A Cure for Vitamin B6 Deficiency
By: Peter Rüegg
Plant scientists engineered the cassava plant to produce higher levels of vitamin B6 in its storage roots and leaves. This could help to protect millions of people in Africa from serious deficiencies.
In many tropical countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, cassava is one of the most important staple foods. People eat the starchy storage roots but also the leaves as a vegetable. Both have to be cooked first to remove the toxic cyanide compounds that cassava produces.
But the roots have a disadvantage: although rich in calories, in general they contain only few vitamins. Vitamin B6 in particular is present in only small amounts, and a person for whom cassava is a staple food would have to eat about 1.3 kg of it every day for a sufficient amount of this vital vitamin.
Serious deficiency in Africa
Vitamin B6 deficiency is prevalent in several African regions where cassava is often the only staple food people’s diet. Diseases of the cardiovascular and nervous systems as well as are associated with vitamin B6 deficiency.
Plant scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of Geneva have therefore set out to find a way to increase vitamin B6 production in the roots and leaves of the cassava plant. This could prevent vitamin B6 deficiency among people who consume mostly cassava.