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Biofortification: Combat World Hunger Crisis by breeding nutrient-packed Crops that will fill Stomachs and lessen Effects of Malnutrition

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Scientists are creating seeds with more nutrients to help fight world hunger. HarvestPlus, a Washington-based nonprofit, has been fortifying sees with vital nutrients since 2003. VOA
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Scientists are helping to combat the world hunger crisis by breeding nutrient-packed crops that will fill stomachs and lessen the effects of malnutrition.

It’s called biofortification.

It sounds complicated, but the concept is simple: create smarter seeds that grow into more nutrient-dense staple crops than regular ones. Then distribute the seeds on a large scale to farmers in developing countries, so they can grow crops that are more nutritious.

Seeds with more nutrients

This is what researchers at HarvestPlus, a Washington-based nonprofit, have been doing on a large scale since 2003, feeding an estimated 20 million people in 30 countries.

Their biofortified seeds pack one or more vital nutrients, such as iron, zinc and Vitamin A, said Bev Postma, HarvestPlus’ CEO.

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“It’s very important that the seeds are not just high in nutrition, but that they are still high-yielding, they are pest resistant, they are climate resistant — because these are the things a farmer still wants more,” she said.

Deficiencies of these nutrients can leave people more vulnerable to illness and infections, and in extreme cases cause blindness and stunt growth. Children are especially affected.

The organization’s research has found that many of these effects can be reversed in a matter of months once nutrient-packed foods are introduced into the local diet.

150 varieties of 12 staples

HarvestPlus scientists have produced 150 varieties of 12 staple foods, including corn, beans, rice, lentils and wheat.

In 2003, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the organization a $25 million grant over four years to help them scale up. This year, they are one of eight finalists for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which could help them realize their goal of reaching 1 billion people with biofortified crops by 2030.

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“We’re not trying to change behavior, we are looking to see what people are eating and we are just switching out to make that food more nutritious,” Postma said.

Biofortified seeds are produced in a traditional manner, and they are not genetically modified.

Seed distribution

The seeds are distributed through seed companies and sometimes directly to farmers.

“We’ve learned that in some countries, if we give the seed away, we can encourage the farmers to not just grow this new variety, but then ask them to give the next year’s seed that they harvest to four new farmers,” Postma said.

In other instances, she said, they work with seed companies to persuade them to adopt biofortified seeds and sell them as part of a package of options to farmers.

“We find in some instances it is better if farmers are paying for these seeds, because then there is a perceived value and adoption is higher,” she said. Postma said they try to make sure that their seeds are not more expensive than regular varieties.

The organization works with government agriculture and health ministries in developing countries to encourage them to adopt biofortified seeds as a cost-effective way to solve some of their major health problems. (IANS)

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Scientists Unveil a Tool That Can Predict Eye, Hair and Skin Color From DNA Sample

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Genes are a part of DNA/RNA.
Genes- A segment of DNA. Pixabay

Researchers have developed a novel web tool that can accurately predict eye, hair and skin color from even a small DNA sample, an advance that can be used when standard forensic profiling is not helpful.

The “HIrisPlex-S DNA test” system is capable of generating all three pigment traits from human biological material together using a freely available web tool.

The tool is designed to be used when standard forensic DNA profiling is not helpful because no reference DNA exists against which to compare the evidence sample.

The study, conducted on mice, found that genetic variations in the genes that codes for protein POU6F2 may affect the structure of the eye and increase a person's risk of glaucoma. Pixabay
Eye, representational image. pixabay

“We have previously provided law enforcement and anthropologists with DNA tools for eye colour and for combined eye and hair colour, but skin colour has been more difficult,” said Susan Walsh, forensic geneticist at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in the US.

Users, such as law enforcement officials or anthropologists, can enter relevant data using a laboratory DNA analysis tool, and the web tool will predict the pigment profile of the DNA donor.

“Importantly, we are directly predicting actual skin colour divided into five subtypes — very pale, pale, intermediate, dark and dark to black — using DNA markers from the genes that determine an individual’s skin coloration.

"This study provided evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat," said David Sabatini, an MIT professor of biology and the paper's another senior author.
DNA, Pixabay

“If anyone asks an eyewitness what they saw, the majority of time they mention hair colour and skin colour. What we are doing is using genetics to take an objective look at what they saw,” Walsh said.

Also Read: This DNA Test Can Screen Your Baby For 193 Genetic Diseases

The results are published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Genetics.

The innovative high-probability and high-accuracy complete pigmentation profile web tool is available online without charge, the researchers said. (IANS)