Problems of iron deficiency could be alleviated with white flour made from the engineered wheat contains twice the typical amount of iron; something that cannot be achieved by normal breeding.
The two genes responsible for the transport of iron were found using the recently published wheat genome. Dr James Connorton, working with Dr Janneke Balk and Dr Cristobal Uauy of John Innes Centre, then used one of these genes to direct more iron into the endosperm, the part of the grain from which white flour is milled.
Iron occurs naturally in wheat, but it is largely found in the outer parts of the grain, the aleurone layer and the seed coat. Unfortunately, these parts of the grain are removed during production of white flour, resulting in low levels of iron in the final product. The endosperm is the inner starchy part of the grain used to make flour. It has very little iron naturally, so white flour made from commercial wheat varieties also contains low levels of iron. With the help of the BRACT Crop Transformation platform the team engineered the wheat so that the endosperm accumulated more iron.
By understanding the mechanisms of iron uptake into the endosperm of the plant, breeders can look at ways of incorporating this knowledge into wheat breeding programmes and work to produce wheat that gives white flour with enhanced iron content.
To read the paper in Plant Physiology:
Vacuolar Iron Transporter TaVIT2 transports Fe and Mn and is effective for biofortification James M Connorton, Eleanor R Jones, Ildefonso Rodriguez-Ramiro, Susan Fairweather-Tait, Cristobal Uauy, Janneke Balk, Published July 2017. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1104/pp.17.00672