Key technology for biofortification goes online
Online platform opens up easy access to x-ray fluorescence testing at ICRISAT
To support development of nutritious crop cultivars across the globe through biofortification, ICRISAT and CGIAR’s HarvestPlus opened up their x-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing facilities through a recently launched online platform.
The platform will make available existing and new XRF analyzers at ICRISAT for determining iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), calcium (Ca) and other minerals in whole grain samples. XRF, which is widely used in mining, was first introduced for agriculture in India by ICRISAT in 2011. The online platform aims to automate access to testing facilities and obtaining results.
“What is the relationship between soil availability of iron and zinc, and the ability of germplasm to biofortify micronutrients and make them bio-available? The full connection has to be made between what is happening in the field and what is being consumed,” said Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, during the launch of the platform. He underscored the importance of biofortification for India at a time when the Indian government plans to launch a country-wide program to strongly link agriculture and nutrition with a focus on native crops.
Biofortification increases concentration of nutrients to help consumers meet nutritional requirements. To develop a biofortified crop variety, breeders have to screen germplasm to identify parent lines that have necessary levels of the target nutrient. XRF can quickly assess with precision the concentration of mineral nutrients.
When x-rays are passed through a crop sample, the mineral nutrients in it emit x-rays, characteristically different from the incoming rays. The outgoing rays
are characteristic of that mineral, thus facilitating determination. Dr Parminder Virk, Head, Crop Development, HarvestPlus, said that XRF could be used by breeders without damaging the sample to extract mineral information to be compared with that of check varieties.
For now, chickpea, pearl millet, finger millet, rice and wheat can be analyzed by three machines that ICRISAT and HarvestPlus have set up at ICRISAT’s headquarters in Hyderabad, India. According to Dr Govindaraj Mahalingam, Sr Scientist, Pearl Millet Breeding, ICRISAT, the online platform can take the benefits of a well-established technology like XRF at a low price point to biofortification programs across the world. He said that two more analyzers were being procured to increase the testing potential to about 125,000 samples per year.
Researchers expect the new platform to play an important role in supporting breeding efforts in countries like India, which seeks to set minimum nutrient levels for its crops. At the moment, minimum iron and zinc levels have only been prescribed for pearl millet by the Indian government. The All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet has been using ICRISAT’s XRF facilities, informed Dr Tara Satyavathi, Project Coordinator, ICAR-AICRP on pearl millet, while adding that XRF could contribute to achieving quality standards and biofortified varietal development in India.
The XRF manual and Standard Operating Procedures booklet, prepared by Dr Shobhana, Visiting Scientist, ICRISAT, was released at the event.