In a development reported this week in Science magazine and which could enhance the nutritional status of millions of people in developing countries, a team of plant geneticists and crop scientists including CIMMYT’s Jianbing Yan pioneered an economical approach to boost levels of provitamin A in maize. ‘Provitamin A’ describes substances that are converted to vitamin A upon consumption. The team showed that variation at the lycopene epsilon cyclase (lcyE) locus—favorable alleles of which can be selected using molecular markers—controls biosynthesis pathways for Vitamin A precursors in maize.
Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of eye disease and other health disorders in the developing world. Some 40 million children are afflicted with eye disease, and another 250 million suffer with health problems resulting from a lack of dietary vitamin A. Selecting for provitamin A in maize normally involves expensive lab analyses, so the ability to use DNA markers for this purpose should reduce costs significantly.
“I played a very small part in the study, and more work needs to be done” says Yan, who came to CIMMYT in October 2006 from the China Agricultural University, Beijing. “I helped to re-confirm the markers and fix some tables.” According to Yan, molecular markers associated with lcyE are being used in several institutes around the world, including CIMMYT, for breeding to enhance the vitamin A value of maize. He will give a seminar at El Batán on Monday, 21 January in B115 at 3:30.