Researchers discover how to control zinc in plants: Could help the world’s malnourished

University of Copenhagen

Over 2 billion people worldwide are malnourished due to zinc deficiency. Led by the University of Copenhagen, an international team of researchers has discovered how plants sense zinc and use this knowledge to enhance plant zinc uptake, leading to an increase in seed zinc content by 50 percent. The new knowledge might one day be applied towards the cultivation of more nutritious crops.

A deficiency of zinc and other essential dietary nutrients is one of the greatest causes of malnutrition worldwide. More than two billion people are estimated to suffer from zinc deficiency, a problem that can lead to impaired immune systems, mental disorders and stunting. Among other things, malnutrition can be caused by infertile agricultural land, which affects the nutritional content of staple  such as rice, wheat and maize.

But imagine that it was possible to flip a switch in crops, at the seed stage, that prompted them to turbocharge their intake of zinc, iron or other nutrients, and cause them to absorb more nutrients than they would otherwise. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences have done just that using the thale cress plant (Arabidopsis thaliana).

Plants absorbed 50 percent more zinc

Zinc benefits humans by helping to maintain a wide array of chemical processes and proteins running within our bodies. Should these processes cease to function properly, we become prone to illness. For , the absence of zinc primarily impacts growth, which is adversely affected in the absence of zinc.

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