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Bridging the gap between biofortification and consumption: evaluating sorghum grain carotenoid degradation

Abstract

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is a major staple cereal crop consumed in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where some of the highest rates of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) are found. As with most cereals, sorghum has low concentrations of provitamin A carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A in the body. Biofortification provides an opportunity to address VAD through the nutritional improvement of sorghum grain using a non-transgenic breeding approach to increase grain carotenoids. Though vitamin A biofortification in sorghum is possible, it is unknown if breeding for high carotenoids in the grain negatively affects carotenoid pathway functions in other tissues. Additionally, it is unknown if degradation during postharvest processing occurs to a significant degree in biofortified grain. To establish how breeding for high carotenoids in the grain affects the carotenoid pathway in other plant tissues, expression of ten genes in the carotenoid precursor, biosynthesis, or degradation pathways were evaluated in the grain, leaf, and root tissues. A correlation in the gene expression within the plant tissue, but not between the plant tissues, was found for most genes, which suggests that several of the carotenoid precursor, biosynthesis, and degradation genes are controlled by tissue-specific regulation. Correlation of carotenoid concentrations and gene expression was also found to be tissue specific, which further suggests tissue-specific regulation. The selection of genes with tissue-specific regulation for marker-assisted breeding reduces the chances of grain biofortification negatively affecting other tissues. Once carotenoids have been increased in the grain, it must be noted that vitamin A is not stable in most storage, processing, and cooking environments due to oxidative stress from light, heat, and oxygen. The degradation of the nutritional quality through post-harvest processing was evaluated by sampling carotenoid grain throughout harvest, drying, storage, processing, and cooking. Individual processing steps did not cause significant degradation but added up to significant degradation by the final cooking step, with ~39% of β-carotene loss. No significant difference between the loss in the different storage temperatures or cooking styles was seen. An increase in the target value from 4 μg β-carotene/g of sorghum to 5.6 μg/g will be needed to account for processing loss in order to provide 50% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) of vitamin A. Overall, both the information on tissue specific gene expression, and post-harvest degradation will further advance the development of carotenoid biofortified sorghum lines.

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2023 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references.

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