Genetically modified plants for improved trace element nutrition

Bo Lönnerdal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Deficiencies of iron and zinc are common worldwide. Various strategies have been used to combat these deficiencies including supplementation, food fortification and modification of food preparation and processing methods. A new possible strategy is to use biotechnology to improve trace element nutrition. Genetic engineering can be used in several ways; the most obvious is to increase the trace element content of staple foods such as cereals and legumes. This may be achieved by introduction of genes that code for trace element-binding proteins, overexpression of storage proteins already present and/or increased expression of proteins that are responsible for trace element uptake into plants. However, even very high levels of expression may not substantially increase the iron and zinc contents unless many atoms of trace elements are bound per protein molecule. Another possibility is to introduce a protein that specifically enhances trace element absorption even in the presence of naturally occurring inhibitors, thus improving bioavailability. Genetically modifying plants so that their contents of inhibitors of trace element absorption such as phytate are substantially reduced is another approach. Increasing the expression of compounds that enhance trace element absorption such as ascorbic acid is also a possibility, although this has received limited attention so far. Iron absorption may be increased by higher ascorbic or citric acid content but require overexpression of enzymes that are involved in the synthetic pathways. Finally, a combination of all of these approaches perhaps complemented with conventional breeding techniques may prove successful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number5 SUPPL. 2
StatePublished - May 1 2003


  • Bioavailability
  • Gene insertion
  • Genetically modified plants
  • Iron
  • Plant breeding
  • Trace element absorption
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science


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