Genetically Modified Plants: Nutritious, Sustainable, yet Underrated

J Nutr. 2020 Oct 12;150(10):2628-2634. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa220.


Combating malnutrition is one of the greatest global health challenges. Plant-based foods offer an assortment of nutrients that are essential for adequate nutrition and can promote good health. Unfortunately, the majority of widely consumed crops are deficient in some of these nutrients. Biofortification is the umbrella term for the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is enhanced. Traditional agricultural breeding approaches for biofortification are time consuming but can enhance the nutritional value of some foods; however, advances in molecular biology are rapidly being exploited to biofortify various crops. Globally, genetically modified organisms are a controversial topic for consumers and governmental agencies, with a vast majority of people apprehensive about the technology. Golden Rice has been genetically modified to contain elevated β-carotene concentrations and is the bellwether for both the promise and angst of agricultural biotechnology. Although there are numerous other nutritional targets of genetically biofortified crops, here I briefly summarize the work to elevate iron and folate concentrations. In addition, the possibility of using modified foods to affect the gut microbiota is examined. For several decades, plant biotechnology has measured changes in nutrient concentrations; however, the bioavailability of nutrients from many biofortified crops has not been demonstrated.

Keywords: bioavailability; biofortification; folate; genetic engineering; golden rice; iron; malnutrition; microbiota; transgenics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Biofortification / methods
  • Biofortification / trends
  • Biotechnology
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics*
  • Food Supply
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / adverse effects
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / physiology*
  • beta Carotene / genetics
  • beta Carotene / metabolism


  • beta Carotene
  • Iron