Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/19/2013
Publication Date: 1/2/2014
Citation: Burri, B.J. 2014. The current impact and potential of biotechnology to improve the capacity of orange-fleshed sweet potato to prevent vitamin A deficiency. IN: Ramawat, K., Merriloon, J.M., editors. Bulbous Plants: Biotechnology. Boca Raton,FL: CRC Press. 287-310.
Interpretive Summary: Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. It is also an important cause of premature death in children and pregnant women. Billions of people get most of their vitamin A from plants that are rich in beta-carotene. Orange sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene. The amount of orange sweet potatoes that provides 50% of the recommended dietary intake for vitamin A is already relatively small. Even lactating women, who need the most vitamin A, need to eat at most 1.2 cups per day. Biotechnology has a role in improving the orange sweet potato. Sweet potatoes have a complex genetics, which means that it is difficult to improve sweet potatoes by conventional farming techniques. This complexity has also slowed biotechnology efforts to improve sweet potatoes. Currently, there is little research on increasing the beta-carotene concentration of sweet potatoes through biotechnology. Most current research focuses on increasing the resistance of sweet potatoes to viruses or to environmental stress. This has had little impact on sweet potato production so far because it is focused on preventing crop failure instead of increasing production.
Technical Abstract: Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world and an important cause of premature death in young children and pregnant women. Billions of people get most of their vitamin A from plants that are rich in pro-vitamin A carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) are an excellent source of beta-carotene, and have improved vitamin A status in several small-scale interventions. The amount of OFSP that must be consumed to provide 50% of the RDA for vitamin A is reasonable, ranging from about 0.1 to 1.2 cups per day. World production is adequate to meet the needs of all of the people most at risk for vitamin A deficiency, if most sweet potatoes were OFSP. OFSP are difficult to improve by conventional hybridization techniques because of their complex genetics, and this complexity has also slowed biotechnological improvements in OFSP. This research is evaluated to estimate its current and potential impact on vitamin A status. OFSP are already an excellent source of beta-carotene, but there is a little research on increasing carotenoid concentrations through biotechnology. Most current research focuses on increasing the resistance of sweet potatoes to virus infestations, herbicides, and environmental stressors. Recently sweet potato production per hectare, and total production have increased slightly worldwide, while the hectares upon which sweet potatoes are grown have decreased. This is especially true in China, which is the major producer of sweet potatoes worldwide, and where biotechnological efforts to improve sweet potatoes are established. However, the impact of biotechnology on this increased production is unknown because few reports of field trials, or of failures, exist. It is probable that biotechnology has had minimal impact so far because most of the research is so recent, and because much of it is targeted to prevent crop failure instead of to increase production. However, the potential impact is greater.