About 70 % of children under 5 years are suffering from vitamin-A deficiency leading to various forms of vision impairment. Around five millions children in south and Southeast Asia are reported to suffer from the serious eye diseases Xerophthalmia and majority of them eventually become either partially or totally blind due to the deficiency of this vitamin. Besides affecting vision, deficiency predisposes the children to various respiratory and intestinal diseases resulting in high percentage of mortality. With the exception of maize, β-carotene is found hardly in the endosperm of any of the cereals. Realizing its importance in human diet, efforts were made to correct the deficiency by introducing the missing gene in the β-carotene pathway.
Professor Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of technology, Zurich and Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany are responsible for this wonder product called Golden Rice that is fast becoming a poster crop for what is good about biotechnology, in the face of all the bad press the technology has been receiving.
In all, three organisms unrelated to rice were involved in creating the new rice: Daffodils and bacterium Erwinia uredovora provided the genes that encode β-carotene, while the crown gall bacterium Agrobacterium tumifaciens provided the plasmids that served as gene couriers into rice tissue. The US Food and Drug Administration has classified provitamin-A or β-carotene as generally acceptable as safe. It is gratifying that architects of the Golden Rice have left the technology in the public domain enabling the nutritionally under-nourished millions in developing world to enjoy the fruits of science with no strings attached to it.