U.S. researchers said this week they have discovered a way to genetically engineer corn, the world's largest commodity crop, to produce a type of amino acid found in meat.
The result is a nutritionally rich food that could benefit millions worldwide, while also reducing the cost of animal feed. The breakthrough came in a report in the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal.
Researchers say the process involves infusing corn with a certain type of bacteria in order to produce methionine, an amino acid generally found in meat.
"We improved the nutritional value of corn, the largest commodity crop grown on Earth," Thomas Leustek, professor in the Department of Plant Biology at Rutgers University and co-author of the study, told VOA. "Most corn is used for animal feed, but it lacks methionine -- a key amino acid -- and we found an effective way to add it."
The new method works by adding an E. coli bacteria into the genome of the corn plant, which then causes the methionine production in the plants leaves. According to the study, methionine in the corn kernels then increases by about 57 percent.
The scientists fed the genetically modified corn to chickens at Rutgers University in order to show it was nutritious for them, co-author Joachim Messing said.
Normally, chicken feed is prepared as a corn-soybean mixture, the authors said in a press release, but the mixture lacks methionine.
"Methionine is added because animals won't grow without it. In many developing countries where corn is a staple, methionine is also important for people, especially children. It's vital nutrition, like a vitamin,” Messing said.
If the genetically modified corn can be successfully deployed, those who live in developing countries “wouldn't have to purchase methionine supplements or expensive foods that have higher methionine," Leustek said.
Victor Beattie contributed to this report.