News and Information

GM 'golden rice' boosts vitamin A
March 28, 2005

By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent

Golden rice
The new strain of golden rice has far more beta-carotene
UK scientists have developed a new genetically modified strain of "golden rice", producing more beta-carotene.

The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, and this strain produces around 20 times as much as previous varieties.

It could help reduce vitamin A deficiency and childhood blindness in developing countries.

The World Health Organization estimates up to 500,000 children go blind each year because of vitamin A deficiency.

When the original strain of golden rice emerged from laboratories in Switzerland five years ago, it was hailed by some as an instant solution.

But that original strain did not produce enough beta-carotene to ensure that children would get their daily requirement from eating normal quantities of rice.

And because of concerns about GM agriculture, it still has not been grown in field trials in Asia.


GM Food
The new variety, developed at the UK laboratories of the biotechnology company Syngenta, produces much more beta-carotene.

Syngenta is making the rice available for free to research centres across Asia, who will, if they are given the go-ahead by their governments, begin field trials.

Not everyone believes golden rice is the best answer to Vitamin A deficiency.

Some agricultural experts and environmental groups say aiming for a balanced diet across the board would be a better solution.

But it is the first concrete evidence that GM technology can produce crops aimed at solving the pressing problems of the developing world, rather than increasing the profits of western biotechnology companies.

The latest scientific research is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


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