Improving wheat as a source of iron and zinc for global nutrition

Janneke Balk, James Connorton, Yongfang Wang, Alison Lovergrove, Katie Moore, Cristobal Uauy, Paul Anthony Sharp, Peter Shewry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Wheat is the staple food crop in temperate countries and increasingly consumed
in developing countries, displacing traditional foods. However, wheat products
are typically low in bioavailable iron and zinc, contributing to deficiencies in
these micronutrients in countries where wheat is consumed as a staple food. Two
factors contribute to the low contents of bioavailable iron and zinc in wheat: the
low concentrations of these minerals in white flour, which is most widely
consumed, and the presence of phytates in mineral-rich bran fractions. Although
high zinc types of wheat have been developed by conventional plant breeding
(biofortification), this approach has failed for iron. However, studies in wheat
and other cereals have shown that transgenic (also known as genetically
modified; GM) strategies can be used to increase the contents of iron and zinc in
white flour, by converting the starchy endosperm tissue into a ‘sink’ for minerals.
Although such strategies currently have low acceptability, greater understanding
of the mechanisms which control the transport and deposition of iron and zinc in
the developing grain should allow similar effects to be achieved by exploiting
naturally induced genetic variation. When combined with conventional
biofortification and innovative processing, this approach should provide increased mineral bioavailability in a range of wheat products, from white flour to wholemeal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-59
Number of pages7
JournalNutrition Bulletin
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • bioavailability
  • biofortification
  • iron
  • phytic acid
  • wheat
  • zinc


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