Yet more about iron (and other assorted micronutrients). A recent post of mine elicited a comment from Glenn to the effect that breeders have screened germplasm collections of the major staples for micronutrient composition. I was skeptical about the extent to which this has been done (though not, I must add, about the fact that there will be much more of it in the future). Another post, this one by Jeremy, suggested that there was precious little information out there about variety-level nutritional information.
Well, I’ve now come across a paper that allows us to put some numbers on the amount of screening that has been done for one staple crop, the potato. There’s only an abstract freely available online, but a paper by CIP scientists reports (among other things) on micronutrient levels in native potato varieties in Peru:
Several studies have reported mineral concentrations in improved potatoes… However, limited information was available about the mineral concentration of potato germplasm and breeding materials until 2006. A detailed study was undertaken to determine the levels of Fe and Zn in 37 native varieties, both grown by farmers as well as from the collection under custody at CIP.
The potatoes were grown in a couple of different places. There was lots of variation, both genetic and due to the environment where they were grown, and also an interaction between these factors. And the heritability was high, suggesting that there is potential for improvement through selection and breeding.
But let’s remember that the total CIP potato collection amounts to over 7,500 accessions. That means that some 0.5% has been screened. A good start, but still only a start.