Laboratory of Functional Plant Biology
Micronutrient biofortification and the effects of global climate change on micronutrient content in staple crops
In 2007, a research team from Ghent University in Belgium, coordinated by Dominique Van Der Straeten, reported the development of rice lines with 100-fold higher folate levels, by metabolic engineering of the folate biosynthesis pathway (results published in Nature Biotechnology). Vitamins are, however, unstable molecules, that easily degrade upon contact with oxygen, light, humidity, increased temperatures and changes in acidity. For this reason, it is important to consume food products as fresh as possible. Losses (up to 90%) occur during food processing and preparation, and during storage. Consequently, not only elevated, but also stable vitamin levels are important to tackle vitamin deficiencies. The stability issue is often underestimated or even neglected in biofortification programs. Evidently, these problems occur in harvest products that are stored for a longer period, such as rice, which is often kept for half a year. Stability problems are more severe in developing countries where storage in high temperature and high humidity is inevitable. To tackle the problem of degradation, the consortium developed a new rice prototype, in which the folate content remains stable upon long term storage. The trait can be transferred to culinary interesting rice varieties. The results were published in Nature Biotechnology.
The group currently aims at multi-biofortification of staple crops. Combinations of folates (vitB9) with provitamin A, several B-vitamins including B1 and B2, and iron, are aimed at. A long-term goal is also to obtain B12 enhancement.
In addition, in the framework of a European collaboration (BIOFAIR project), we investigate the effects of rising levels of atmospheric CO2 on micronutrient content in wheat.