Plant biotechnology can make important contributions to food security and nutritional improvement. For example, the development of ‘Golden Rice’ by Professor Ingo Potrykus was a milestone in the application of gene technology to deliver both increased nutritional qualities and health improvement to wide sections of the human population. Mineral nutrient and protein deficiency as well as food security remain the most important challenges for developing countries. Current projects are addressing these issues in two major staple crops, cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) and rice. The tropical root crop cassava is a major source of food for approximately 600 million of the population worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa >200 million of the population rely on cassava as their major source of dietary energy. The nutritional quality of the cassava root is not sufficient to meet all dietary needs. Rice is the staple food for half the world population, providing approximately 20% of the per capita energy and 13% of the protein for human consumption worldwide. In many developing countries the dietary contributions of rice are substantially greater (29·3% dietary energy and 29·1% dietary protein). The current six most popular ‘mega’ rice varieties (in terms of popularity and acreage), including Chinese hybrid rice, have an incomplete amino acid profile and contain limited amounts of essential micronutrients. Rice lines with improved Fe contents have been developed using genes that have functions in Fe absorption, translocation and accumulation in the plant, as well as improved Fe bioavailability in the human intestine. Current developments in biotechnology-assisted plant improvement are reviewed and the potential of the technology in addressing human nutrition and health are discussed.