Scientists develop 'super spud' in a bid to prevent malnutrition
Scientists are creating a “super potato”, fortified with iron and zinc, in a bid to tackle malnutrition in developing countries. Potato is a staple crop in many parts of the world and researchers at the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru believe that a biofortified variety could have an important role to play in improving diets. After rice and maize potato is the third most consumed food in the world so increasing its micronutrient content would make a significant difference to people’s health around the globe, said Dr Oscar Ortiz, director of the CIP.
Work on biofortification of the potato began in 2004 as researchers looked through a gene bank of around 200 varieties from countries around the Andes - where the potato originated. Researchers identified 16 native varieties with high levels of iron, zinc and vitamin C and then spent more than a decade crossing these types with each other to produce varieties with even higher levels of micronutrients.
These were then crossed with other types of potato with high yields and good resistance to disease such as blight. These varieties have 40 to 80 per cent more iron than types currently grown in the Andes. Now these potatoes are being tested to see if they grow in other parts of the world: clones are being grown in Rwanda and Kenya and will soon be introduced to Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Researchers are also conducting bioavailability testing to see whether the increased iron content of the potato is absorbed by the human body. Once this is confirmed Dr Ortiz believes that the new varieties will be available within the next two years. “If we can confirm this, which is a critical milestone, the potato will be available in 2021,” he said.