Beta-carotene enriched Golden Rice is a much argued topic, with people having
opposing sides. GM rice should reduce Vitamin A deficiency in poor countries, reducing
incidence of blindness, unhealthy skin and unnaturally weak immune systems, leading
to premature death for the billions of people that partake in a rice-filled diet. Vitamin A
deficiency alone affects 250 million children in the world. GM rice makes certain that
food will be nutritious in the future, even when demand increases exponentially. This
discovery has changed the science of genetic engineering completely, especially around
First, we shall look at how the first strain of rice was created. This was done by adding
2 beta-carotene biosynthesis genes: the first gene is named “phytoene synthase” (from
daffodils) and the second is called “carotene desaturase” (from the bacterium “Erwinia
uredovora”). They combine to give lycopene, a red compound found in tomatoes.
However, in 1999, the rice was modified so that did not require lycopene, so produced
B-carotene from inside the rice grain only. The fusion of “PSY” and “CRTI” together
gives the rice a bright yellow look, a clear indicator that it contains Vitamin A. genetic
engineering was first thought out in 1984, and successfully created in 1999.
Carotenoids include many molecules and enzymes. If carotene has at least one B-
ionone ring, it has the potential for vitamin A production. This means the rice has
mechanisms for “carotene sequestration”, e.g. crystallization, oil deposition and
protein-lipid sequestration. Putting this genome into rice, which is normally low in
carotene hence giving the white color, took up to the 1990s to perfect. The synthesis of
lycopene via “PSY” and “CRTI” in the rice provides the substrate for these enzymes,
which develops the “PSY” and “CRTI” enzymes, which led to the production of vitamin
(Production chain of carotenoids ( +B-carotene))
However, this 1st strain of golden rice did not provide enough vitamin A to negate the
effects of vitamin A deficiency. Therefore, a second strain of golden rice was created in
order to secrete higher B-carotene levels.
This is because, in multi-step bio-synthetic pathways to create GM rice, there is a rate
limiting procedure, which will decrease the amount of B-carotene produced in total.
This can be prevented by either increasing the concentration of rate-limiting enzyme or
by using an enzyme that lets its substrate bind to its active sites quicker and form
enzyme-substrate complexes at a faster rate before moving to the next substrate,
therefore making it catalyze faster. In various experiments it was found that PSY
production was limited. This experimentation with PSY genes from different
backgrounds concluded that the maize and rice genes are the most efficient at
producing vitamin A in the rice genome.
This led to the breakthrough of the second generation of Golden Rice, which produced
over 30 times more B-carotene than the first strain. This means a diet containing GR2
has a higher potential to reduce vitamin A deficiency related diseases. This also gives
GR2 a much stronger yellow color than GR1. The scientist, Peter Bramley, simply
played around with countless numbers of genes from different sources, until he
achieved his goal. This changed the way scientists thought about creating new
outbreaks and discoveries – simply experimenting with new ideas and testing them out
in the laboratory has already created numerous breakthroughs in technology in the
past, and GM rice is no exception. In many ways, however, this shift in thinking has
ultimately shifted back to the early scientists in the Renaissance Era, where scientists
could experiment however they wanted and create new discoveries that were
miraculous in their days, instead of building on the foundations of science that we
Since the discovery of GR2, there are now 5 rice field trial sites in the Philippines,
which aim to start the distribution of golden rice in the country by 2017, and
Bangladesh will be next achieving distribution in 2018. However, only 2 countries that
have considered GM rice, leading to the question: What is stalling distribution?
This does sound like a breakthrough in technology, which the majority of people are
happy with. However, disapproval around GM rice, particularly by people in the
Greenpeace group, is threatening its use in the Philippines and other countries
involved with GM rice. Reports cited followers of Greenpeace destroying a production
field in the Philippines. This is because Greenpeace has been a major
scaremonger creating doubt in genetically modified breakthroughs, especially against
the use of biotechnology. This means that the positive shift in the thinking of the
scientists has led to an opposite reaction to some of the public.
(destruction of the GM rice fields in the Philippines.)
In addition, even though this project has been backed by more than 100 of the world’s
most distinguished scientists, there are problems that still alarm people. There is also
the concern whether the growing of GM-rice could spread to the conventional crop of
rice by cross-pollination. The biggest scare was several years ago in China, scientific
researchers committed an ethical breach by feeding GM-rice to children without letting
their parents/guardian know first. This challenge to scientists took them aback and
made them have to think in a different way – how to make the distribution of GM rice
as safe and as fulfilling as possible.
In countries such as Brazil and Paraguay, the increasing use of soybean monocultures
had led to vast deforestation in the past, which sparked numerous protests. People use
similar arguments that mass-producing GM rice could lead to mass deforestation in the
future. Producing enough to feed the population whilst being environmentally friendly
will be the next difficulty.
However, there are numerous supporters of “The Golden Rice Project”. Supporters of
the project also reject any concern over the fact that this project has partners in the
biotech industry that strive to make profit. It has the freedom to run under
humanitarian use, therefore the technology needed to grow the crop can be provided
and delivered free of charge in developing countries. This means costs will never be a
concern for the local farmers, meaning they can all grow the crop. This is the result of
scientists thinking in a brand new way that connects them to the leading organizations
and creating a project that will benefit the world. In this way, the beginnings of the
integration of GM rice into society has aided scientists into becoming not just ‘crazy
people that experiment in a laboratory’ but people who also consider the population.
The Golden Rice project also received the favor from the Pope by his blessing and also
was awarded the “2015 Patents for Humanity award”. In June 2016, over 100 Nobel
Laureates (winners of Nobel Prizes), alongside 5591 scientists and ordinary people,
signaled their concern with Greenpeace’s opposition by signing a letter against them
and their action to genetically modified organisms. Sir Richard Roberts, the leader of
the movement, stated that: “We call upon Greenpeace to cease and desist in its
campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through
biotechnology in general.” See reference 1
However, “Masipag”, the network established for Philippine farmers and scientists,
state that more caution is needed.
“Chito Medina”, the leader 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 feeding
studies 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 produced in the
process of genetic engineering.” See reference 2 . According to Masipag, it is clear that
golden rice isn’t welcome there, and may never be.
Therefore, to conclude, GM rice has not just revolutionized a sustainable future for
goods, but also revolutionized the way scientists think. It will be another test for the
world’s leading scientists, however, to convince the whole population to back up the
Golden Rice Project. This, and convincing people that the project will still keep the
world a safe place at the same time.