Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects over 250 million people worldwide and is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies in developing countries, resulting in significant socio-economic losses. Provitamin A carotenoids such as β-carotene, are derived from plant foods and are a major source of vitamin A for the majority of the world's population. Several years of intense research has resulted in the production of ‘Golden Rice 2’ which contains sufficiently high levels of provitamin A carotenoids to combat VAD. In this report, the focus is on the generation of transgenic maize with enhanced provitamin A content in their kernels. Overexpression of the bacterial genes crtB (for phytoene synthase) and crtI (for the four desaturation steps of the carotenoid pathway catalysed by phytoene desaturase and -carotene desaturase in plants), under the control of a ‘super -zein promoter’ for endosperm-specific expression, resulted in an increase of total carotenoids of up to 34-fold with a preferential accumulation of β-carotene in the maize endosperm. The levels attained approach those estimated to have a significant impact on the nutritional status of target populations in developing countries. The high β-carotene trait was found to be reproducible over at least four generations. Gene expression analyses suggest that increased accumulation of β-carotene is due to an up-regulation of the endogenous lycopene β-cylase. These experiments set the stage for the design of transgenic approaches to generate provitamin A-rich maize that will help alleviate VAD.
Journal of Experimental Botany (2008) 59 (13) 3551-3562 [doi: 10.1093/jxb/ern212]