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[genet-news] SCIENCE & PLANTS: Poverty: Supervitamin corn against world hunger

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: ANSAmed, Italy



DATE:   28.04.2009

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(ANSAmed) - MADRID - A transgenic hypervitaminised corn could be used in poor countries to deal with serious nutritional deficiencies caused by a poor diet often based on cereal crops. These are the results published in the journal ?Proceedings? by the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) which have been provided by a research team the University of Lerida after five years of research. The researchers used technology developed in the department of plant production and forest sciences at the University of Lerida. This technology consists of copying the genes of bacteria that produce vitamins A, C and folic acid, to then insert them into the corn ears. Part of the analyses was carried out by the University of Murcia and the German Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. ?We have shown that corn or any type of cereal can also contain vitamins?, explained the coordinator of the scientific team, molecular biologist Teresa Capell in statements to El Mundo. ?But our research has nothing t
 o do with those carried out by agri-foodstuff multinationals on transgenics. For the moment we have been able to obtain the seeds and now we will look into testing them on animals?. Experiments are to be conducted at the University of Lerida on guinea pigs and, over two to three years, positive and negative aspects of genetically modified corn will be verified. The ear of corn that has been produced by the laboratory is completely orange, which is reminiscent of carrots, given the high levels of beta-carotene in vitamin A, the levels of which are 169 times higher than in the normal ear of corn and 5 times higher than those contained in golden rice, a transgenic variety produced in China. Destined for farmers in poor countries, once it has passed laboratory tests, the hypervitaminised corn will be available for everyone: the University of Lerida guarantees that the seeds will be distributed for free and will be used for cultivation and consumption by small producer who are un
 able to afford them. ?It is not corn to be used to expand large cultivations, for this reason it does not interest large food multinationals,? Capell observed. The research was carried out on ears of corn native to South Africa, a corn which is immune to hybridisations, compared to the overwhelming majority of those current cultivated. The researchers underline that between 40 and 50% of the world population suffers from illnesses linked to deficiencies of minerals and vitamins. A deficiency that rich countries compensate for by integrating fruit and vegetables into their diets. The molecular biologists from the University of Lerida assure that ?food such as corn strengthened with vitamins would be an enormous help to health organisations throughout the world?.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation, UK



DATE:   27.04.2009

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A genetically modified (GM) corn fortified with three vitamins has been created by European researchers.

The modifications make the growing corn, or maize, produce large amounts of beta carotene and precursors of vitamin C and folic acid.

The development marks the first time any plant has been engineered to make more than one vitamin.

The creators argue the corn could help improve diets in poorer nations, but anti-GM campaigners are sceptical.

Doctored diet

Reported in the PNAS journal, the research details how the South African white corn was created.

The team, led by Dr Paul Christou from Spain?s University of Lleida, transferred genes into immature embryos of a variety known as M37W.

The embryos were bombarded with metal particles coated with chunks of DNA that, if taken up by the embryo, would alter its internal biochemical processes to make it produce the vitamins.

Subsequent analysis of sample plants grown from the genetically modified seeds showed that the corn was indeed successfully manipulated into producing the vitamins.

The changes induced in the corn also persisted through a couple of generations of the plants, wrote the researchers.

The yield of vitamins ?vastly exceeds? any produced by conventional plant breeding methods wrote Dr Christou and his colleagues, from universities in Spain and in Germany, in their paper.

Producing a plant that contains three vitamins could help those in poorer nations who subsist on one food and rarely eat a balanced diet, the scientists said.

Before now plants have been produced that are fortified with one vitamin. However, added the researchers, wide use of such plants might alleviate one deficiency and do nothing about the others.

By contrast, wrote the researchers, those eating 100-200g of the fortified corn would get almost all their recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and folic acid and 20% of the ascorbate they need.

Dr Christou told BBC News: ?Our research is humanitarian in nature and targets impoverished people in developing countries. This specific project is targeted towards sub-Saharan Africa.?

He added: ?Our funding is exclusively from public sources so we are not encumbered by any commercial constraints.?

Dr Christou said the success of the lab work was pushing the team to start field trials. Initial trials will be held in the US in 2010.

He said: ?Once this is done we will be able to have enough data to try in Africa.

?We will soon embark on animal studies to generate efficacy and safety data, which will be required at some point,? he added.

?Expensive technofixes?

Prof Johnathan Napier, research leader at the UK?s Rothamsted Research Institute, said the work by Dr Christou and colleagues was similar to that done on ?golden rice? but produced a crop with much higher levels of vitamin A.

