Genetic engineering: Golden rice
Published on 22 April 2013
Fourteen years ago, scientists developed a genetically engineered version of rice that would promote the production of vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in developing countries.
In a few months, the Philippines will become the first country to start giving “golden rice” out to its farmers. Bangladesh and Indonesia will follow suit soon, and India is seriously considering it.
Good, but 14 years is rather a long time, isn’t it? The number of children in developing countries who went blind from vitamin A deficiency during that time (half of whom died within 12 months of losing their sight) runs into the low millions. (The World Health Organization estimates that between a quarter-million and a half-million children a year go blind from vitamin A-deficiency.)
“Golden rice” contains beta-carotene, an orange-colored pigment that is a key precursor chemical used by the body to make vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and butternut squash are naturally rich in beta-carotene, but ordinary white rice contains almost none. And rice is the most important food in the diet of about half the world’s people.