In many developing nations, vitamin A deficiencies are common … as are potatoes, which typically constitute much of the local diet. That's why scientists from The Ohio State University, working with colleagues from Italy, have developed a genetically-engineered "golden potato." It's rich in provitamin A (which the body converts into vitamin A), along with vitamin E to boot.

According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, plus it increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. It also increases the risk of death in pregnant women. Vitamin E deficiency, meanwhile, can affect nerves, muscles, vision and the immune system.

Unfortunately for people living in regions where these deficiencies are most common, crops such as potatoes tend to be bred for high yield and pest resistance, as opposed to nutritional quality. And that's where the golden potato comes in.

Based on lab tests incorporating a simulated human digestive system, one 5.3-oz (150-g) serving of the boiled potatoes can potentially provide up to 42 percent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and 34 percent of their recommended intake of vitamin E. For women of reproductive age consuming the same-size serving, the figures sit at 15 and 17 percent, respectively.

"This golden potato would be a way to provide a much more nutritious food that people are eating many times a week, or even several times a day," says study author Mark Failla, of Ohio State.

For now, the golden potato is still considered to be experimental, and is not commercially available. Scientists from Australia's Queensland University of Technology are likewise developing a provitamin A-rich golden banana, which is currently the subject of field trials in Uganda.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: The Ohio State University