Decreasing or increasing the function of a newly discovered gene in corn may increase vitamin A content and have significant implications for reducing childhood blindness and mortality rates, according to a Purdue University-led study.
Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair of Translational Genomics and professor of agronomy at Purdue, led the study that made findings in yellow and particularly orange corn, a type he said 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.
Between 250,000 and 500,000 children -- mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia -- go blind each year because of vitamin A deficiency, according to the World Health Organization. Half of those children will die within a year of going blind. Rocheford said increasing beta-carotene levels in cereal grains, such as corn, is an economical approach to addressing these deficiencies in developing countries.
Through a process known as hydroxylation, beta-carotene is converted into other carotenoids that can cut the amount of pro-vitamin A that is created through digestion in half, or eliminate it altogether.