What do you want to know about biofortified sorghum?

Grain sorghum at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research farm near Bushland. Texas A&M AgriLIfe Research photo by Kay Ledbetter, via Flickr.
Grain sorghum at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research farm near Bushland. Texas A and M AgriLIfe Research photo by Kay Ledbetter, via Flickr.

While biotechnology can be used to create all sorts of fantastic traits, for various reasons it has mainly been used for herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and a little virus resistance on the side. Many other traits have been developed, but few have made it to commercialization. DuPont Pioneer is working on a few traits that buck the status quo and really move into the future. One of these is biofortified sorghum.

Sorghum is a crop with many advantages. It grows quickly and can tolerate much more heat and drought than most other crops. Thanks to recurrent droughts, the camel of crops is re-gaining popularity in the US, where the grain is mostly used for feed. Sorghum also happens to be gluten free and can be a good substitute for wheat in baked goods and other products. In Africa, sorghum is used to make breads and nutritious porridge, and can even be popped like corn. Want to try it? In the US, sorghum grain and flour are becoming more common in grocery stores, and FAO and ICRISAT both have some great traditional recipes.sorghum production

Sorghum is an important crop in Africa, with 23.4 million tonnes produced in 2012. While world production of sorghum seems to be level, sorghum production is slowly increasing in Africa (see graph, click to embiggen). For comparison, Africa produced 69.4 million tonnes of corn in 2012. Data from FAOSTAT.

One drawback of sorghum is that it hasn’t undergone as much breeding as corn and soy, although some companies do sell hybrid sorghum seed. Another drawback is that sorghum grain, like corn and rice, is lacking in many nutrients, so people who subsist on these grains suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. There is a lot of room for improvement.

To help address the micronutrient deficiencies, DuPont Pioneer has been working on biofortified sorghum for Africa. This special sorghum will have improved levels of vitamin A, the iron and zinc will be more easily absorbed by the people who eat it, and the protein will have a better balance of amino acids. The project is an amazing example of private-public partnerships, with funding coming from both private industry and non-profit organizations. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum project has a set of governance structures to help keep everyone’s roles in the right place. To learn more, check out the DuPont Pioneer fact sheet titled Investing In Africa: The Africa Biofortified Sorghum Initiative, and the Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project website.

What do you want to know about biofortified sorghum?

The Biofortified Blog has arranged an interview with Dr. Marc Albertsen, who is DuPont Pioneer’s team lead for the ABS project (see his bio below). We’re excited to bring our readers this special opportunity to ask questions of senior scientist at a prominent biotech company. Please comment with your questions, which I will compile and send to Marc in about a week.


Dr. Marc Albertson, image provided by DuPont Pioneer.
Dr. Marc Albertsen, image provided by DuPont Pioneer.

Dr. Marc Albertsen is the DuPont Pioneer leader of two philanthropic, multi-partner, public-private-partnerships, each with the goal of improving the lives of subsistence farmers in Africa. One of these is the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project, which is developing nutritionally enhanced sorghum to enhance the lives of people dependent upon sorghum for their staple diet. The other is the Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) project, which is improving the nitrogen use efficiency of maize for subsistence farmers through a combination of conventional, molecular, and transgenic breeding.

Dr. Albertsen has over 32 years of research and leadership experience at DuPont Pioneer in reproductive biology and agronomic traits with a background that combines genetics, cytogenetics, crop breeding, cytology, molecular biology, and plant physiology. He has authored or co-authored over 25 refereed journal articles, over 60 additional professional article and abstracts, and over 45 patents.

Dr. Albertsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in Plant Breeding and Cytogenetics and a bachelor’s degree in Botany from Iowa State University (go Cyclones!). He pursued postdoctoral research at Iowa State before joining Pioneer. His career has been marked by many honors and awards, including being named a Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America in 2012.

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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!