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Manipulation of Carotenoid Content in Plants to Improve Human Health.

ABSTRACT

Carotenoids are essential components for human nutrition and health, mainly due to their antioxidant and pro-vitamin A activity. Foods with enhanced carotenoid content and composition are essential to ensure carotenoid feasibility in malnourished population of many countries around the world, which is critical to alleviate vitamin A deficiency and other health-related disorders. The pathway of carotenoid biosynthesis is currently well understood, key steps of the pathways in different plant species have been characterized and the corresponding genes identified, as well as other regulatory elements. This enables the manipulation and improvement of carotenoid content and composition in order to control the nutritional value of a number of agronomical important staple crops. Biotechnological and genetic engineering-based strategies to manipulate carotenoid metabolism have been successfully implemented in many crops, with Golden rice as the most relevant example of β-carotene improvement in one of the more widely consumed foods. Conventional breeding strategies have been also adopted in the bio-fortification of carotenoid in staple foods that are highly consumed in developing countries, including maize, cassava and sweet potatoes, to alleviate nutrition-related problems. The objective of the chapter is to summarize major breakthroughs and advances in the enhancement of carotenoid content and composition in agronomical and nutritional important crops, with special emphasis to their potential impact and benefits in human nutrition and health.