Business India: New Delhi, January 5, 2005
An international institute near Hyderabad has commenced research to enhance production of beta-carotenes in groundnut crops. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) says the improved groundnuts should help fight micronutrient malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency in developing nations. The research is part of the 'global challenge programme' of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), aimed at the bio-fortification of crops to combat malnutrition due to the deficiency of nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A in food crops.
At ICRISAT, tissue culture and transformation methods are being used to produce new transgenic groundnuts with higher levels of beta-carotenes. Though rich in oil, zinc and iron, groundnuts are generally deficient in beta-carotenes.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, despite improvement in agricultural production, one-third of the world's population is affected by vitamin A, iron, and zinc deficiencies. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness and total blindness in children. The World Health Organisation estimates that the elimination of this deficiency could reduce childhood mortality by 25 percent.
While vitamin A is only present in animal products, its predecessor beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A is found in several plant species. But these are not taken up easily from digested food because they are fat-soluble.