Case Study: Vitamin A Deficiency and Golden Rice
One way that GM technology might benefit the world's poor is by altering the nutritional content of foods.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD)
- VAD affects people in 118 countries worldwide, particularly in Africa and South East Asia, where it typically affects the poorest people, with children suffering most severely.
- VAD is the leading cause of severe visual impairment and blindness in children, and can also significantly increase the risk of serious illness, and even death, from such common childhood infections as diarrhoea and measles.
- It is estimated that 100-140 million children are vitamin A deficient, and that 250 000 to 500 000 of these become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
Another group at severe risk from the effects of VAD is women in the latter stages of pregnancy.
- Nearly 600 000 women die from childbirth-related causes each year.
- The vast majority of them die from complications which could be reduced through better nutrition, including provision of vitamin A.
- They can suffer from night blindness, and
- It is also thought that VAD increases the risk of mother to foetus transmission of HIV.
- Golden Rice is a genetically engineered strain of rice (Oryza sativa).
- It was originally created in 1999 by inserting daffodil and bacterial genes coding for an enzyme involved in the synthesis of beta-carotene (a precursor of Vitamin A) into the rice genome.
- A new strain, called Golden Rice 2 was made in 2005, and this has 23 times more beta-carotene.
- Golden Rice can benefit those suffering from Vitamin A deficiency, particularly children, because they cannot get enough beta-carotene through the diet available to them.
- It is not yet available for sale or for human consumption.
Since rice forms the staple diet of many of the people in countries affected by VAD, some people think that Golden Rice might be an effective way of dramatically and cheaply improving many people’s health.
However, there is strong opposition to this by anti GM campaigners on the grounds that Golden Rice might be a “Trojan Horse” that brings many other applications of GM technology into developing countries, and also a more ready acceptance of it across the world.
The differences between conventional plant breeding and GM