Better Vision Through Plant Breeding

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“We’re sort of

turbocharging corn with desirable natural variation to make it darker and more nutritious,”

TORBERT ROCHEFORD

PROFESSOR OF AGRONOMY, PERDUE

Scientists at Purdue University in Indiana have found that decreasing or increasing the function of a newly discovered gene in corn may increase vitamin A content and help reduce childhood blindness and mortality rates.

Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair of Translational Genomics and professor of agronomy at Purdue, led the study that made findings in yellow and particularly orange corn, a type popular in some Asian and South American countries as well as in northern Italy.

The orange colour comes from relatively higher levels of carotenoids, one of which is beta-carotene, which humans convert to vitamin A during digestion.

The World Health Organization says between 250,000 and 500,000 children, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia, go blind each year because of vitamin A deficiency.

Rocheford is using simple visual selection for darker orange colour combined with more advanced molecular natural diversity screening techniques to create better lines of the orange corn.

“We’re sort of turbocharging corn with desirable natural variation to make it darker and more nutritious,” Rocheford said in a Purdue release.

He says consumer acceptance may be an issue, since the U. S. only grows yellow and white corn, and Africa largely grows white corn. “But parts of the world – some parts of Asia and South America – actually prefer orange corn.”

Rocheford recently returned from a meeting in Zambia and saw an initial indication of consumer acceptance of orange corn there. He also stopped in northern Italy where orange corn is used for polenta, a sign that acceptance is possible in the developed world as well.

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