is naturally lacking in vitamin A
and its precursors; a recently genetically modified strain, developed by Monsanto
(now a wholy owned subsidiary of Pharmacia
) and the seed of which is to be sold at the same price as natural strains, has had three genes inserted which enable it to express high levels of pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene
). Hence the colour, and the name 'yellow' or 'golden' rice.
In many areas where rice is the staple foodstuff, the diet is poor in sources of the vitamin. A lack of vitamin A is estimated to cause a million child deaths a year and 300,000 cases of blindness. Deficiency is estimated to affect 100 million children.
Increasing levels in the staple is seen by some as preferable to introducing vitamin A-rich foodstuffs (such as traditional cereals and certain vegetables) into the diet - which some believe would be a cheaper alternative. Unfortunately, taking this approach would result in a loss of biodiversity (with all that entails), and the modifications have reduced crop yield (compare this to ENZA's Pacific Rose apple). Still, why judge a writer by his/her drafts?
A separate strain of rice has been engineered that contains two genes boosting iron content. However, this hasn't been as successful as the beta-carotene project above, as the high phytin content of rice has yet to be reduced; phytin chelates iron consumed in the same meal, resulting in an increased prevalence of anaemia.