Coming soon: Golden rice (First of Two Parts)-A A +A
Sunday, September 8, 2013
THE Geneva-based World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind each year because of a lack of Vitamin A in their diets. Not only that, about half of these children die within 12 months.
Vitamin A deficiency also depresses the immune system, raising overall mortality among children from other causes such as diarrhea, measles, and pneumonia. For these diseases the additional toll is estimated at one million preventable deaths a year, or around 2,700 per day, mostly among children younger than 5.
Vitamin A is found naturally in many foods, including liver of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Most of them, however, can be found in root crops (carrot and sweet potato) vegetables (broccoli and tomato), and milk products (cheese and butter), and fruits (papaya, mango, melon).
Most of these sources are beyond the reach of poor people, particularly those living in shanty places, upland areas, and rural communities. So, some scientists came up of an unthinkable idea: that of putting vitamin A in rice, as 89% 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 International Rice Research Institute (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.
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 an email sent to Mark Lynas, an environmentalist and author of several books, Nina Fedoroff, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote: "Golden rice addresses a major nutritional problem in the most direct way imaginable, through a dietary staple."
Golden rice has been bred with local rice cultivars in the Philippines, Taiwan and with the American rice cultivar "Cocodrie." The first field trials of these golden rice cultivars were conducted by Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in 2004. Preliminary results from the field tests have shown field-grown golden rice produces 4 to 5 times more beta-carotene than golden rice grown under greenhouse conditions.
In 2005, a team of researchers at biotechnology company, Syngenta, produced a variety of golden rice called "Golden Rice 2." This type of rice produces 23 times more carotenoids than golden rice.
Also in 2005, researcher Peter Beyer received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to further improve golden rice by increasing the levels of or the bioavailability of pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, and zinc, and to improve protein quality through genetic modification.
(To be concluded)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 09, 2013.