Consumer Benefit #3 - Improved Nutrient Content

Biotechnology has the potential to improve the food supply by enhancing nutrient composition (12,13,16,17).

By using biotechnology, we can increase the levels of nutrients, or alter the fatty acid content, that can help us live healthier lives and reduce the risk of chronic disease (13,17).

The interest of the possible health benefits from essential fatty acids has sparked research and advances in engineering of plant fatty acid metabolism. With biotechnology, it is possible to create a plant that produces more of a specific essential fatty acid (20). For example, the documented benefits of g-linolenic, an omega-6 fatty acid, include aiding in the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and vascular disorders (18,21).

The benefits of a-linolenic, an omega-3 fatty acid, have also been well documented. These benefits include aiding in the development of the brain and retina, reducing the risk of heart disease, modifying inflammation and benefiting inflammatory autoimmune diseases (22,23).

Thus with biotechnology and developments in engineering, it may be possible to improve the health-giving benefits of plants, such that plants would be able to produce greater amounts of a given fatty acid.

Biotechnology also enables production of plants with natural fortification of important nutrients (13,16,19).

This becomes particularly important when populations are deficient in nutrients. For example, countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are deficient in vitamin A. The food crops that are particularly high in this micronutrient, such as fruits and vegetables, are not regularly available to these populations at affordable prices, thus deficiency occurs, resulting in significant health problems. But with biotechnology, fortification of vitamin A into food crops that are readily available to that population, such as rice, is possible. Thus biotechnology has helped to improve world health by enhancing the nutrient content in foods. Further potential benefits of biotechnology include increasing the content of vitamin C, iron, zinc, and calcium in plant foods for human consumption (16,19).

By increasing the content of these micronutients in foods, it is possible to reduce deficiencies and malnutrition in many populations, thus improving world health, and increasing protection against disease (13,16,19).

Discussion Question:

How has biotechnology helped to improve world health? Can you think of at least two specific examples?