He added that farmers and agriculturists had for centuries bred crops that resisted particular diseases, were easier to harvest or produced greater yields.

?With the advent of more advanced technologies we can select for less obvious traits that are more important like nutrition,? he said.

However, he said, moving from the lab to the field and then to wide-scale use could take time.

?The approval process is rigorous and long-winded,? he said. ?But it?s important to make sure that the technology works, is stable and is evaluated as well as possible.?

Clare Oxborrow from campaign group Friends of the Earth sounded a note of caution about genetically modified crops.

Ms Oxborrow said it was ?virtually impossible? to contain GM crops and to be sure that all the people eating them were getting the correct dose of what they had been modified to make.

She added people who lacked access to a balanced diet often lacked access to almost all foods, so simply fortifying staples would not solve their problems.

Rather than opt for ?expensive, untested and potentially risky GM technofixes?, she said ?research efforts would be better placed ensuring that people are able to grow, or otherwise have access to, a diverse range of foods that will give many other health benefits.?

Ms Oxborrow said golden rice, fortified with vitamin A, had been available for many years but was still not widely used or commercialised.

She said: ?Supporting families to grow green leafy vegetables in their communities can ensure sufficient levels of vitamin A, as well as a host of other nutrients and vitamins that a narrow GM fix would not even begin to solve.?

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, USA

AUTHOR: Karen Kaplan


DATE:   28.04.2009

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The genetic breakthrough marks the first time multiple vitamins have been engineered into a single plant. The enhanced crops would be a particular boon to diets in developing countries.

Scientists have engineered vitamin-fortified corn designed to boost consumption of three key nutrients that are sorely lacking in the diets of millions of people in developing countries, according to a study published today.

The genetically modified African corn has bright orange kernels, reflecting the 169-fold increase in beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The corn also has six times the normal amount of vitamin C and double the usual level of folate, researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Though genetic engineering has been used to enhance vitamin content in a variety of crops -- including rice, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes -- this is the first time scientists have been able to amplify multiple vitamins in a single plant.

?They really have made a major step forward here,? said Martina Newell-McGloughlin, a plant pathologist at UC Davis who wasn?t involved in the study. ?I could see this transforming the field. It?s just really cool stuff.?

Corn breeders could potentially create the same plant by conventional means -- if they kept at it for several hundred years, Newell-McGloughlin said.

The researchers, from Spain and Germany, targeted this combination of vitamins because deficiencies in them cause many diseases in the developing world, said study leader Paul Christou of the University of Lleida in Spain. The beta carotene boost was the most dramatic because scientists are most familiar with the genes controlling that nutrient, he said.

The team inserted five genes from other organisms -- including rice and Escherichia coli -- into a popular South African white corn variety called M37W that Christou said is ?completely devoid of vitamins.?

To embed the genes into the corn?s DNA, the researchers attached them to microscopic gold particles and shot them into immature corn embryos in a laboratory dish. When the cells divided, they contained the new genes.

The scientists? method ensures that the five genes are inserted in the genome together, so that they stick together in subsequent generations. The genes have stayed intact over four generations so far, according to the study.

These orange corn plants are just a proof of concept, the scientists added.

To grow in Africa, Central America or elsewhere, they would have to be crossed with the many corn varieties adapted to specific regions. That process could take 10 years, said Gary Toenniessen, an agriculture specialist at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York who is involved with the rollout of a genetically engineered crop, Golden Rice, fortified with beta carotene.

But most of the target countries in Africa don?t have systems in place to evaluate and approve genetically modified crops, and several countries have banned them, Toenniessen said.

?They?re going to be up against quite a challenge to actually take a product like what they?ve produced and eventually get it out to farmers,? he said.

Other scientists are using conventional breeding to make corn more nutritious. The nonprofit HarvestPlus initiative is trying to create crops with 15 micrograms of beta carotene per gram of corn. That?s only one-quarter as much as the European researchers achieved, but it?s 10 times the amount in run-of-the-mill yellow corn, said Kevin Pixley, who leads corn-breeding efforts at HarvestPlus.

Considering the resistance to genetically modified foods, conventional breeding is probably a better way to create fortified corn plants for poor farmers, said Pixley, who is based at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center outside Mexico City. But in some cases, he said, genetic engineering is the only option.

?For certain other crops and nutrients, the naturally occurring genetic variation simply does not exist to allow achieving useful levels via conventional breeding,? he said.



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