Can bio fortified plants accumulate trace elements essential to the growth and development of humans?
Müller, Francuois Lloyd F.
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Micronutrient and trace element deficiencies are a problem affecting nearly two billion people globally. The people affected the most by these deficiencies are those living in poor and rural communities in the developing countries and thus cannot always afford the diverse diet as advocated by WHO and the FAO. Millions of these people living in the poor and developing countries die yearly, either directly or indirectly, as a result of micronutrient and trace element deficiencies. Thus, this study aimed to determine the nutrient content (Co, Cr, F, I, Se and V) of various vegetable based food items collected from the Cape Town area in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. This was done to determine which vegetable crops provided the highest concentrations of essential trace elements, and how much they contribute to the daily recommended intake (DRIs) of these trace elements. It also aimed to assess the effects of the addition of the trace elements (Co, Cr, F, I, Se, Si, Sn and V) on seed germination and root growth under controlled conditions in order to calculate their phytotoxicity, and then to biofortify four vegetable crop species, grown in sand culture, with a composite treatment of the trace elements to determine how the addition of these elements will affect the vegetable crops grown under these experimental conditions. From this study, it was shown that trace element content in vegetable crops in the Western Cape Province of South Africa varied between different geographic locations and that certain trace elements were absent from several items collected from some areas. Although some crop species contained sufficient amounts of certain trace elements to satisfy our daily recommended intakes, most of the crops were found to contain insufficient amounts of many of the trace elements to satisfy our needs. Leafy vegetables and tubers were identified as the better vegetable types to biofortify with essential trace elements as they already contain higher concentrations of several of the essential trace elements and should thus be assessed for their effectiveness as crops to be biofortified. When the trace elements were applied directly to cress and lettuce seeds, it was found that all the trace elements, as well as the composite treatments, exerted phytotoxic effects on cress and/or lettuce seeds when applied at high concentrations. Lettuce was found to be more prone to the effects of these elements. Seed germination was strongly inhibited by fluoride, while several elements affected root growth. When fluoride was left out of the composite treatment, phytotoxicity only occurred at high concentrations. The addition of the trace elements at the high concentrations to already established spinach, cabbage, lettuce and turnip plants were found to affect the uptake of several essential plant nutrients, but the concentrations of the elements affected generally remained higher than the concentrations needed for adequate growth of agricultural crops. Several of the trace elements supplied to the plants were also found to be retained in the roots of the vegetable crops however, as the concentrations supplied to the plants increased, so did the concentrations found in the edible portions of the crops. Agronomic biofortification of vegetable crops with simultaneous additions of multiple trace elements, under these experimental conditions, was thus considered to be a viable option to increase the concentrations of essential mineral nutrients in the edible portions of vegetable crops. However, these modified nutrient fertilizers should only be given to established crops or without the addition of fluoride. Further research on a wider variety of seeds and vegetable crops, as well as research under field conditions is needed to determine whether these findings remain relevant under these conditions.