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Swiss researchers develop rice with increased (six-fold!) iron content

Published: Thursday, August 20, 2009
Last Updated: Thursday, August 20, 2009
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Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed rice plants that contain six times more iron in polished rice kernels.

 To accomplish this, the researchers transferred two plant genes into an existing rice variety. In the future, the high-iron rice could help to combat iron deficiency, especially in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

Peeled rice, also called polished rice, does not have enough iron to satisfy the daily requirement, even if consumed in large quantities. (Image: flickr)
Peeled rice, also called polished rice, does not have enough iron to satisfy the daily requirement, even if consumed in large quantities. (Image: flickr)

According to the World Health Organization, approximately two billion people suffer from iron deficiency. They tire easily, experience problems in metabolizing harmful substances in their bodies and eventually suffer from anemia. Women and children are particularly affected in developing countries, where rice is the major staple food. Peeled rice, also called polished rice, does not have enough iron to satisfy the daily requirement, even if consumed in large quantities. For many people, a balanced diet or iron supplements are often unaffordable.

Rice actually has a lot of iron, but only in the seed coat. Because unpeeled rice quickly becomes rancid in tropical and subtropical climates, however, the seed coat – along with the precious iron – has to be removed for storage. Researchers working with Christof Sautter and Wilhelm Gruissem in the laboratory of plant biotechnology at ETH Zurich have now succeeded in increasing the iron content in polished rice by transferring two plant genes into an existing rice variety. Their work was published today in the online edition of „Plant Biotechnology Journal”.

Original: J. Wirth et al. (2009) Rice endosperm iron biofortification by targeted and synergistic action of nicotianamine synthase and ferritin. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 7: in press.

For reprint: Prof. Wilhelm Gruissem <>

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