Iron deficiency or sideropaenia is one of the most common types of deficiencies in humans, causing fatigue, development issues, liability to infections, pale skin, and more. One of the main problems against fighting iron deficiency without medications is its relatively limited bioavailability. Many people don’t like to eat seafood or the livers of animals, so reaching an adequate daily intake of heme iron is next to impossible for them. The non-heme iron contained in plant-based foods on the other side is difficult for our bodies to absorb, so vegans for example, are left without reliable options.
A team of researchers from Dartmouth College is looking to put an end to this problem after they made an exciting discovery that enables them to grow iron-rich plants. More specifically, they have discovered a particular genetic pathway that controls the way iron is transported from the roots to the central plant organism. By fiddling with it, they managed to increase the uptake of iron in plants, making them excellent sources of the nutrient. They named the gene as “Upstream Regulator of IRT1 (URI)”, and they also clarified that this same gene is responsible for controlling another 1500 genes, so its function is pretty crucial.
As the team stated, they now have optimization work to do, finding the best possible pathway among the numerous possible ones that need to be tested thoroughly. The fact that this gene, however, is present on all plants makes it possible for the team to regulate the uptake of iron and convert many different species into green iron-bombs. Right now, the goal of the team is to keep a plant on the “accumulation” mode for long enough, as the organisms tend to stop the process due to their self-regulation mechanisms. If they manage to do this, they will have a healthy answer to the problem of more than two billion people who are suffering from iron deficiency right now.
Image Credit: Sun A Kim