Golden rice takes a big step closer to production reality for those most in need
Feb. 7, 2020
It has been nearly 20 years since Golden rice was a Time cover story with the caption, “This Rice Could Save a Million Kids a Year.” Almost immediately, Greenpeace declared war on Golden rice because it was genetically engineered to produce beta carotene — the precursor of vitamin A — in the rice kernel. On Feb. 12, 2001, Golden rice was again the subject of a Time cover — “This Rice Could Save a Million Kids a Year, but protesters believe such genetically modified foods are bad for us and our planet. Is the rice worth the risk?”
There are thousands of rice varieties in the world, and they are a staple for nearly half of the world’s people. But the very poor who depend on rice for nearly 100 percent of their calories can suffer from vitamin A deficiency, a nutritionally acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Especially children and pregnant women. Estimates vary, but some sources show a million people, mostly children, die a slow death each year because of this deficiency. An additional 250,000 to 500,000 children become permanently blind.
Rice produces beta carotene in all parts of the plant except the endosperm of the kernel (the bran contains beta carotene, but it is removed before cooking). If the plant’s kernels could produce beta carotene — the compound that turns corn kernels and daffodils yellow — digestive enzymes of rice eaters could make vitamin A and save an estimated million lives per year and prevent permanent blindness in several hundred thousand more.
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