The term vitamin describes a small group of organic compounds that are absolutely required in the human diet. Although for the most part, dependency criteria are met in developed countries through balanced diets, this is not the case for the five billion people in developing countries who depend predominantly on a single staple crop for survival. Thus, providing a more balanced vitamin intake from high-quality food remains one of the grandest challenges for global human nutrition in the coming decade(s). Here, we describe the known importance of vitamins in human health and current knowledge on their metabolism in plants. Deficits in developing countries are a combined consequence of a paucity of specific vitamins in major food staple crops, losses during crop processing, and/or overreliance on a single species as a primary food source. We discuss the role that plant science can play in addressing this problem and review successful engineering of vitamin pathways. We conclude that while considerable advances have been made in understanding vitamin metabolic pathways in plants, more cross-disciplinary approaches must be adopted to provide adequate levels of all vitamins in the major staple crops to eradicate vitamin deficiencies from the global population.
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