Written by the Web Team
Almost three decades ago, pioneer breeders thought of ways to make rice, one of the world`s most popular staples, help solve a major malnutrition problem.
Beginning in the early 1990s and using the tools of modern biotechnology, Ingo Potrykus, then of the Institute of Plant Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, worked with Peter Beyer from the University of Freiburg in Germany to develop Golden Rice. They used genes from daffodil and a common soil microorganism to develop a prototype of Golden Rice that can produce beta carotene, a source of vitamin A, in its grain.
This unique type of rice was envisioned to benefit millions of children and women around the world who suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
Fast forward to 2005, the scientists developed the current version of Golden Rice; this time using genes from maize and the same microorganism that together produce about twenty times more beta carotene than the 1999 prototype.
In the years that followed, the final donor plant for the Golden Rice trait has been selected and moved to the next phase of research and development.
In the Philippines, the current version of Golden Rice has been transferred to the Department of Agriculture – Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) to develop a Golden Rice version of existing rice varieties that are popular with our local farmers.
Through the years, scientific research and international collaboration on Golden Rice are supported by funding and in-kind donations from the private, public, and philanthropic sectors. It is also being developed by DA-PhilRice with the help of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on a nonprofit basis. Because the technology used for Golden Rice has been donated by the inventors, if approved, it will be made available to developing countries and resource-poor farmers without additional cost. This means that Golden Rice is expected to cost as much as regular rice.
Additionally, farmers can store and reuse harvested Golden Rice grains thus there will be no need for them to buy new seeds in every planting season.
If Golden Rice is approved for propagation, an independent nutrition study will be conducted to evaluate if eating Golden Rice everyday will improve vitamin A levels in real-world conditions. Depending on the length of the approval process, it could take another two to three years before Golden Rice seeds are ready to be distributed broadly to farmers.
Golden Rice research in the Philippines is being undertaken by DA-PhilRice under the leadership of Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., its executive director. PhilRice is a government institution tasked to help develop high-yielding, cost-reducing, and environmentally sound technologies so farmers can sustainably produce enough rice for all Filipinos.
“Biotechnology for agriculture, whether using conventional or modern tools, has a major role to play in making sure that there is enough food. It will be for the interest of our people to continue support for science and research for development. After all, this is for public good,” Rasco said.
For more information about the Golden Rice project, visit www.philrice.gov.ph or call/text 09209111398.