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Bio-fortification, a key to global food crisis: IAEA

world Updated: Aug 16, 2008 12:04 IST

In the backdrop of current global food crisis, Bio-fortification, a fairly new technique to improve nutrition through conventional plant breeding, was extensively discussed at meeting of scientists organized by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA uses nuclear techniques to evaluate bio-availability and efficacy in humans, said Lena Davidsson, who heads the Agency's Nutritional and Health-related Environmental Studies Section.

Unlike traditional means to add nutrients to food in the processing stages, bio-fortification seeks to do this while staple plants are being grown, and these new crops could reach those who lack access to centrally processed fortified foods, she said.

With our bio-fortification strategy, scientists try to put more vitamins and minerals into the foods staples that the poor are already eating in large amounts, Davidsson added.

IAEA has teamed up with the scientists in a four-year project in Asia and Latin America: HarvestPlus, a group of institutions working for better nutrition to poor, will develop bio-fortified foods, while IAEA will test the body's ability to use the nutrient-packed crops.

Under this scheme, some women in Bangladesh have replaced the typical white-coloured sweet potato with a bio-fortified orange one that is higher in beta-carotene. A sophisticated stable isotope technique will measure their vitamin A levels to determine how the bio-fortified products could combat nutritional deficiencies.

Compared to more traditional tests, stable isotope techniques allow more sensitivity and specificity in their measurements.