High-zinc rice

  • The need

  • What IRRI is doing

  • The potential impact

  • Resources

Children in rice fields

Micronutrients such as zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamin B12 are important for human health. Zinc is involved in more bodily functions than any other mineral, and is thus essential for survival. Zinc deficiency causes stunting and has serious consequences for health, particularly during childhood when zinc requirements are highest.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that zinc deficiency is largely related to inadequate intake or absorption of zinc from the diet, although excessive loss of zinc from diarrhea may also contribute.

children of Bangladesh

Within the wide genetic diversity of rice is germplasm that has comparatively higher zinc in the rice grain. This germplasm can be used to breed high-zinc high-yielding rice varieties. With the support of IRRI, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute was able to develop and release high-zinc rice in Bangladesh.

IRRI is also investigating the bioavailability of zinc in high-zinc rice, in collaboration with institutions from Bangladesh, the University of California-Davis, and other international organizations. IRRI is also leading a collaborative project to develop high-zinc rice for release in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

 a child eating rice

In 2013, the world's first zinc-rich rice variety BRRI dhan 62, was released in Bangladesh. BRRI dhan 62 has 20 to 22 parts per million (ppm) of zinc while the average zinc content of rice is 14 to 16 ppm. The variety was developed using conventional breeding methods by scientitsts at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) with support from HarvestPlus. The new variety was developed from the zinc-rich rice parental germplasm produced at IRRI. (see Rice Today, Vol. 12 No. 4).

The high-zinc rice could help decrease zinc deficiency in Bangladesh. More than 40% of Bangladeshi children under five are stunted while 44% of the same age group is at risk for zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is a major cause of stunted growth, for lack of development, and for deaths from diarrheal diseases in children. It is predicted that regular consumption of zinc-rich rice could significantly reduce levels of zinc inadequacy in the diets.