The diet of approximately three billion people worldwide is nutrient deficient and most of the world’s poorest people are dependent on staple food crops as their primary source of micronutrients. One component of the solution to nutrient deficiencies is collaboration among plant breeders, cereal chemists and nutritionists to produce staple crop cultivars with increased mineral nutrient concentration.
Sixty-three historical and modern wheat cultivars were evaluated for grain yield and concentration of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. While grain yield has increased over time, the concentrations of all minerals except calcium have decreased. Thus a greater consumption of whole wheat bread from modern cultivars is required to achieve the same percentage of recommended dietary allowance levels contributed by most of the older cultivars.
The decrease in mineral concentration over the past 120 years occurs primarily in the soft white wheat market class, whereas in the hard red market class it has remained largely constant over time. This suggests that plant breeders, through intentional selection of low ash content in soft white wheat cultivars, have contributed to the decreased mineral nutrient concentration in modern wheat cultivars. These results contradict the theory that there exists a genetically based, biological trade-off between yield and mineral concentrations. Therefore, using the abundant variation present in wheat cultivars, it should be possible to improve mineral concentrations in modern cultivars without negatively affecting yield.
Euphytica (2008) 163 93) 381-390 [doi: 10.1007/s10681-008-9681-x]