Improving Cassava for Nutrition

Poor nutrition is a major global health problem, contributing to half of the nearly 10 million deaths that occur each year in children younger than 5 and much of the death disease and suffering impacting sub-Saharan Africa. A starchy root crop called cassava is the major source of calories for more than 250 million Africans in this region, but cassava has the lowest protein-to-energy ratio of any staple crop.

A typical diet based on cassava provides less than 30 percent of the minimum daily requirement for protein and only 10-20 percent of the required amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Moreover, because it carries low levels of a naturally occurring cyanide, cassava can be toxic if is not prepared properly. A promising long-term solution to this problem is to genetically modify crops, like cassava, that grow well in harsh climates so that they have high levels of essential nutrients.

Dr. Sayre is leading a multidisciplinary team of scientists, brought together as BioCassava Plus, that is working to create nutritious cassava for sub-Saharan Africa. Team members are screening additional transgenic plants and expect that complimentary genetic strategies currently underway will soon yield plants that achieve their targeted levels of iron, zinc, and protein.

Research Objectives:

Develop a novel cassava germplasm with increased levels of bioavailable zinc, iron, protein, and vitamins A and E
Lower levels of cyanogenic glycosides, which can compromise the health of consumers, especially those who are undernourished
Improve durability after harvest so roots can be stored longer
Increase resistance to viral disease.

Dr. Richard T. Sayre, Ohio State University, Ohio, United States - US

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