Plant and Soil

, Volume 245, Issue 1, pp 205-214

First online:

Breeding crops for enhanced micronutrient content

  • Ross M. WelchAffiliated withSoil and Nutrition Laboratory, USDA-ARS, U.S. Plant Email author 
  • , Robin D. GrahamAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Science, Waite Campus, University of Adelaide

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Micronutrient malnutrition (e.g. Fe, Zn and vitamin A deficiencies) now afflicts over 40% of the world's population and is increasing especially in many developing nations. Green revolution cropping systems may have inadvertently contributed to the growth in micronutrient deficiencies in resource-poor populations. Current interventions to eliminate these deficiencies that rely on supplementation and food fortification programs do not reach all those affected and have not proven to be sustainable. Sustainable solutions can only be developed through agricultural system approaches. One agricultural approach is to enrich major staple food crops (e.g. rice, wheat, maize, beans and cassava) in micronutrients through plant breeding strategies. Available research has demonstrated that micronutrient enrichment traits are available within the genomes of these major staple crops that could allow for substantial increases in Fe, Zn and provitamin A carotenoids without negatively impacting yield. Furthermore, micronutrient-dense seeds can increase crop yields when sowed to micronutrient-poor soils. The enrichment traits appear to be stable across various soil types and climatic environments. Further research is required to determine if increasing levels of micronutrients in staple foods can significantly improve the nutritional status of people suffering from micronutrient deficiencies.

iron nutritional quality plant breeding staple foods vitamin A zinc