ForumNot Just More . . . But More
|| Agricultural science has provided
the leadership required to meet the demand for an increasing world food supply.
Around the globe, farmers produce enough calories to feed every person in the
world, yet it is widely accepted that over 800 million people are starving or
severely malnourished. Adequate supplies of nutritious food are not yet
available to all. ARS and its scientists
are working with their partners worldwide to meet these challenges now and for
Supplements and food fortification may help to allay nutritional deficiencies
for the short term. The long-term solution, however, must come from developing
crops that are more nutritious and that thrive under stressful conditions in
At our U.S. Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, New York, ARS
scientists have worked with Cornell University colleagues and with
international agricultural research centers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa
to screen beans, rice, wheat, and, currently, corn. They look for genotypes
that are high in iron, zinc, and provitamin Athe three micronutrients
most lacking in diets worldwide. These same scientists are also assessing
levels of compounds known to interfere with our ability to absorb these
nutrients from foods.
Across the country at the Small Grains and Potato Research Unit in Aberdeen,
Idaho, an ARS scientist has developed corn genotypes having low levels of
phytic acid, a compound that inhibits absorption of some nutrients. This
low-phytate trait has been bred into commercial seed. Now our scientist is
ensuring that his collaborators in Guatemala get enough of the low-phytate seed
to conduct a 5-year study of zinc absorption involving 700 poor families.
In Houston, Texas, at the Children's Nutrition Research Center, an ARS
scientist collaborates with other agency scientists and international
researchers to profile genotypes of peas, green beans, broccoli, and other
vegetables for one or more vitamins and minerals important to children's
In Madison, Wisconsin, at the Vegetable Crops Research Unit, an ARS scientist
breeds carrot lines high in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin
A. The lines also have traits that will enable them to grow in developing
countries. In Maryland, California, Washington, and Oklahoma, scientists are
breeding crops like tomato, potato, and watermelon for higher content of
antioxidants (see related story on page 6). The efforts of these and many other
ARS scientists and their colleagues eventually will lead to crops and processed
foods that could alleviate nutritional deficiencies, or "hidden
hunger," and its accompanying diseases.
If agricultural research is going to improve the nutritional status of nearly 1
billion malnourished people, it will only happen through worldwide
collaboration. ARS' primary contribution will be in the areas of plant
germplasm, genetics, and breeding. These efforts are being augmented by new and
exciting developments in molecular biology, biotechnology, and genomics. By
understanding the available diversity and genetic basis for variation in
phytonutrient levels, we can exploit those traits to modify the nutritional
components of plants.
While the agency focuses on national needs and priorities, we freely share our
information, our scientific expertise, and our germplasm internationally. For
instance, ARS supports 23 repositories for seeds and cuttings for a wide
variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains, plus forage and natural
fiber crops. These repositories annually send an average of 120,000 seed
samples or cuttings to plant scientists and collections, with 30,000 to 40,000
going to foreign countries.
With help from our Office of International Research Programs (OIRP), ARS
scientists collaborate in hands-on research with scientists in some 70
countries and interact at international conferences, some of which they help
organize. This year, an OIRP staffer is helping to coordinate three workshops
in sub-Saharan Africa that will help bring biotechnology to Africa to deal with
food shortages and other nutrition problems.
Improving the nutritional quality of the U.S. food supply will also help
alleviate hidden hunger in other parts of the world. Like it or not, we are
role models for people in many parts of the worldpeople who are trying to
adopt our lifestyle and diet.
Though Americans have not always been keenly aware of the nutritional value of
the food they consume, that is changing. U.S. consumers are likely to continue
to demand more from their food than ever before. This desire will continue to
drive the nutritional enhancement of our traditional food crops as well as new
advancements in development of nutraceutical foods.
New challenges and technologies have brought together scientists from many
disciplines in the plant, animal, and natural resource sciences to address
these issues in ways we perhaps never dreamed possible. The result is a
stronger and more cooperative network of science that can be used against the
problems posed by hunger and malnutrition. The ARS mission and its scientists
are committed to a long-range and global view of high-quality science that will
positively affect the lives of many people.
J. Scott Cameron
ARS National Program Leader
Horticulture and Sugar Crops
Kathleen C. Ellwood
ARS National Program Leader
"Forum" was published in the
issue of Agricultural Research magazine.