Back to overview

VITRICA: Vitamin B1 & B6 in rice and cassava for enhanced nutritional value and plant stress resistance

English title VITRICA: Vitamin B1 & B6 in rice and cassava for enhanced nutritional value and plant stress resistance
Applicant Gruissem Wilhelm
Number 140911
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Departement Umweltsystemwissenschaften ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Agricultural and Forestry Sciences
Start/End 01.05.2012 - 30.06.2015
Approved amount 207'000.00
Show all

Keywords (6)

crop; biofortification; cassava; vitamins; rice; stress resistance

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary


Vitamins are essential micronutrients for both plants and humans. Their antioxidant properties have also been shown to correlate with various stress resistance responses in plants. The project investigates the regulation of vitamins B1 and B6 biosynthesis pathways in cassava and rice and their potential to engineer enhances stress resistance in these two important staple crops.


There has been renewed interest in vitamin B1 and B6 because recent studies suggest that both vitamins reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) during abiotic stress conditions. Exogenous application of thiamine (vitamin B1) protects plants to pathogen infections and ROS damage. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these observations have not yet been investigated. Similarly, vitamin B6 has been postulated to efficiently quench ROS comparable to ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and α-tocopherol (vitamin E). There has been some debate as to whether the antioxidant capacity of vitamins is a direct or indirect effect, i.e., can the vitamin quench ROS in vivo (singlet oxygen in particular) or are reported observations the result of modulation of enzymes involved in ROS scavenging that are dependent on the vitamin as a cofactor.

Scientific Goal

The project investigates the transcriptional regulation of vitamin B1 and B6 biosynthesis pathways during specific biotic and abiotic stresses in rice and cassava, two important staple crops for human nutrition and food security.  Identification and characterization of rice and cassava genes involved in vitamin B1 and B6 biosynthesis will be instrumental to generate transgenic plants over-producing these two vitamins. Transgenic lines accumulating high levels of vitamin B1 or B6 will be evaluated for their response to stress conditions.


Vitamin B1 and B6 biosynthesis and accumulation in crops is highly relevant for both plant responses to changing environmental conditions and human nutrition. The use of cassava and rice to study vitamin B1 and B6 biosynthesis under stress conditions will be instrumental to generate cassava and rice with ameliorated agronomical performance and improved vitamin content. The study has the potential to improve vitamin B deficiencies in populations dependent on cassava and rice as staple food.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Nutritional enhancement of rice for human health: the contribution of biotechnology
Gruissem Wilhelm (2013), Nutritional enhancement of rice for human health: the contribution of biotechnology, in Biotechnology Advances, 31(1), 50-57.
Strategies for vitamin B6 biofortification of plants: a dual role as a micronutrient and a stress protectant
Gruissem Wilhelm (2013), Strategies for vitamin B6 biofortification of plants: a dual role as a micronutrient and a stress protectant, in Frontiers in Plant Science, 21(4), 143.


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Teresa Fitzpatrick, University of Geneva Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Die Bedeutung der Biodiversität für die Nahrungssicherheit 11.02.2014 Vitznau, Switzerland Gruissem Wilhelm;
Cassava value chain 17.09.2013 Uzwil, Switzerland Gruissem Wilhelm;
Crop improvement and food security 14.05.2013 Baden, Switzerland Gruissem Wilhelm;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
125783 Cassava Biotechnology: Solutions for Africa 01.12.2009 International Exploratory Workshops
119186 Defining vitamin B1 and B6 metabolism in plants: synthesis, regulation and transport 01.05.2008 SNSF Professorships


Rice and cassava are amongst the five most important staple crops. Improving their nutritional value represents a valuable option to improve the nutritional status of populations with a high reliance on rice and cassava as daily food. Both rice grains and cassava roots have a low content of several essential micronutrients, amongst which includes the vitamin B complex. In particular, vitamin B1 and B6 deficiencies lead to debilitating diseases such as beriberi and other neurological and immunological disorders. Recent progress made in the understanding of vitamin B1 and B6 metabolism using the model plant, Arabidopsis, opens the possibility to investigate their biosynthesis and regulation in crop species. Here we propose to perform a comprehensive quantification of the vitamin B1 and B6 content in farmer-­preferred rice and cassava cultivars. The rice and cassava orthologs involved in vitamin B1 and B6 biosynthesis will be identified and investigated analogous to model systems. The evaluation of the vitamin content diversity coupled to the identification of the vitamin biosynthesis orthologs will be instrumental to characterize the genetic diversity at the molecular level. Both regulation and sequence diversity will be evaluated in rice and cassava farmer-­preferred cultivars contrasting for vitamin B1 and B6 contents. Over-­expression of the rate-­limiting enzymes to increase vitamin B1 and B6 content in rice endosperm and cassava roots will be investigated in stable transgenic systems. Because of their recently identified antioxidant properties, increasing vitamin B1 and B6 contents could have the added benefit of enhancing abiotic stress resistance in rice and cassava. Abiotic stress resistance in relation to vitamin content will be investigated in both the farmer-­preferred cultivars and the transgenic lines. Thus, not only could this research result in rice and cassava with enhanced nutrient content but could also led to stress resistant varieties, especially in regions where the occurrence of abiotic stresses (i.e. drought and heat) has dramatically increased due to climate change representing a valuable option to address the issues of food quality and food security. The proposal combines the expertise of two laboratories to study and improve two crops of worldwide importance. With its strong anchor to farmer-­preferred cultivars, the proposed research has the potential to generate an immediate impact for end-­users and policy makers. In addition, the proposed research would provide a unique opportunity for two students to train to the doctoral level in two complementary research labs with state of the art techniques in their respective fields as well as molding a good foundation for a future career in research and/or policy-­making decisions.