The goal of the research-based technology component of the ABS project is to develop a nutritionally enhanced sorghum that contains increased levels of essential nutrients, especially lysine, vitamin A, iron and zinc. The nutrition-enhanced sorghum will be used by the product development team for introgression of the nutritional traits into high-yielding, African and farmer-preferred varieties.
The ABS Project technology development group has seen close collaborations between Dupont Pioneer (Principal technology donor), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (technology recipient on behalf of Africa) and the University of Pretoria (which leads the nutrition and digestibility research). Their work involves developing and evaluating the set of technologies required to bring forth the ABS product as well as creating the set of genes that will be transferred into the product during product development. As the project nears the end of Phase 1 (in June 2010), scientists from the three institutions have been working on a product with the full complement of nutritional and digestibility traits.
The ABS Project developed the world's first golden sorghum (with yellow/golden endosperm) as well as the world's first sorghum transformation system. The transgenic sorghum has elevated levels of pro-vitamin A (5.7-21µg/g beta-carotene), reduced phytate (35-65%), and an improved protein profile (tryptophan (10-20%, lysine (30-120%, Threonine (30-40%) Bioavailability studies have shown increased zinc absorption of 30-40% and increased iron absorption of 20-30%) when phytate levels are reduced by ≥30% and ≥80%, respectively. Sorghum transformation went from low (<0.1%) to impressive (>10% transformation efficiency) and is no longer the limiting factor in sorghum improvement via gene technologies. In addition, capacities of national scientists have been built in countries of deployment in- transformation, throughput breeding, regulatory and biosafety.
Six successful sets of field trials of nutritionally enhanced sorghum have been conducted in the United States where the sorghum has proven stable and effective over several generations. Greenhouse trials of nutritionally sorghum have been undertaken in South Africa and Kenya. Applications for field trials are in the process of approval in Kenya and Nigeria.
While over 70 scientists have been involved in this project – most of them in Africa - the technology development group is particularly proud of the capacity building of African scientists; this strengthens the South/North and Private/Public partnership, ensuring relationships are build on solid ground.