Tropical maize vitamin A biofortification


This site provides news and information on the IITA / Irish Aid / NUI Galway collaborative PhD research project. It is is designed to evaluate and generate practical genomics and breeding tools for speeding up the development of tropical maize lines with high level of vitamin A. This is hoped to contribute to the effort directed at mitigating vitamin A deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Vitamin A deficiency is a global health problem affecting millions of people in Africa and other regions of the world. Biofortification of maize and other staple crops with provitamin A, through breeding and/or biotechnology is considered a viable and sustainable approach to help alleviate the problem.

Cultivated maize varieties contain very low levels of pro-vitamin A carotenoids ranging from only 0.5 to 1.5 µg g-1. Maize improvement programs at IITA and other CGIAR centers have been endeavoring to boost the provitamin A content of maize grain to at least the level of 15 µg g-1 – which is set by the HarvestPlus human nutrition experts as an initial minimum level to effect favorable impacts on the health conditions of vitamin A deficiency affected and maize dependent communities.

The development of maize cultivars that incorporate such desirable nutritional traits as enhanced endosperm provitamin A is a lengthy process that can run for more than a decade. To expedite this process, it is necessary to employ cutting edge breeding and genomic tools.

The PhD project capitalizes on IITA’s ongoing provitamin A breeding program and focuses on validation and generation of tools useful for speeding up and making the process of incorporating the trait of high endosperm provitamin A into biotic/abiotic stress tolerant and good yielding tropical maize cultivars more efficient. Such nutritionally enhanced maize cultivars can bring about a meaningful and long term impact on the vitamin A status of millions of poor people which is important for building healthy and productive communities.

The research objectives targeted by the PhD project include:

  1. Assessment of allele specific molecular markers for their potential use in maize provitamin A biofortification using inbred lines developed by IITA for Sub-Saharan Africa,
  2. High density SNP-carotenoid content association scan to detect additional markers and loci conditioning maize endosperm carotenoids at a genome-wide scale; and also provide baseline study for possible application of genomic selection in IITA’s provitamin A maize improvement program.
  3. Combining ability and heterosis studies to identify inbred lines that form maize hybrids with optimum level of provitamin A,
  4. Study the effects of combination of the various allelic series of the key genes in experimental hybrids.
  5. Investigate the association between genome wide  markers and provitamin A heterosis.

The site is maintained by PhD student Girum Azmach who is an Ethiopian maize breeder working between IITA Ibaden and NUI Galway with IITA maize breeder Dr. Abebe Menkir and Prof. Charles Spillane (NUI Galway Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre) and also Dr. Melaku Gedil (molecular geneticist/breeder and head of Bioscience Center of IITA).                   

Girum Azmach (IITA/NUI Galway)


Dr. Abebe Menkir (IITA)

Prof. Charles Spillane (NUI Galway)


Dr Melaku Gedil (IITA)


An IITA / Irish Aid / NUI Galway Ag4D Research Program