Biofortification of Edible Crops


Humans require sufficient amounts of at least 18 mineral elements for normal development and well‐being. Unfortunately, many people's diets lack sufficient iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, iodine and selenium. Mineral malnutrition can be addressed by dietary diversification, mineral supplementation, food fortification or the biofortification of edible crops. Biofortification can be achieved by two complementary strategies. The ‘genetic’ strategy, which includes breeding and genetic manipulation of crops, aims not only to increase the acquisition of mineral elements and their accumulation in edible portions but also to improve their bioavailability by altering concentrations affecting uptake by the gut. The ‘agronomic’ strategy, which includes effective soil management and fertiliser applications, aims to increase the phytoavailability of mineral elements. Using these strategies, staple crops can be adequately biofortified with minerals currently lacking in people's diets. Furthermore, biofortification appears to be a cost‐effective approach to alleviating mineral malnutrition, reaching urban and rural populations in developed and developing nations.

Key Concepts

  • Human diets must supply sufficient quantities of 18 essential mineral elements.
  • Many people's diets lack sufficient iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, iodine or selenium.
  • One strategy to combat mineral malnutrition in humans is biofortification of edible crops.
  • Biofortification increases the bioavailable concentrations of essential minerals in produce.
  • Agronomic biofortification strategies include effective soil management and fertiliser applications.
  • Genetic biofortification strategies employ the selection, breeding or genetic manipulation of crops.
  • Crop genotypes can be developed with greater acquisition and accumulation of minerals in edible portions.
  • Crop genotypes can be developed with reduced concentrations of antinutrients, such as phytate or oxalate, or greater concentrations of promoter substances, such as ascorbate, β‐carotene, protein cysteine and various organic acids and amino acids, to improve the bioavailability of minerals.
  • Biofortification is a cost‐effective strategy to alleviate mineral malnutrition and can reach both urban and rural populations in developed and developing nations.

Keywords: biofortification; breeding; calcium; genetics; iodine; iron; magnesium; nutrition; selenium; zinc

Figure 1. Sources of mineral elements to the diet of UK adults as a proportion of their mean daily intake of 807 mg calcium (Ca), 254 mg magnesium (Mg), 10.7 mg iron (Fe), 8.6 mg zinc (Zn), 160 µg iodine (I), 48 µg selenium (Se). Data are from Bates et al. . The large contribution of cereals to Ca and Fe intakes results, in part, from legislation requiring processed wheat flour to be fortified with these elements.
Figure 2. Variation in zinc (Zn) concentrations expressed on a dry matter (DM) basis in roots, shoots, seeds and tubers of edible crops. Bars represent maximum and minimum values obtained by screening large germplasm collections. Blue circles indicate Zn concentrations in produce listed in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference in 2011. Red circles indicate target Zn concentrations proposed by the HarvestPlus Program (Bouis and Welch, ). Reproduced from White and Broadley © Frontiers Media S.A. subject to the Creative Commons licence (


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U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service [USDA‐ARS] (2015) USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. (accessed 15 March 2016).

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White, Philip J(Aug 2016) Biofortification of Edible Crops. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023743]