Researchers have developed an experimental "golden" potato that could help prevent disease and death in developing countries where residents rely heavily upon the starchy food for sustenance.
A serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E, researchers at The Ohio State University in the US said.
Women of reproductive age could get 15 per cent of their recommended vitamin A and 17 per cent of recommended vitamin E from that same 5.3 ounce (150 gramme) serving, they said.
Potato is the fourth most widely consumed plant food by humans after rice, wheat and corn, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
It is a staple food in some Asian, African and South American countries where there is a high incidence of vitamin A and vitamin E deficiencies.
"More than 800,000 people depend on the potato as their main source of energy and many of these individuals are not consuming adequate amounts of these vital nutrients," said Mark Failla, professor at Ohio State.
"These golden tubers have far more vitamin A and vitamin E than white potatoes, and that could make a significant difference in certain populations where deficiencies - and related diseases - are common," said Failla, author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Vitamin A is essential for vision, immunity, organ development, growth and reproductive health. Its deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.
Vitamin E protects against oxidative stress and inflammation, conditions associated with damage to nerves, muscles, vision and the immune system.
Researchers created a simulated digestive system including a virtual mouth, stomach and small intestine to determine how much provitamin A and vitamin E could potentially be absorbed by someone who eats a golden potato.
Provitamin A carotenoids are converted by enzymes into vitamin A that the body can use.
Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that provide yellow, red and orange colours to fruits and vegetables. They are essential nutrients for animals and humans.
"We ground up boiled golden potato and mimicked the conditions of these digestive organs to determine how much of these fat-soluble nutrients became biologically available," Failla said.
The findings of the high content and availability of vitamin E in the golden potato were an unanticipated and pleasant surprise, he said.
The golden potato, which is not commercially available, was metabolically engineered in Italy by a team that collaborated with Failla on the study.
The additional carotenoids in the tuber make it a more nutritionally dense food with the potential of improving the health of those who rely heavily upon potatoes for nourishment.