10-Year Head Start Helps ARS Play Vital Role
in Nutrition Program By
October 31, 2003
Service expertise in an emerging technique for naturally fortifying food
crops will be a central part of a program launched this month to tackle
malnutrition in developing countries.
The program, HarvestPlus, will emphasize the
innovative method called biofortification, which makes staple foods inherently
more nutritious. Researchers will identify and develop crops with increased
levels of key nutrients and make these crop varieties widely available
throughout entire regions.
HarvestPlus is managed by the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of
donors devoted to agricultural advancements in the developing world.
Through the program, ARS and CGIAR will develop varieties of six
major staple foods--rice, maize, wheat, beans, sweet potato and
cassava--containing increased levels of nutrients such as iron, zinc and
pro-vitamin A carotenoids.
ARS' role in HarvestPlus will, in many ways, be a continuation
of work that was started a decade ago and will focus on ascertaining the
content and bioavailability of micronutrients in the staple food crops. It will
involve lab studies, animal nutrition and human trials, as well as molecular
Studies will be conducted at ARS'
Plant, Soil and Nutrition
Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., by plant physiologist Ross Welch and human
nutritionist Ray Glahn. They will implement an in vitro laboratory model
developed by Glahn that couples simulated food digestion with a human
intestinal cell line called Caco-2.
Welch will coordinate ARS activities in the HarvestPlus program.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
primary scientific research agency.
Findings will be verified in research at ARS'
Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research
Center in Grand Forks, N.D., led by center director Gerald F. Combs, Jr.
Further enhancement of micronutrients in staples through molecular techniques
will be coordinated by plant physiologist Michael Grusak at the ARS
Children's Human Nutrition Research
Center in Houston, Texas.
CGIAR will focus mainly on the breeding and distribution of the
fortified crop varieties, targeting resource-poor people in the developing