Biotechnology for enhanced nutritional quality in plants
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With almost 870 million people estimated to suffer from chronic hunger worldwide, undernourishment represents a major problem that severely affects people in developing countries. In addition to undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency alone can be a cause of serious illness and death. Large portions of the world population rely on a single, starch-rich crop as their primary energy source and these staple crops are generally not rich sources of micronutrients. As a result, physical and mental health problems related to micronutrient deficiencies are estimated to affect around two billion people worldwide. The situation is expected to get worse in parallel with the expanding world population. Improving the nutritional quality of staple crops seems to be an effective and straightforward solution to the problem. Conventional breeding has long been employed for this purpose but success has been limited to the existing diversity in the gene pool. However, biotechnology enables addition or improvement of any nutrient, even those that are scarce or totally absent in a crop species. In addition, biotechnology introduces speed to the biofortification process compared to conventional breeding. Genetic engineering was successfully employed to improve a wide variety of nutritional traits over the last decade. In the present review, progress toward engineering various types of major and minor constituents for the improvement of plant nutritional quality is discussed. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.