Enhancing Iron in Lentils - PulseResearch
April 25, 2017
Researchers use biofortification to enhance nutritional quality of lentils
Affecting approximately one-third of the world’s population, iron deficiency is a leading nutritional problem worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, anaemia or iron deficiency results in outcomes such as significantly reduced physical and cognitive development in children, increasing their risk of morbidity, and reduces productivity in adults. Anaemia also contributes to about 20 per cent of all maternal death and reduced or poor pregnancy outcomes. To combat iron deficiency, researchers have been studying iron nutrition for decades and they are now addressing the issue with biofortification, the process of using breeding, agricultural practices, or post-harvest process amendments, to enhance the nutritional quality of food crops.
Dr. Ray Glahn, a nutritional physiologist with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Cornell University, works on biofortification projects with plant breeders from universities and international agencies around the world.
“Iron bioavailability research has been ongoing at the Robert Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in Ithaca, New York for the past 50 years,” he says, explaining biofortification was developed over the past 15 years as a strategy for small-scale, subsistence farmers in developing regions of the world.
After hearing about Glahn’s research team’s efforts in biofortification, and their expertise in screening staple food crops for iron content and bioavailability, Dr. Bert Vandenberg and his research group from the University of Saskatchewan approached them to do some collaborative work. This led to the development of a research project funded by Saskatchewan Pulse Growers that would look at iron biofortification of lentils in Saskatchewan.
The project, which began in 2012, consisted of two major objectives. The first was to evaluate the ongoing lentil production in Saskatchewan to determine what per cent of lentils were already high in iron concentration and establish a relative bioavailability range. Within this objective, the researchers also sought to establish correlation between their in vitro and in vivo screening tool, a poultry-feeding model, for iron bioavailability in lentils.
The results showed that in contrast with previous studies, green and red lentils harvested during the 2012 season did not produce as broad a range in iron concentration as documented in previous studies. Overall, the studies suggest that lentil iron concentration can be further enhanced through breeding for consistent nutritional effect.
The second objective was to establish fundamental information required to develop a breeding strategy to enhance the iron concentration and iron bioavailability in lentils. For this objective, lentil association mapping populations were sown at two locations. Researchers harvested seed samples, quantified the iron concentration, and genotyped the lentil association mapping accessions.
Glahn says a more focused breeding approach is needed. His team is currently working with the Crop Development Centre and other pulse breeders to develop lentil lines with enhanced iron content and bioavailability. And, Saskatchewan pulse growers are poised to be at the forefront of the process. The opportunity for growers this creates is to capitalize on increased demand for their pulse crops based on nutritional properties and a production level that can be unique to Saskatchewan.
“Since Canadian pulse crops are naturally high in iron and exported worldwide, the Saskatchewan pulse growers are uniquely poised for crop biofortification,” says Glahn. “They have the infrastructure to use modern agriculture to make biofortified crops on an unprecedented scale. If they can couple their production resources with development of iron-biofortified lines, then they should be able to consistently supply these crops in quantities that can have sustainable impact on alleviating iron deficiency on anaemia.”
SPG Investment: $240,042
Project Length: 25 years
Dr. Ray Glahn - Nutritional Physiologist, United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service and Courtesy Associate Professor, Department of Food Science, Cornell University
Dr. Bert Vandenberg - Plant Breeder, Crop Development Centre, and Professor and NSERC-SPG Lentil Industrial Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan