Team:Purdue/The Problem/Iron Deficiency


Iron Deficiency

“According to the United Nations World Food Program, more than 870 million people are malnourished” [1]. Moreover, as the global population continues to increase to 9 billion in 2050, agricultural yields will need to increase by 70-100%; the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that iron deficiency is one of the most common and widespread nutritional disorders in the world- “The numbers are staggering: 2 billion people – over 30% of the world’s population – are anemic, many due to iron deficiency” [2].

Iron is one of the most important nutrients for the human diet/body. It is an essential component of many enzymes that are critical for life. For instance, hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body, is dependent on iron.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world (2) and is prevalent in both developing and industrialized countries. Pregnant women, infants, and children need more iron, and consequently are at a greater risk for iron deficiency. 50% of anemia in the population of developing countries is attributed to iron deficiency. The World Health Organization estimates 1 out of every 2 preschool children and women in developing countries are iron deficient.

Iron deficiency anemia can occur during pregnancy, which increases the risk of health complications for small or premature babies causing them to die in the first year of their life. Iron deficiency in children and adolescence impairs mental development and learning capacity. For adults, Iron deficiency reduces the ability to do physical labor, which is a problem for developing countries. Iron deficiency also decreases immune function. Iron deficiency anemia in developing countries is often aggravated by infections and infectious diseases.

The most common cause of iron deficiency in plant soil is high pH soil. The most common remedy is the addition of sulfur pellets which lower the pH making iron more bioavailable (10). This process is usually planned for at least a year in advance, and cost range from $17.70- $22.50 per acre. Farmers can also supplement their fertilizer with chelated iron; the most popular chelators being Fe-DTPA, Fe-EDDHA, and Fe-EDTA. (Walworth)

One way researchers are currently trying to solve this problem is with biofortification of iron in crops. Instead of the traditional method of genetic modification of the plants, our team has been working on engineering a system of microbes in the soil that will produce molecules that help plants acquire iron.


1. [1] Reid, Ann and Greene, Shannon E. How Microbes Can Help Feed the World. American Academy of microbiology. December 2012. Retrieved from documents/FeedTheWorld.pdf

2. [2] World Health Organization. Micronutrient Deficiencies. WHO website, 2014. Retrieved from

3. [3] Lee, Sichul and You-Sun, Kim. Activation of Rice nicotianamine synthase 2 (OsNAS2) Enhances Iron Availability for Biofortification. Molecules and Cells vol 33, March 2012, pages 269-275.

4. [4] Drakakaki, Georgia and Marcel, Sylvain. Endosperm-specific co-expression of recombinant soybean ferritin and Aspergillus phytase in maize results in significant increases in the levels of bioavailable iron. Plant Molecular Biology vol 59, 2005, pages 869-880.