Golden Rice: What is it?

The idea of Golden Rice was formed with the idea, that it could help lower malnutrition in third-world countries. One of the major deficiencies, especially in children, is vitamin A deficiency; this deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in children, and even death.1 This can be broken up into three categories, including what a genetically modified organism is, how they formed Golden Rice, and the nutritional facts behind it. Golden Rice is research based off of the technologies of genetically modified organism (GMOs), to put vitamin A into the endosperm of the rice grain.

The work on Golden Rice began with Ingo Potrykus and Peter Burkhardt collaborating together in ways to increase micronutrients in rice.2 The problem that Potrykus and Burkhardt came to was how they would get vitamin A into the rice; the answer was to have the rice produce beta-carotene.2 The next step in the production of Golden Rice was to find a way to transfer beta-carotene, a carotenoid found in the edible part of the rice into the endosperm. Potrykus and Burkhardt came up with the idea to use two genes that that biosynthesize beta-carotene; the psy gene from daffodils allows the production of carotenoids in the endosperm while the crt1 gene from soil bacterium synthesizes the carotenoids to the end product of beta-carotene.3 The end result from this research was a conclusive yield of 1.6 ug of beta-carotene for every gram of endosperm.1

Golden Rice: What does it mean?

Golden Rice means different things to different eyes. This in part is why there is so much debate for the use of Golden Rice, as a means of combating vitamin A deficiency. Outlined below are a list of different actors and how they perceive Golden Rice:

  • Scientists: They see Golden Rice as a means to further explore the realms of genetic engineering. They look at Golden Rice as another stepping stone, to be able to input nutritional materials directly in the organism instead of having to fortify it in another step.
  • Environmental activists: These activists see Golden Rice in several ways. Some see it just as a GMO, and therefore harmful to the environment, for messing with nature. Others see it as a labor intensive crop that does not have a real benefit over other crops. Also, Golden Rice is looked at as another weed that will ruin the biodiversity of the other rice species. In all, they all perceive Golden Rice as a pollutant, staining the environment. 
  • Foundations/ Organizations: Golden Rice to these players is a means to help aid in reducing vitamin A deficiency and therefore help the world with a major health problem.
  • Agribusiness: Syngenta, the front for Golden Rice sees it as a means to increase nutrition and curve vitamin A deficiency. They do not see a real profit; this is caused by spreading the use of this product for the intent of only humanitarian needs. Golden Rice is free to those farmers that use the product and make less than $10,000 from it, the money earned from those who make more than $10,000 from farming goes into further research.
    Politicians: Politicians see Golden Rice as a tug-a-war between the activists and scientists. On one hand, they understand the reasons behind it and the intents; on the other hand, they also see why others are against it. It is their job to regulate the ability to use the product, but with the uncertainty that they have, they force a stalemate. As a result, conclusions on Golden Rice cannot be made and therefore the uncertainty remains.
1.Potrykus, Ingo. 2001. Golden Rice and beyond. Plant Physiology, 125:1157-1161.
2.Potrykus, Ingo. 2001. Turning point article: the ‘Golden Rice’ tale. In Vitro Cell. Dev. –Plant, 7:93-100.3.Paine, J.A. et al. 2005. Improving the nutritional value of Golden Rice through increased pro-vitamin A content. Nature Biotechnology, 23(4):482-487.
3. Paine, J.A. et al. 2005. Improving the nutritional value of Golden Rice through increased pro- vitamin A content. Nature Biotechnology, 23(4):482-487.