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Stephen Howell, Plant Sciences Institute, (515) 294-5267
David Acker, College of Agriculture, (515) 294-8454
Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778

Note to Editors: A news release at details a $25 million grant to a new humanitarian program that will address malnutrition in developing countries. Iowa State University researchers will be involved in the project, as described in the news release below.


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University researchers are part of HarvestPlus, a global research initiative to breed and disseminate crops that can fight malnutrition in developing nations.

The Iowa State research addresses vitamin A deficiency, which is one of the most serious causes of malnutrition in developing countries and can cause blindness, poor immune function and even premature death.

The research at Iowa State is part of a larger program, HarvestPlus, an interdisciplinary alliance of international and national agricultural research institutes, university nutrition and food crop programs, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations in the developing and developed world. The alliance was formed to breed crops biofortified with increased vitamin and mineral content to reduce malnutrition. HarvestPlus was organized through the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Cali, Colombia.

"Iowa State was selected as a partner because we're internationally recognized in all areas of this project," said Stephen Howell, director of the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State. "We have a history of leadership in carotene and vitamin A research, maize genetics and maize breeding."

"Iowa State has a long and distinguished history of partnering on agricultural research that benefits developing nations," said David Acker, assistant dean for national and global programs in the College of Agriculture. "The scope and potential impact of this project provides a truly remarkable opportunity to continue that tradition."

Within the HarvestPlus initiative, a $1.6 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development funds the project involving Iowa State, "High Beta-Carotene Maize to Alleviate Vitamin A Deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa." Other partners on this project are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico; the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Mo., also is a partner.

Iowa State's portion of the research is conducted by Steve Rodermel, professor of genetics, development and cell biology; Wendy White, associate professor of human nutrition; and Kan Wang, associate professor of agronomy and director of the Center for Plant Transformation and Gene Expression.

They will help develop corn with enhanced beta-carotene, the substance that human bodies convert into vitamin A. The researchers also will conduct studies to determine how much beta-carotene is absorbed and converted into vitamin A to meet daily requirements.

Rodermel and his collaborators will generate corn with high beta-carotene content. White will use highly sensitive analytical tools to measure in humans the actual vitamin A value of the beta-carotene-enriched corn.

"The crucial question is how much the beta-carotene content needs to be increased in the corn kernel," White said. "To answer this question, we first have to understand how much of the beta-carotene is absorbed by the body and converted into vitamin A to meet daily requirements."

"It's the intention for the vitamin A maize technology to be made available freely. HarvestPlus partner organizations in Africa will introduce the technology in their countries," Howell said.

At Iowa State, the project is coordinated and supported by the Plant Sciences Institute and the College of Agriculture. The research is administered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.


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