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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Ithaca, New York » Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture & Health » Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #256269

Title: Iron biofortification of maize grain

item Hoekenga, Owen
item LUNG'AHO, MERCY - Cornell University - New York
item TAKO, ELAD - Cornell University - New York
item Kochian, Leon
item Glahn, Raymond

Submitted to: Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/6/2011
Publication Date: 3/25/2011
Citation: Hoekenga, O., Lung'Aho, M., Tako, E., Kochian, L.V., Glahn, R.P. 2011. Iron biofortification of maize grain. Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization. 1-3. Available:

Interpretive Summary: Cereal crops like maize are poor sources of dietary iron. As many people around the world rely on maize for a majority of their calories, this lack of nutritional quality has large impacts on human health. While maize contains significant amounts of iron, this iron is poorly absorbed and utilized by those who consume it. Why maize has low iron nutritional quality is very much an open question; a laboratory bioassay is the most direct way to test iron nutritional quality of foods. We used this bioassay to see whether we could improve iron nutritional quality in maize using plant breeding methods. We then fed the new varieties we generated to chickens, to see if the laboratory-based assumptions would be supported with real world observations. We confirmed that the bioassay is useful to direct plant breeding decisions that that we can improve the iron nutritional quality of maize.

Technical Abstract: Mineral nutrient deficiencies are a worldwide problem that is directly correlated with poverty and food insecurity. The most common of these is iron deficiency; more than one-third of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency-induced anemia, 80% of which are in developing countries. The consequences of iron deficiency include increased mortality and morbidity rates, diminished cognitive abilities in children, and reduced labor productivity, which in turn stagnates national development. The developed world has made tremendous success in alleviating nutrient deficiencies through dietary diversification, food product fortification, improved public health care, and supplementation. In developing countries, these strategies are often expensive and difficult to sustain. The rural poor typically consume what they grow and are dependent upon a small number of staple crops for the vast majority of their nutrition. Therefore, genetic improvement of staple crops (biofortification) is the most cost effective and sustainable solution to this global health problem. Here we describe a strategy to enhance iron nutritional quality in maize using a human cell culture based bioassay as a phenotyping tool. We also report validation of this approach using an animal feeding study.