In a previous blog in March 2017, we announced that Professor Nicola Lowe had received a £300,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to investigate whether a newly developed strain of biofortified wheat could increase dietary zinc intake in Pakistan. The project is to be known as BiZiFED – biofortified zinc flour to eliminate deficiency. We plan to publish regular blogs so that you can share our excitement about this project, which has the potential to improve the lives of women and children in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The project was officially launched at a meeting in Islamabad in June 2017 with our partners from the University of Nottingham, the Abaseen Foundation, Khyber Medical University and Fauji Fertilizer Company.
The new zinc-rich wheat was developed by HarvestPlus using traditional plant breeding techniques known as biofortification. Since it was approved for use in Pakistan, our colleagues have grown the wheat crop, harvested the grain and milled the flour. The zinc content of the crop was further enhanced using zinc-rich fertiliser and tests have confirmed it has double the zinc content of standard varieties. The next job is to test how well the zinc is absorbed and the impact on zinc status in the body.
A double-blind randomised crossover trial has just begun and will continue until February 2018. Fifty households have been recruited from the brick kiln communities around Peshawar in North West Pakistan. These are among the poorest communities, with very high levels of zinc deficiency and stunting. Each household will receive a free supply of flour for the duration of the trial. They typically use flour to make chapattis every day. In the first 8-week period, 25 households will receive zinc-rich flour and 25 households will receive ‘control’ flour with standard zinc content. In the second 8-week period, they will swap and receive the other flour. This design will enable repeated measures of zinc status, with each household serving as its own control.
An important aspect of this research is developing techniques and biomarkers for measuring zinc status in the human body. Women and will provide blood, stool, nail and hair samples at each data collection time point, well as completing 24-hour dietary assessments. A continuous process of community engagement will ensure that everyone is aware of why these samples are being taken.
We will update you when the trail is complete. The next stage will be qualitative research to explore what farmers and families think about the new zinc-rich wheat.