The Case for Biofortification

Modern consumers enjoy something that humans throughout history never have: we can walk into a grocery store and, if we choose wisely, leave with food that maximizes our health. Much maligned as the industrial food system has been, it’s made accessible a broad diversity of beneficial foods that, consumed regularly, prevent disease and enhance the quality of life. The fact that one is able to eat a cornucopia of “superfoods”--blueberries, bananas, kale, lentils, quinoa, and avocados--on a daily basis is an under-appreciated wonder of globalization and world trade.

But the vast majority of the developing world lacks access to this abundance. In fact, billions of people living in developing countries are dependent on a single staple crop for their sustenance. In sub-Saharan Africa, 250 million people eat cassava as their primary food source; over half the world depends on rice for 80% of their calories; wheat accounts for 20% of the world’s food energy intake. This narrow dependence might meet baseline caloric needs, but it’s a nutritional disaster.

How to bridge the gap between the nutritional haves and have-nots is a hotly contested issue. Some support the development of small-scale but modernized organic systems serving regional markets. Others promote replacing traditional peasant agriculture with the industrialized approach of agribusiness. Yet others would like to see local farmers empowered to practice indigenous methods. Whichever schemes ultimately prevail (hopefully a combination of all), there’s one solution that must be included irrespective of agricultural scale or scope: crops must be biofortified. That is, we need to plant seeds that have been bred to enhance nutritional value.

Genetics Entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki Answers Your Questions

Last week we solicited your questions for Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of the "personal genetics" company 23andMe. Among your interesting questions: are 23andMe's genetic results taken seriously by doctors? Should children have the procedure done? Will insurance companies engage in genetic profiling?

Thanks for the good questions and to Wojcicki for the compelling answers.

Bring Your Questions for Genetics Entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki

Anne Wojcicki, a biotech analyst and biologist, is co-founder of the "personal genetics" company 23andMe -- which, for $1,000, will take a bit of your spit and map out your DNA to learn genealogical details as well as your risk factors for certain diseases. Clients can also join the company's gene-themed social networks and share their genetic info with others. Sort of like Facebook for your innards.

Are the F.B.I.’s Probabilities About DNA Matches Crazy?

Jason Felch and Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a fascinating piece about a controversy that has arisen regarding the use of DNA in identifying criminal suspects. The article starts like this: State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with […]

Is Happiness Genetic?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the science of happiness, including on this very blog.. But could leading a happy life be largely a matter of genes? The U.K.’s Daily Record reports on a finding by Edinburgh University psychologists that “inherited genes control up to half of the personality traits that keep us […]

The FREAK-est Links

Online music sales to pass CD sales by 2012. (Earlier) Scammers take advantage of “death bonds.” Music found to aid recovery for stroke victims. Are identical twins really genetically identical?

The FREAK-est Links

Is the U.S. income gap as big as we think? Becker and Posner comment. Is virginity genetically influenced? Japanese company sells “exploding piggy bank” to incentivize saving. Woman named “Unique” arrested. (Earlier)