Researchers in Spain and Germany have developed a new type of maize that producesÂ large amounts of beta carotene and precursors of vitamin C and folic acid. The team, centred on the University of Lleida, is trying to develop this as a food crop for people in sub-saharan Africa, where it could improve the basic diet for the very poor, providing around 20% of daily vitamin C and almost all required folic acid and vitamin A. Trials of the crop will begin in the US next year and animal tests to obtain efficacy and safety data will begin soon.
The human body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A which is an important nutrient for the skin, eyes, pregnant mothers and the immune system. Ascorbate is converted to vitamin C also necessary for healthy skin and a good immune system. The new maize would also provide higher levels of folic acid, important in the formation of red blood cells and foetal development.
Environmental campaigners are not so sure, claiming that the introduction of green plants to farmers in these areas would boost the local diet without having to introduce genetically modified crops. They cite the poor uptake of golden rice, modified to produce higher levels of vitamin A for communities in south-east Asia, as evidence that the basic idea is unsound. However, humanitarian aid organisations have yet to comment.
You can read more on the BBC News site. There is more information about theÂ University of LleidaÂ team and their work, including the development of maize that produces medicines, in Science Daily. Sacred Earth has a good ethnobotany article on maize. While there doesn’t appear to be a specific response to this result by an environmentalist group, Friends of the Earth has a general policy document on genetically modified foods. Opinions vary and the subject of genetic modification of food crops raises a lot of issues. Why not leave us a comment stating what you think?