Improving human micronutrient nutrition through biofortification in the soil–plant system: China as a case study
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Micronutrient malnutrition is a major health problem in China. According to a national nutritional survey, approximately 24% of all Chinese children suffer from a serious deficiency of iron (Fe) (anemia), while over 50% show a sub-clinical level of zinc (Zn) deficiency. More than 374 million people in China suffer from goiter disease, which is related to iodine (I) deficiency, and approximately 20% of the Chinese population are affected by selenium (Se) deficiency. Micronutrient malnutrition in humans is derived from deficiencies of these elements in soils and foods. In China, approximately 40% of the total land area is deficient in Fe and Zn. Keshan and Kaschin-Beck diseases always appear in regions where the soil content of Se in low. The soil–plant system is instrumental to human nutrition and forms the basis of the “food chain” in which there is micronutrient cycling, resulting in an ecologically sound and sustainable flow of micronutrients. Soil-plant system strategies that have been adopted to improve human micronutrient nutrition mainly include: (1) exploiting micronutrient-dense crop genotypes by studying the physiology and genetics of micronutrient flow from soils to the edible parts of crops; (2) improving micronutrient bioavailability through a better knowledge of the mechanisms of the enhancers’ production and accumulation in edible parts and its regulation through soil-plant system; (3) improving our knowledge of the relationship between the content and bioavailability of micronutrients in soils and those in edible crop products for better human nutrition; (4) developing special micronutrient fertilizers and integrated nutrient management technologies for increasing both the density of the micronutrients in the edible parts of plants and their bioavailability to humans.