• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Environmental Health Note/Saving Cassava

Air Date: Week of May 23, 2003

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

For people living in the tropics, cassava is one of the most important foods. But if it's not properly processed, eating it can lead to cyanide poisoning. Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new, genetically-modified cassava plant that's cyanide-free.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, it's high noon at the World Trade Organization talks, as the Americans and Europeans face off over food policies. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC: Health Note Theme]

TOOMEY: Cassava is one of the most important foods in tropical countries, providing many people with a key source of carbohydrates. But if the plant is not properly prepared, it can trigger the production of cyanide. That's because cassava contains linamarin, a substance that discourages insects and animals from eating the plant. But if humans eat improperly prepared cassava, the linamarin breaks down and releases cyanide into the body. This release of cyanide also happens during the processing of the plant, as it's heated, crushed and dried. So women and children who most often prepare cassava can be poisoned with cyanide gas. Chronic low-level cyanide exposure can lead to neuropathy, a nerve damaging disorder. And severe cyanide poisoning is associated with an irreversible paralytic disorder that can lead to death.

But at Ohio State, there's a cyanide-free cassava plant. Researchers there genetically modified the plant, blocking the operation of the genes responsible for linamarin production, reducing its content by up to 99 percent. Preliminary studies also show that linamarin may be important in the transport of nitrogen from cassava leaves to its roots. So, researchers say field trials will be necessary to determine if the inhibition of linamarin will affect plant yields.

That's this week's Health Note, I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Erroll Garner “Tea For Two” That’s My Kick and Gemini - Octave (1994)]

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.