||Friday, June 26th, 2009 [ versión español ]
A meeting that brought together Scientists from different parts of the world, interested in developing a food crop that will contain all the nutrients needed for feeding people in developing countries in Africa, was held recently in the Mayagüez Campus (RUM) of the University of Puerto Rico.
According to the information provided in the meeting, the main source of calories for the people of Africa is through the consumption of cassava. However, the consumption of this tuber, with high content of starch, has resulted in health problems due to its lack of essential nutrients or proteins.
Given the need of developing a plant that promotes the well being of those who eat it, the team of experts grouped as BioCassava Plus directs their efforts in genetically fortifying cassava. Their proposal is part of a research program funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that focuses on addressing the problem of malnutrition that exists in Africa which leads to approximately six million deaths per year.
“Cassava is the fourth largest crop in the world and first in Africa for calories consumed by humans. Its high carbohydrate content does not provide complete daily nutrition needed by millions of people throughout the world, especially those living in the sub-Saharan Africa,” explained Dr. Dimuth Siritunga, of the Department of Biology of the RUM.
Dr. Siritunga, who is part of the team of researchers from BioCassava Plus program, reports that efforts are underway to fortify cassava biologically, so it contains enough vitamins, minerals, and protein for those who consume it. The team has been successful in enriching cassava with vitamins A, vitamin E, iron, and zinc, as well as making it more resistant to virus and less toxic. Through this effort, scientists have met one of the goals of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which is to improve nutrition in the world, by developing a food crop of high nutritional content.
According to Dr. Siritunga, the team is highly collaborative and involves scientists from 11 institutions representing United States, England, China, Switzerland, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda. Furthermore, the project is divided into three phases. The primary work on the molecular aspects is conducted in laboratories in the United States, followed by Puerto Rico, where the genetically enhanced material is tested in confined field trails due to its climatic similarities to the African continent. The last phase is to perform field trials in Africa and assess its nutritional value to humans.
The participants of this annual meeting held in RUM, had the opportunity to share developments in their researches and to visit the fields of the genetically enhanced cassava at the Experimental Station in Isabela.
Participants had the opportunity to share the progress of research to bio-fortify cassava.
The meeting brought together Scientists from United States, England, Switzerland, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Africa.
Photos by: Carlos Díaz / UPRM Press