Researcher hopes to have an eye for healthful broccoliNorth Carolina State University assistant professor Allan Brown may have an eye for healthful crops.

Brown is leading an effort to develop broccoli varieties with enhanced levels of lutein, an antioxidant associated with lower risks of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, according to a news release.

He recently received a $155,525 grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for his broccoli research. Monsanto Co., St. Louis, provided a matching fund portion of the grant.

Lutein is typically found in leafy greens, such as kale and spinach.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans age 65 and older. In fact, it affects about 10 percent of those 66-74 years old.

Brown hopes to develop new broccoli material through hybridization with wild broccoli varieties using conventional breeding techniques.

“We believe we have the potential to increase lutein levels in commercial broccoli two-fold,” he said in the release. “As part of our work we expect to identify molecular markers that will significantly reduce the time and resources required to produce an enhanced broccoli.”

A similar strategy by Monsanto yielded the new Beneforte broccoli in 2010.

Beneforte contains compounds that help boost the body's antioxidant enzyme levels.

The two-year project also will include field trials in multiple locatioins in the state.

In addition, Brown will evaluate how the lutein trait may affect other important traits, such as head size, compactness, color, uniformity and harvest maturity.