New rices may help address vitamin A and iron deficiency, major causes of death in the developing world

ast majority of them women. Between 40 and 50 per cent of children under five in developing countries -- and over 50 per cent of pregnant women -- are iron deficient. In Africa and Asia UNICEF estimates that IDA contributes to approximately 20 per cent of all maternal deaths.

Each year more than one million VAD-associated childhood deaths occur. And, according to the World Health Organization, as many as 230 million children are at risk of clinical or subclinical VAD, a condition that is largely preventable.

VAD makes children especially vulnerable to infection and worsens the course of many infections. Supplementation with vitamin A is estimated by UNICEF to lower a child's risk of dying by approximately 23 percent. VAD is also the single most important cause of blindness among children in developing countries.

The research into the new health-enhancing rice varieties received funding only from governments and not-for-profit organizations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, and will be freely available to national and international agricultural research centers. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines, will be the researcher's immediate partner for further development of the transgenic material into publicly available rice breeding lines.

Rice plants do produce carotenoid compounds that are converted to vitamin A, but only in the green parts of the plant and not in the component of rice grain consumed by humans. Consequently VAD often occurs where rice is the major staple food. The millions of children who are weaned on rice gruels are particularly prone to VAD since they consume little else. And children in rural areas are seldom reached by vitamin A supplementation programs.

The amount of bioavailable iron is dependent both on the level of dietary iron consumption and on iron absorption during the digestive process. Dietary iron in developing countries consists primarily of non-heme iron of veg

Contact: Ellen Wilson, Dennis Kelly, or Eileen Kugler
XVI International Botanical Congress

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