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J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Jun;21(3 Suppl):184S-190S.

Fighting iron deficiency anemia with iron-rich rice.

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  • 1Institute for Plant Science ETHZ, Zurich, Switzerland.



Iron deficiency is estimated to affect about 30% of the world population. Iron supplementation in the form of tablets and food fortification has not been successful in developing countries, and iron deficiency is still the most important deficiency related to malnutrition. Here we present experiments that aim to increase the iron content in rice endosperm and to improve its absorption in the human intestine by means of genetic engineering.


We first introduced a ferritin gene from Phaseolus vulgaris into rice grains, increasing their iron content up to twofold. To increase iron bioavailability, we introduced a thermo-tolerant phytase from Aspergillus fumigatus into the rice endosperm. In addition, as cysteine peptides are considered major enhancers of iron absorption, we over-expressed the endogenous cysteine-rich metallothionein-like protein.


The content of cysteine residues increased about sevenfold and the phytase level in the grains about one hundred and thirtyfold, giving a phytase activity sufficient to completely degrade phytic acid in a simulated digestion experiment.


This rice, with higher iron content, rich in phytase and cysteine-peptide has a great potential to substantially improve iron nutrition in those populations where iron deficiency is so widely spread.

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