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PLoS One. 2010 Apr 16;5(4):e10190. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010190.

Nicotianamine, a novel enhancer of rice iron bioavailability to humans.

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State Key Laboratory of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.



Polished rice is a staple food for over 50% of the world's population, but contains little bioavailable iron (Fe) to meet human needs. Thus, biofortifying the rice grain with novel promoters or enhancers of Fe utilization would be one of the most effective strategies to prevent the high prevalence of Fe deficiency and iron deficiency anemia in the developing world.


We transformed an elite rice line cultivated in Southern China with the rice nicotianamine synthase gene (OsNAS1) fused to a rice glutelin promoter. Endosperm overexpression of OsNAS1 resulted in a significant increase in nicotianamine (NA) concentrations in both unpolished and polished grain. Bioavailability of Fe from the high NA grain, as measured by ferritin synthesis in an in vitro Caco-2 cell model that simulates the human digestive system, was twice as much as that of the control line. When added at 1:1 molar ratio to ferrous Fe in the cell system, NA was twice as effective when compared to ascorbic acid (one of the most potent known enhancers of Fe bioavailability) in promoting more ferritin synthesis.


Our data demonstrated that NA is a novel and effective promoter of iron utilization. Biofortifying polished rice with this compound has great potential in combating global human iron deficiency in people dependent on rice for their sustenance.

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