Thursday, March 3, 2016

Healthier rice to combat hidden hunger, says expert

ILOILO CITY, Philippines—Genetically modified rice varieties that contain high iron, high zinc, and beta carotene could play an important role in reducing micronutrient deficiency that affects more than 2 billion people around the world.

Golden Rice Network Coordinator Violeta Villegas underscores the role of genetic engineering in making rice healthier to combat micronutrient deficiency or hidden hunger during her presentation on food production technologies for sustainable agriculture during the annual convention of the Nutritionists-Dieticians' Association of the Philippines (NDAP), held 24-26 February at the Royal Garden Hall and Convention Center.

“The unique advantage of genetic modification lies in its ability to incorporate novel genes with useful traits into new rice varieties,” said Villegas. “These include genes from plants and organisms unrelated to rice that could not be transferred using other breeding methods. Also, it greatly increases accuracy in incorporating genes—and only those genes—for desired traits into a rice variety.”

Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice that contains beta carotene that is being developed as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status. In the Philippines, about 1.7 million children aged 6 months to 5 years and around a half million pregnant and nursing women are vitamin A-deficient, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). The Golden Rice project is currently generating and analyzing data to support future applications. So far, both agronomic and laboratory data look very promising.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the coordinating institution for the Golden Rice Network and has been working to develop Golden Rice with national partners since 2006.

IRRI is also developing rice varieties that are rich in iron and zinc to alleviate deficiencies in these two micronutrients. FNRI reports that 22% of Filipino infants and preschool children suffer from zinc deficiency and 25% of pregnant women are anemic due to low iron.

Recently, genetically modified rice with high levels of iron and zinc has been developed. Scientists from IRRI and partner research institutions have succeeded in increasing iron and zinc levels in polished rice up to 15 micrograms per gram and 45.7 micrograms per gram, respectively. These levels fulfill 30% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) in humans.

In addition to the presentation of IRRI’s ongoing research on healthier rice, an exhibit showed the importance and status of the Institute's research work on combating hidden hunger around the world.

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