[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
GM 'golden rice' boosts vitamin A
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.

Shared technology

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.

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 - probably within the next five years.

Complex issues

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.

"The problem is that you're trying to fix vitamin A deficiency with a narrow GM solution when the problem is much more complex," said Clare Oxborrow, from the anti-GM group Friends of the Earth.

"People who are deficient in vitamin A are also deficient in a whole host of other vitamins and minerals. What are we going to do? Are we going to genetically modify a crop to address these issues, too?

"What we should be doing is trying to support people to grow the diverse types of food that meet all their nutritional needs."

Parallel programmes

However, the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which is overseeing developments in the plant technology, said the crop was not intended to be the sole solution.

It said malnutrition was rooted in political, economic and cultural issues that could not be magically resolved by a single agricultural technology.

"We are trying to deal with part of the problem; we are not against supplementation, fortification, [or] small house gardens," explained Dr Jorge Mayer, the golden rice project manager.

"All this has been tried for many years and still, with all the existing programmes, with millions of dollars being invested every year - there is still a gap to be filled.

"We believe we can fill a gap and with the other programmes to try to achieve full coverage."

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

GM rice: A growing Philippines debate
26 Sep 03 |  Asia-Pacific
'Mirage' of GMs' golden promise
24 Sep 03 |  Science/Nature
Rice data to boost food security
04 Apr 02 |  Science/Nature
Deal signed on 'Golden Rice'
17 May 00 |  Science/Nature
Yellow rice gives dietary boost
14 Jan 00 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific