Transporting micronutrients more efficiently

rice image: Navreet Bhullar ETH Zurich

In the greenhouse experiment, the genetically modified rice accumulated sufficient quantities of iron and zinc in the grains. (Image: Navreet Bhullar, ETH Zurich)

ETH researchers have genetically modified a key variety of rice, making it very efficient at enriching its grains with iron and zinc.

A team of researchers led by Navreet Bhullar from the Institute of Molecular Plant Biology at ETH Zurich has genetically modified one of the most commonly grown varieties of rice. The advantage over the original variety is that these plants are better at mobilising their cellular stores of zinc and iron and depositing in the white part of the rice grain (known as endosperm). This means that the micronutrients are transported and concentrate there. The ETH researchers are the first to explore this aspect of cellular transport mechanisms of iron and zinc to enrich rice with micronutrients.

To achieve this enrichment, Bhullar and her team incorporated a genetic construct expressing a combination of three additional genes into the rice plants. One of these genes facilitates mobilisation of iron stored in the plant vacuoles, another encodes for an iron-storing protein Ferritin, and the third promotes efficient iron and zinc uptake by the roots.

Last year, the same team of researchers established a proof of concept in combining three nutritionally relevant traits in one rice line, namely iron, zinc and β-carotene were increased simultaneously in the rice grains (as reported on ETH News)…


This research was carried out by SPSW member Dr. Navreeth Bhullar and Prof Willi Gruissem with their teams at ETH Zurich.


Reference publication
Wu T-Y, Gruissem W, Bhullar NK. Targeting intra‐cellular transport combined with efficient uptake and storage significantly increases grain iron and zinc levels in rice. Plant Biotechnology Journal, first published: 07 May 2018. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12943

ETH News, 11 June 2018