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GM Golden Rice Boosts Vitamin A


By Richard Black
28 March 2005

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 Organisation estimates up to 500,000 children go blind each year because of vitamin A deficiency.

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 didn't 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.

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.

But it is the first concrete evidence that GM technology can produce crops aimed at solving the pressing problems of the developing world, rather than increasing the profits of western biotechnology companies.