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A lack of Vitamin A is one of the world's most crippling deficiencies– these scientists are out to change that, one potato at a time.
A crop of super-nutritious sweet potatoes just earned a group of scientists a very esteemed award—and a quarter of a million dollars to go with it.
At a ceremony in Iowa this week, three crop innovators from the CGIAR International Potato Center—Doctors Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, and Jan Low—took home a $250,000 prize for their work on a new variety of nutrient-enriched sweet potato. The 2016 World Food Prize acknowledged the scientists' Vitamin A-enriched crops and celebrated the root vegetable as a potential game-changer in the lives of millions of malnourished people. The prize was first established in 1986 as a way to reward innovations in high-quality and high-quantity food production.
According to the BBC, a lack of Vitamin A is one of the world's most crippling deficiencies, affecting over 7 million pregnant women and 140 million pre-school children in 118 nations around the globe. This form of malnutrition can lead to a weaker immune system, blindness, stunted growth, and even death. Through a combination of plant breeding and biotech, the Potato Center scientists were able to create a crop with increased levels of Vitamin A that could be grown easily in the areas most lacking in the vital nutrient.
Though there were a number of innovations acknowledged by this year's World Food Prize committee, the super-potato took home top prize due to the sheer scope of people whose lives could be significantly improved by the crop. According to USAID administrator Gayle Smith, who announced this year's winner, "These four extraordinary World Food Prize Laureates have proven that science matters, and that when matched with dedication, it can change people's lives."