Orange Corn Holds Medical Promise

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., April 5 (UPI) — A U.S.-led study has found a newly discovered gene in some varieties of corn may have significant implications for reducing childhood blindness and mortality.

Scientists led by Purdue University Professor Torbert Rocheford said they found decreasing or increasing the function of a newly discovered gene in orange corn might increase vitamin A content.

Rocheford said orange corn likely originated in the Caribbean and is popular in some Asian and South American countries, as well as in northern Italy. The orange color comes from relatively higher levels of carotenoids, one of which is beta carotene. Humans convert beta carotene, which also is abundant in carrots, into vitamin A during digestion, he said.

Rocheford said the researchers are using simple visual selection for darker orange color combined with more advanced molecular natural diversity screening techniques to create better lines of the orange corn.

“We’re sort of turbocharging corn with desirable natural variation to make it darker and more nutritious,” Rocheford said.

Health officials said as many as 500,000 children — mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia — suffer blindness or death each year because of vitamin A deficiency. Rocheford said increasing beta-carotene levels in cereal grains, such as corn, is an economical approach to addressing those deficiencies in developing countries.

The study was reported in the journal Nature Genetics.

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