Student project to battle malnutrition

Oct. 25, 2011 at 7:41 PM
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BALTIMORE, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- A group of U.S. undergraduate students say they're using synthetic biology to enhance common yeast so it increases critical nutrients in baked bread.

The Johns Hopkins University students say their modified yeast yields beta carotene, the orange substance that gives carrots their color, which turns into vitamin A when eaten. Such enhanced bread could help combat severe malnutrition in impoverished regions of the world, a university release said Monday.

The students' project is the university's entry in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, in which students from around the world present projects based on synthetic biology.

Their project, called VitaYeast, has advanced to the iGEM finals, scheduled for Nov. 5-7 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

No matter what happens at the iGEM finals, the students say, they'll continue to develop the enhanced bread as a relatively simple way to help hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering from malnutrition.

"The major problem in developing countries right now is not that people are hungry and starving because they don't have enough food," said team member Arjun Khakhar, who grew up in Bombay, India, where he saw widespread poverty and malnutrition. "What people don't have now is the [right type of] food that they need to survive. Vital nutrients like vitamins are just missing from their diets because they can't afford fruits and vegetables. That's what we wanted to provide through VitaYeast."

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