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Scientists have adapted a technology used in the mining industry to speed up the development of nutritious food crops, which could improve the diets of more than two billion people

Utilising X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), a technology used in mining to determine the mineral content of soil samples, the research has been used to analyse minerals in crops such as rice and pearl millet.

More than two billion people across the planet suffer from hidden hunger — a lack of vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and iron, in the diet — but XRF technology has now been deployed to develop new varieties of staple food crops that can provide more essential nutrients.

HarvestPlus, who funded the study, has led a global research effort to breed and deliver nutritious staple food crops to reduce hidden hunger in malnourished populations.

HarvestPlus collaborator James Stangoulis said, “The XRF machines not only provide accurate results more quickly and cheaply, but they have also allowed us to build capacity of partner institutions that are working to breed mineral-rich crops.

“We really see this as just the beginning for the role XRF technology can play in improving nutrition through the development of crops richer in nutrients.”

The company has trained more than 20 scientists to use the technology and has set up XRF machines at a partner institution in Rwanda.

It has also set up machines at institutions in Bangladesh, India and Mexico, and scientists have already started to witness positive results by identifying the varieties that develop more iron and zinc in less time.