? It's a
Tortillas and other foods made from the flour of a unique corn may help
combat iron-deficiency anemia. That could be a boon in developing countries
where corn-based foods are a part of nearly every meal. In fact, products made
from this corn could become useful around the world, since iron deficiency is
fairly common in developed nations as well.
The novel corn, according to Agricultural
Research Service geneticist A. Victor Raboy at Aberdeen, Idaho, may help
the body to better absorb and use ironan essential nutrient.
The plants that Raboy developed yield corn that's low in a naturally
occurring compound called phytic acid, or phytate. Phytic acid is thought to
reduce the body's ability to use certain nutrients, like iron.
The Raboy corn lines have up to 95 percent less phytic acid than most common
Researchers from the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama
and from the University of California's Berkeley and Davis campuses coordinated
the corn-flour experiment with Raboy. Fourteen healthy men, age 19 to 35,
volunteered for the investigation, which was conducted at Davis.
Blood tests indicated that iron absorption by the volunteers was about 50
percent greater if they ate tortillas made from flour of low-phytic-acid corn
than if they ate tortillas prepared with normal corn flour having about
two-thirds more phytic acid.
The Rockefeller Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, and
Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.one of three companies licensed by ARS
to produce the cornhelped fund the research.
Raboy says the study is the first to test the potential nutritional benefits
of the low-phytic-acid corn in humans. Next, a team led by University of
Colorado researchers will probe the effects of the corn on zinc, iron, and
calcium absorption in a new study in Guatemala.
The unusual corn, patented in 1997, has already received national attention
because of its ability to reduce phosphorus pollution in ponds, lakes, streams,
and rivers. Phytic acid is a form of phosphorus, an essential mineral. Raboy's
low-phytic-acid corn is correspondingly high in inorganic phosphorusthe
form that one-stomached animals like pigs, chickens, or farm-raised fish can
readily absorb and use.
These animals can't absorb most of the organic phosphorus in conventional
corn, so too much of it can end up in their manure. Phosphorus leached from
manure may make its way into rivers and streams, leading to algal blooms and
Ongoing experiments in the United States and abroad will reveal more about
the ways that the special cornand other grains with the low-phytic-acid
traitshould benefit people, animals, and the environment.By
Marcia Wood, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources,
Genomics, and Genetic Improvement, an ARS National Program (#301) described on
the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov/programs/cppvs.htm.
A. Victor Raboy is with the
USDA-ARS Small Grains
and Potato Germplasm Research Unit, 1691 S., 2700 W., P.O. Box 307,
Aberdeen, ID 83210; phone (208) 397-4162, ext. 151, fax (208) 397-4165.