Golden rice: The answer to malnutrition problem-A A +A
Sunday, March 17, 2013
IF APPROVED by national regulators and proved to reduce vitamin A deficiency in community conditions, golden rice will be available in two to three years, according to the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (Irri).
This is good news as 89 percent of Filipinos consume rice on a daily basis. Golden rice is one of the nutrient-rich rice varieties being developed by Philippine Rice Institute (PhilRice) with support and assistance from IRRI to help reduce the incidence of malnutrition in the country.
"We're still losing one generation after another to malnutrition and this just shouldn’t be happening anymore,” said Dr. Howart Bouis, a senior research fellow at the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.
Golden rice is one possible solution to the problem. Normally, rice plants produce beta-carotene in their green parts, but not the grain that people eat. Golden rice is genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene in the edible part of the plant.
Using genetic modification techniques, scientists developed golden rice using genes from corn and a common soil microorganism that together produce beta carotene in the rice grain.
According to Irri, conventional breeding programs could not be used to develop golden rice because rice varieties do not contain significant amounts of beta carotene.
In the Philippines, the first generation golden rice was first tested in advanced field trials in Irri in 2008. The second generation of selected varieties was field tested in the wet season of 2010. At PhilRice, confined field trials of advanced lines were conducted in February to June 2011.
"The field trials are an important step in evaluating the performance of golden rice and to determine if it can be planted, grown, and harvested just like other popular rice varieties," PhilRice said in a statement.
"These trials are also part of the safety assessment of golden rice. The field trials were permitted by and followed the safety standards of the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry, the national regulatory authority in the Philippines for biotechnology research and development," it added.
Irri describes golden rice as unique because it contains beta carotene which gives the golden color to the cereal (as well as to fruits and vegetables like squash, papaya and carrots). The body converts beta carotene in golden rice to Vitamin A as needed.
According to research published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2009, daily consumption of a cup of rice, about 150 grams uncooked weight, could supply half of the Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin A for an adult.
In April 2011, Irri, PhilRice and the national rice research institute in Bangladesh started working with the Helen Keller International to evaluate golden rice as a potential tool to help address Vitamin A deficiency.
Women and children are the most vulnerable to Vitamin A deficiency, the leading cause of childhood blindness and inability of the immune system to combat disease. Vitamin A deficiency affects up to 250 million preschool children worldwide, the World Health Organization reported in 2012.
About 8.1 million children younger than five years old died of Vitamin A deficiency in 2009, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. It is estimated that supplementation prevents one of three of these deaths, and that Vitamin A availability could prevent at least 1.9 million child deaths each year.
Balancing cereal-based diets with vegetables and animal products is one approach used in some developing countries to address malnutrition problems. But results were frustrating. Vegetables and animal products are expensive, and seasonal, subject to spoilage and transport facilities.
Scientists think of the unthinkable: packing more nutrients into rice. “The cost of a plant breeding program to develop nutrient-rich varieties of rice is ‘peanuts’ compared with the benefits humanity could receive,” commented Prof. Robin Graham, a plant scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
Irri agreed, saying: "Producing enough food energy to maintain the worl'’s population is not enough. Even if energy requirements are met, billions of malnourished, poor people will continue to live in poor health, with low productivity and an inferior quality of life. Nutrition foods that meet minimum daily nutritional requirements must be produced."
Credited for discovering the "golden rice," as the media calls it, were Ingo Potrykus, who was 65 at that time and was about to retire as a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg.
"My team targeted vitamin A deficiency because this is one of the largest health problems worldwide," said Potrykus.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 18, 2013.