The colour reveals the provitamin A content: Golden rice shows a yellow shimmer thanks to the addition of vitamins. Photo: goldenrice.org
Golden Rice is many times richer in provitamin A than other rice varieties. As a result, this biofortified food can counteract the deficiency symptoms suffered by many people worldwide for whom rice is a staple food. Prof. Dr. Peter Beyer, emeritus professor at the Institute of Biology at the University of Freiburg, and Prof. Dr. Ingo Potrykus, emeritus professor at the Institute of Plant Sciences at the ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, developed genetically modified rice in the 1990s. Now the Project Management Institute (PMI) has honored the Golden Rice as one of the most influential projects of the last 50 years and included it in the Top 10 list in the “Health” category.
In pre-cooked rice grains there are only small traces of beta-carotene, also known as provitamin A, which the body converts into vitamin A. Therefore, people who have rice as their main staple often suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Eye diseases, blindness and increased infant mortality are the consequences. Beyer’s and Potrykus’s team has used two foreign genes – from a bacterium and from the maize plant – to cultivate Golden Rice. Its yellow color is due to the increased beta-carotene content.
In 2000, Beyer and Potrykus donated the technology behind their research work. They founded the non-profit “Golden Rice” humanitarian project, which aims to spread the rice variety and thus combat the health damage caused by vitamin A deficiency.
PMI, an American project management association with more than 550,000 members in over 200 countries, would like to use its list of the most influential projects compiled by research and commercial experts to show what a central role project work has played in positively shaping the world. Golden rice is an important technology for combating vitamin A deficiency.
“Around 4,500 children a day die as a result of the ‘nutritionally acquired immune deficiency syndrome,’ which is Vitamin A deficiency,” explains Potrykus. “Many more become blind. The need for Golden Rice is clear and it is registered as safe in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. It can contribute as an additional measure against vitamin A deficiency without any cost to farmers or consumers. Regulatory dossiers have been submitted in major developing countries. All we need now is for public health professionals to accept Golden Rice.”
“It is a particular challenge to develop a prototype that certifies feasibility into a product. This requires a lot of specific knowledge and experience beyond research,” adds Beyer. “The award and our thanks therefore go also to all those who have helped with perseverance and to those who have supported the project with staying power.”