Genomic approaches for improving grain zinc and iron content in wheat
More than three billion people worldwide suffer from iron deficiency associated anemia and an equal number people suffer from zinc deficiency. These conditions are more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In developing countries, children under the age of five with stunted growth and pregnant or lactating women were found to be at high risk of zinc and iron deficiencies. Biofortification, defined as breeding to develop varieties of staple food crops whose grain contains higher levels of micronutrients such as iron and zinc, are one of the most promising, cost-effective and sustainable ways to improve the health in resource-poor households, particularly in rural areas where families consume some part of what they grow. Biofortification through conventional breeding in wheat, particularly for grain zinc and iron, have made significant contributions, transferring important genes and quantitative trait loci (QTLs) from wild and related species into cultivated wheat. Nonetheless, the quantitative, genetically complex nature of iron and zinc levels in wheat grain limits progress through conventional breeding, making it difficult to attain genetic gain both for yield and grain mineral concentrations. Wheat biofortification can be achieved by enhancing mineral uptake, source-to-sink translocation of minerals and their deposition into grains, and the bioavailability of the minerals. A number of QTLs with major and minor effects for those traits have been detected in wheat; introducing the most effective into breeding lines will increase grain zinc and iron concentrations. New approaches to achieve this include marker assisted selection and genomic selection. Faster breeding approaches need to be combined to simultaneously increase grain mineral content and yield in wheat breeding lines.