Philrice to test genetically modified ‘golden rice’
SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ—Expect a “gold rush” soon for a Philippine-bred rice variety whose grains are golden and laden with the promise of helping curb Vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness.
The variety is called “golden rice,” the name given to the plant type that produces yellow-orange grains and was developed in 2002 by two scientists from Switzerland and Germany.
Beta carotene gives the rice variety its peculiar color.
A team from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) here developed the Philippine variety, whose genes are from the improved variety of the original golden rice.
PhilRice formed the team in 2004, believing that genetic engineering of rice would help address Vitamin A deficiency.
A confined field test for the variety has been completed and PhilRice is preparing to conduct field tests around the country.
Dr. Antonio Alfonso, head of PhilRice’s Golden Rice Project, said the capability of this variety to produce beta carotene is significant as it could help address Vitamin A deficiency.
He said the beta carotene content of the grain is richer than other plant sources.
Beta carotene, he said, becomes Vitamin A only when it is processed by the body. A cup of cooked rice, he said, could supply half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A for an adult.
Alfonso said the conversion of beta carotene to Vitamin A happens only when the body needs it so there was no risk of an overdose.
He said his team, in the first stage of research and development work, transferred genes from an improved variety of golden rice to PSB Rc 82 (Peñaranda), a local rice variety that is widely used by farmers.
Alfonso said the golden rice strain, which was the source of the transferred genes, was developed in Switzerland from 1991 to 2002 by Prof. Ingo Potrykus, of the Institute for Plant Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Prof. Peter Beyer, of the Center for Biosciences of the University of Freiburg in Germany. It was a breakthrough as the grain contained building blocks to produce beta carotene.
Ordinary rice variety, Alfonso said, does not have this quality.
He said the development of this plant type was meant to help solve Vitamin A deficiency which causes blindness, especially among children.
Rice was selected as a medium for solving Vitamin A deficiency because it is the Philippines’ main staple and is cheaper than other types of food with beta carotene. Among the types of food associated with beta carotene is carrot.
Citing research done by PhilRice in developing the golden rice, Alfonso said Vitamin A deficiency causes up to 670,000 deaths among children worldwide.
In the Philippines, 15.2 percent of children between six months and five years are Vitamin A deficient. At least 9.5 percent of pregnant women are Vitamin A deficient and 6.4 percent of lactating mothers also suffer from it.
PhilRice formed Alfonso’s team in 2004, believing that genetic engineering of rice would help address Vitamin A deficiency.
The agency’s initiative drew strength from Republic Act No. 8976 (Philippine Food Fortification Act of 2000) that calls for a food fortification program to address malnutrition.
Alfonso said the inventors of golden rice—Potrykus and Beyer—and the agencies that helped them, donated their inventions to interested groups for further development.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in Los Baños, Laguna, received the golden rice grains. IRRI offered these to the Philippines and other countries, Alfonso said.
He said the research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development. He said IRRI and the Helen Keller International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition worldwide, are PhilRice’s partners in the project.
“Results of our confined field test already showed promising results. Among other things, the color of the grains are like the meat of squash, meaning there’s beta carotene in them,” he said.
He said his team made sure that the project was monitored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
“We are definitely working closely with national regulatory agencies to ensure safety,” he said.
He said the Bureau of Plant Industry would conduct tests prior to approving the commercial use of the rice variety.
IRRI, in a statement, said: “If at the end of this project, golden rice is proven to be safe, with improved Vitamin A status, and reaching the poor and those most in need, we will introduce it to other countries to fight Vitamin A deficiency.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.