Potatoes may lead to nutritious cassava crops

Boyce Thompson Institute assistant professor Joyce Van Eck has received a new patent for a way to increase beta-carotene in potatoes.

Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A, which can cause blindness and premature death in malnourished children when it is in deficiency. Van Eck has joined Paul Anderson, executive director of the Institute for International Crop Improvement at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. The two hope to produce more nutritious cassava crops in developing countries.

“The idea was to produce potatoes and use it as a model for other crops in developing countries, especially in areas where vitamin A deficiency is a problem,” Van Eck said.

Potatoes can synthesize beta-carotene, but it is converted to zeaxanthin which cannot produce vitamin A. In order to produce potatoes with beta carotene, Van Eck inserted a specially designed part of DNA into the potato genome which built up the beta-carotene levels in the potatoes, enough to fulfill 18 percent of a toddler’s daily nutritional requirement. Potatoes are the ideal crop because they are popular and easy to grow.

The collaboration between BTI and the Institute for International Crop Improvement was funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Danforth Center.

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