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Golden Rice: A Genetic Lifesaver Offman 1

Ashley Offman

Mr. Berkan


February 21, y

Golden Rice: A Genetic Lifesaver

Nutritionally enhanced transgenic crops are all the rage in the world of food nowadays,

but these are not just a fad. Nutritionally enhanced crops have been shown to save lives of people

living in disadvantaged communities. In the year 2000, it was estimated that over 792 million

people in 98 developing countries did not get enough food to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.

(FAO, 2000) More than 10 million children die of malnutrition every year, unnecessarily, and 90

percent of the fatalities are concentrated in 42 countries, mostly in Southeast Asia or Africa. A

vast majority of these deaths is linked to micronutrient

deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger. (Black et al,


One of the most common micronutrient deficiencies is

Vitamin A deficiency or VAD. Vitamin A, also called retinol, is

essential for healthy eyes. It also helps combat certain infections. VAD is a very important issue

which can lead to night blindness, xerophthalmia, total blindness, or even death if it remains

untreated. Sadly, about 6,000 people die every day from VAD. In a 2009 UNICEF study, an

estimated 33 percent of pre-school age children and 15 percent of pregnant women did not have

enough vitamin A in their daily diet. Additionally, 5.2 million pre-school-age children suffered

from clinical VAD. Vitamin A-deficient children also face a 23 percent greater risk of dying from

ailments such as measles, diarrhea or malaria. (UNICEF, 2009) The majority of people suffering
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from micronutrient malnutrition in general often do not

have access to supplementation strategies or possibilities Figure 1: A twelve-year-old Ethiopian girl suffers
from corneal blindness as a result of VAD.
of diversifying their diets. Rice is the most important (Community Eye Health Journal, 2009)

staple food for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. Hence, delivery of

important micronutrients such as -carotene with the help of Golden Rice could contribute to a

reduction of chronic health problems caused by micronutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin-A

deficiency (VAD).

Golden Rice has been the biotech industrys proposed solution to VAD since 2000. This

breakthrough achievement was the result of many years of work by Ingo Potrykus and Peter

Beyer, in Switzerland and Germany, respectively. Golden Rice was genetically modified to

produce beta-carotene using two genes, one from a daffodil, and one from a soil bacterium,

Erwinia uredovora. In 2005, Syngenta scientists were capable of increasing the beta-carotene

level obtained in the first-generation Golden Rice 23-fold, by replacing the daffodil with a

homologous gene from maize (Mayer et al, 2006). There are more than 20,000 varieties of rice.

None of them have any -carotene in the endosperm, so there is no natural variation that would

allow the rice grain to produce and store beta-carotene by breeding (Golden Rice Project, 2016).

As other beta-carotene producing crops are unsuccessful in these areas, Golden Rice is the best

approach to supplying beta-carotene to these communities.

Genes for beta-carotene production from different organisms can be used to force rice

grains to produce beta-carotene. To achieve this, those genes are combined with regulatory gene

sequences recognized in rice cells and integrated into the rice genome. The introduced genes will
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then work to make the enzymes needed in the biosynthetic pathway

to -carotene. Two genes, one from a common soil bacterium, and Figure 2: Beta-carotene enhanced
Golden rice is compared to
one from a maize plant, are inserted into the rice genome, and the ordinary rice. (, 2012)

rice starts producing beta-carotene and giving off a golden colour,

hence the name Golden Rice. (Golden Rice Project, 2016)

However, with every scientific breakthrough, there are ethical

issues and concerns. In 2013, Tufts University announced that one of its researchers broke

ethical rules while carrying out a study of genetically modified "Golden Rice" in China, using

children as its test subject. According to the Tufts report, the scientific conclusions of the study

remain valid. But when the study was published last year, anti-biotech campaigners at

Greenpeace China immediately called it a scandal, accusing the research team, led by Tufts'

Guangwen Tang, of feeding children a "potentially dangerous product" without informing their

parents of exactly what the children were eating. (Charles, 2013) The first ethical issue is that the

rice had been brought to China from the United States illegally without declaring it to Chinese

authorities. Ms. Tang had also not applied for ethical evaluation of the trial, she used fabricated

approval documents. Chinese reporters found an email from a Chinese official involved in the

study in which he explained that he was dropping any mention of genetic modification in some

documents presented to the children's parents because it was "too sensitive. (Qiu, 2012)

In conclusion, while nutritionally enhanced crops have become more popular in the last 20 years,

the biotech industry is using them to help save lives. The innovation of Ingo Potrykus and Peter

Beyer brought Golden Rice to the world, providing beta-carotene to communities with rice as
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their primary crop. This has, in turn, given the possibility of saving 5.2 million children from

suffering from clinical VAD, which can result in ophthalmological problems, such as total

blindness, xerophthalmia, and imminent death, with minimal genetic manipulation.