Archived news articles - 2005

The Straits Times, 29 March 2005

Scientists produce vitamin A-rich rice
The genetically modified strain may help reduce cases of childhood blindness

LONDON - BRITISH scientists have developed a new genetically modified (GM) strain of 'golden rice' that is rich in beta-carotene, which the human body converts into vitamin A.

The latest strain of rice may help reduce the incidence of childhood blindness in developing countries, according to the BBC.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that up to half a million children go blind each year because of vitamin A deficiency.

The new strain of golden rice could be better at alleviating this problem than its predecessor as its developers believe it can provide children with adequate vitamin A through normal daily helpings of rice, the BBC said in a report on Sunday.

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

The original rice, which was unveiled in Switzerland about five years ago, was then hailed as the solution for vitamin A deficiency in children in developing countries, but it fell short of the daily dosage mark.

Developed at the UK laboratories of biotechnology company Syngenta, 'golden rice 2' is believed to contain up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original rice.

The major boost in beta-carotene content was achieved by replacing a gene with one taken from daffodils which also have a counterpart in maize, said Ms Rachel Drake, the head of the research team that developed the new strain at Syngenta Seeds in Cambridge. 'I'm absolutely delighted, and I think it's a very compelling story,' she said.

The team developed the new strain for the Humanitarian Rice Board, which runs the golden rice project at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

Some critics doubt beta-carotene's ability to boost vitamin A intake and see the project as a ploy to allay suspicion of GM foods.

'There are still lots of unanswered questions,' said Mr Christoph Then, the genetic engineering spokesman for environmental group Greenpeace.

'Even after five years of study, the researchers don't know how much (beta-carotene) is left when the rice is cooked.

'And no risk assessments for the environment or human health have been performed.'

Syngenta is making the rice available free to research centres across Asia which want to run field trials.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore).Copyright 2005