NEWS FLASH 14 October 2014
An iron- and zinc-rich rice developed by Melbourne and Adelaide researchers and studied at the Australian Synchrotron has reached the finals of the Australian Innovation Challenge in the Environment, Agriculture and Food category.
Alex Johnson (University of Melbourne) and his colleagues used the Synchrotron to demonstrate that the new rice had higher levels of iron and zinc than ordinary rice, particularly in the part of the rice grain that most people eat, which is the endosperm. The team used the x-ray fluorescence microscopy beamline, which features the award-winning Maia detector, to produce detailed maps of elemental distribution at resolution down to sub-micron levels.
READ ABOUT THE PROJECT AND THE SYNCHROTRON CONNECTION
Despite being a major food source for billions of people in developing countries, particularly in Asia, polished or white rice does not contain enough iron, zinc or pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements.
A new iron-enriched rice variety developed recently by Melbourne and Adelaide researchers could help solve iron deficiency problems that currently affect more than two billion people. According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional disorder.
The new rice variety has up to four times the iron content and twice the zinc content of ordinary rice grains.
A scientific team from the Australian Centre for Functional Plant Genomics produced the mineral-rich rice variety using gene technology to increase the amount of iron transported into the endosperm, the part of the rice grain that most people eat.
“Rice doesn’t exhibit a lot of genetic variation for iron accumulation in grain, and this has hindered conventional breeding programs trying to increase iron levels in rice,” says Alex Johnson, a lecturer at The University of Melbourne and program leader for ACFPG. “These programs have been unable to match the iron levels we’ve achieved in our glasshouse experiments. We’ve produced the world’s first greenhouse-grown rice plants to exhibit such high levels.”
The researchers used the Australian Synchrotron to investigate the distribution of iron, zinc and other minerals in the rice grains, particularly the endosperm. The x-ray fluorescence microscopy beamline, which features the award-winning Maia detector, can produce detailed maps of elemental distribution at resolution down to sub-micron levels.
The team that developed and analysed the iron-rich rice is based at the universities of Melbourne, Adelaide and South Australia. They announced their achievement in a scientific paper published in a major online peer-reviewed journal, PLoS ONE, in September 2011.
Following the team’s success in growing their iron-rich rice plants in a greenhouse environment, the next stage of the project involves conducting field trials in the Philippines in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute. The aim of the trials is to demonstrate that the rice grows well and takes up enough iron and zinc in a field environment to maintain the enriched levels in the endosperm.
Above: XFM image of potassium, iron and copper distribution in a rice grain. Image: Alex Johnson (University of Melbourne) and Enzo Lombi (University of South Australia)