Beta-carotene enriched GoldenRice is a very argued topic, with people taking drastic sides. This GM rice shouldreduce Vitamin A deficiency in poor countries, reducing cases of blindness,unhealthy skin and weak immune systems, and leading to premature death to thebillions of people that have a rice-filled diet. Vitamin A deficiency alone affects 250 millionchildren in the world. This rice ensures that food will be nutritious in thefuture, when demand will exponentially increase. However, only one country has starteddistribution and production of this rice, in the Phillipines. So, why is this so called’miracle’ rice not being eaten at billions of peoples’ homes? The Discovery First, we shall look at how the firststrain of rice was created. This was done by adding 2 beta-carotenebiosynthesis genes: the first is “phytoene synthase” (from daffodils) and thesecond is “carotene desaturase” (from the bacterium “Erwinia uredovora”).
Theycombine to give lycopene, a red compound found in tomatoes. However, in 1999the strain of GM rice was modified so that did not require lycopene, soproduced B-carotene from inside the rice grain only. The combination of “PSY”and “CRTI” gives the rice a yellow look, a clear indicator that it containsVitamin A.
This is known as genetic engineering (making certain products moreuseful). This was first thought out in 1984, and successfully created in 1999. The carotene contains manymolecules and enzymes. This, and with at least one B-ionone ring, ensures thatit has vitamin A production. This means the rice has mechanisms for “carotenesequestration”, e.g.
crystallization, oil deposition and protein-lipidsequestration. Putting this gene into rice, which is usually low in carotene,took until the 1990s to perfect. The synthesis of lycopene via “PSY” and “CRTI”in the rice provides the substrate for these enzymes, which enables the formationof “PSY” and “CRTI”, which causes the production of vitamin A.
Production chain ofcarotenoids ( +B-carotene) However, this 1ststrain of golden rice did not provide enough vitamin A to negate vitamin Adeficiency. Therefore, a second strain of golden rice was created in order toproduce higher B-carotene levels to combat this. This is because, inmulti-step biosynthetic pathways to create this rice, there is a step whichlimits the rate which a substance produced at, which will decrease the amountof B-carotene produced in total. This can be prevented by either increasing theconcentration of rate-limiting enzyme or by using an enzyme that lets itssubstrate bind to its active sites quicker and form enzyme-substrate complexesat a faster rate, therefore making it catalyze faster. In various experimentsit was found that PSY was limited. This experimentation with PSY genes from differentsources concluded that the maize and rice genes are the most efficient atproducing vitamin A in rice. This led to the secondgeneration of Golden Rice, which produced over 30 times more B-carotene thanthe first strain, which means that a diet containing GR2 is much more likely toreduce vitamin A deficiency related diseases. This also gives GR2 a muchstronger yellow color than GR1.
Since the discovery of GR2,there are now 5 rice field trial sites in the Philippines, which aim to startthe distribution of golden rice in the country by 2017, and Bangladesh will benext with aims of 2018. TheDistribution This does sound like a breakthrough intechnology. However, only the majority of people are happy with this. Protestsagainst GM rice, especially by people in the Greenpeace group, are threateningits use in the Philippines and other countries.
Reports cited thatGreenpeace followers destroyed a production field in the Philippines. This is because Greenpeacehas been a major scaremonger creating doubt in genetically modifiedbreakthroughs, especially against the use of biotechnology. (destruction of the GM rice fields in thePhilippines.) In addition, even though this project hasbeen backed by more than 100 of the world’s mostdistinguished scientists, there are problems that still alarm people. Thisleads to the idea that there are two factors: uncertainty and fear. There isalso the concern about whether the growing of GM-rice could spread to theconventional crop of rice that had been grown for centuries and is eaten byboth the local population and the worldwide community. The biggest scare wasthat several years ago in China, scientific researcherssampling populations with Golden Rice committingan ethical breach of the law by feeding GM-rice to children without lettingtheir parents/guardian know first. When this outbreak became public, China shutdown the research completely, critically undermining the crops’ reputation.
In countries such as Braziland Paraguay, the increasing use of soybean monocultures had led to widespreaddeforestation in the past, which sparked numerous protests. People use similararguments that mass-producing GM rice could lead to mass deforestation in thefuture, where sustaining enough produce to feed the population whilst beingenvironmentally friendly will rise to the next level of difficulty. On the other side, amongstthe opposition, there are numerous supporters of “The Golden Rice Project”, whoconstantly praise this miracle crop. Supporters of the project also reject any concern overthe fact that this project has partners in the biotech industry that strive to makeprofit. It has the freedom to run under humanitarian use, therefore thetechnology needed to grow the crop can be provided and delivered free of chargein developing countries. This means costs will never be an issue for the localfarmers, meaning they can all grow the crop. The Golden Rice project also received the blessing fromthe Pope and received the “2015 Patents for Humanity award”. In June 2016, over100 Nobel Laureates (winners of Nobel Prizes), alongside 5591 scientists andordinary people, signed a letter against Greenpeace’s opposition to geneticallymodified organisms.
Sir Richard Roberts, the leader of the campaign, statedthat: “We call upon Greenpeace to cease and desist in its campaign againstGolden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology ingeneral.” (blessing of the Golden rice project).However, the opposition retaliated by arguing that evenafter 24 years of research and the billions of dollars spent, the project isstill years away from full completion and the release to various countries.They point that many research related queries remain about GM rice. Even further, “Masipag”,the network established for Philippine farmers and scientists, say that more caution is needed.”Chito Medina”, theleader of Masipag, asks: “Is Golden Rice food, medicine or both? If it is both,then the health department should be doing safety studies. So far only feedingstudies have been going on, showing that the Vitamin A is absorbed by the body,but there are no safety data showing whether chemicals may have been producedin the process of genetic engineering.” This, according to Masipag, includingthe fact that a test field had been destroyed, made clear that golden rice isisn’t welcome there, any may never be.
Medina claimed that their network itselfhad no part in the destruction, but some of its own members were there at theirown will. Therefore, after these countless debates, the progress inThe Golden Rice project remains at a snail’s pace, whilst millions of peopledie due to Vitamin A deficiency. After such a massive leap in discovery, but asmall step in distribution, it is almost a waste of an opportunity to solve a vastproblem in the world, with GM rice distribution only just commencing in thePhilippines and beginning in Bangladesh in 2018. Sources: https://en.
goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.php And the textbook.