Saturday, February 05, 2011

Modifying Staple Crops to Raise Intelligence of Third World People

Golden Rice

One of the many problems contributing to low intelligence and low productivity of billions of impoverished third world people, is their dependency on staple food crops which lack key nutrients. Staple crops often grow well in local soils and climates, but are lacking in nutritional components which the human body requires for optimal development and functioning.
On a per acreage basis, corn yield exceeds that of the other two major crops, wheat and soybean, by 2- to 3-fold. However, the nutritional quality of corn protein in these high yielding hybrids remains relatively poor due to its deficiency in essential amino acids, such as lysine. The focus of corn breeding on yield, which has resulted in a shift in grain composition from protein to starch1, has compounded this nutritional deficiency. As a major food and feed staple crop, corn is a poor protein source in both quality and quantity. Advancements in agricultural biotechnology may help improve the nutritional quality of corn protein, starting with lysine enhancement.
Understand that the promotion of yield most often occurs through selective breeding by indigenous farmers, and has resulted in the ability to support more people from the same amount of land. But if protein quality is diminished through indigenous farming practises, persons who are dependent upon such staples will not reach their peak levels of development or performance.

Besides maize, other staples being genetically modified include cassava:
Although cassava is a major source of carbohydrates for 700 million people, mostly in Africa, it normally contains only small amounts of protein. Claude Fauquet of the Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis, Missouri, and his team bumped up the protein content to 12.5 per cent by adding bean and maize genes to make a protein called zeolin. They were surprised to find that the plant used its natural supply of cyanide to provide the building blocks of the new protein. "Cyanide is a source of nitrogen within the plant," explains Fauquet.

While non-modified cassava supplies just one-fifth of daily protein requirements, the extra protein is enough to supply the needs of infants on a typical cassava-based diet (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016256). Fauquet says his root could save 1 in 4 African children from a potentially fatal condition called protein-energy malnutrition. _NS
PLoSONE article with details on cassava modification

Another staple starch crop being modified to produce more protein, is the "protato."
A team of Indian scientists have grown for the first time, a genetically modified spud called ‘protato’ that makes up to 60 per cent more protein per gram than ordinary potatoes.

Apart from that, the new crop created by Subra Chakraborty and colleagues at India's Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla also yielded more potato per hectare, reports New Scientist.

The team gave the potatoes a gene from the grain amaranth, a South American plant widely eaten across the tropics, including India. It was linked to a DNA code that turns on production of the storage protein in tubers. _IndianExpress
There is no question that such modifications hold one of the keys to successful colonisation of low-gravity space and other planets such as Mars or Luna. The ability to engineer a hardy staple crop which grows in moon gravel or air (aeroponics), and provides virtually all the nutrients and fiber persons need -- including children and pregnant females -- would clearly simplify the food aspect of adaptation to life off Earth.

One of the more famous GM modifications of a staple crop is "golden rice" -- a form of rice engineered to produce high levels of Beta Carotene. In populations suffering chronic Vitamin A deficiencies, such a crop could make a significant improvement in quality of life throughout the human life cycle. Publications detailing the Golden Rice project

Clearly the crop scientists creating the genetically modified foods mentioned above are attempting to create staple crops which the indigenous people will recognise and accept as familiar. But for true pioneers -- such as space colonists -- who are willing to put up with a bit of unfamiliarity initially, a far more radical GM food creation will be required.

What is needed is foods with minimal roots and stems, and maximum edible food. The crop's environment can be structured around its genetic requirements, by design. The food could not have a repellent taste or odour -- probably better for it to have a mild, minimal taste. Space chefs can season the staple to taste like just about anything, as long as the texture and appearance was acceptable.

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Blogger news said...

Helen Keller International, the Gates Foundation and IRRI appear to agree with you:


7:02 AM  

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