In the greenhouse, the genetically modified rice enriched sufficient quantities of iron and zinc in the grains.
Photo: © Navreet Bhullar / ETH Zurich

13.07.2018

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ETH Researchers at the ETH Zurich in Switzerland have genetically modified a key variety of rice, making it very efficient at enriching its grains with iron and zinc.

A team of researchers led by Navreet Bhullar from the Institute of Molecular Plant Biology at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, have genetically modified one of the most commonly grown varieties of rice. The advantage over the original variety is that these plants are better at mobilising their cellular stores of zinc and iron and depositing in the white part of the rice grain (known as the endosperm). This means that the micronutrients are transported and concentrated there. The ETH researchers are the first to explore this aspect of cellular transport mechanisms of iron and zinc to enrich rice with micronutrients.

To achieve this enrichment, Bhullar and her team incorporated a genetic construct expressing a combination of three additional genes into the rice plants. One of these genes facilitates mobilisation of iron stored in the plant vacuoles, while another encodes for an iron-storing protein, Ferritin, and the third one promotes efficient iron and zinc uptake by the roots.

Last year, the same team of researchers established a proof of concept in combining three nutritionally relevant traits in one rice line.

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