If the future is to become free from poor nutrition, we need efficient ways to feed our nations. Currently many developing countries face the consequences of inadequate dietary intake, including:
Right now, iodine deficiency is close to resolution thanks to the introduction of iodised salt, and iron is being provided in the form of supplements by the WHO and affiliated charities to the developing world.
One of the staple foods for many developing countries is rice, which unfortunately, is lacking in Vitamin A . . . or perhaps I should say “was lacking”. Scientific development in the late 1990s was put into motion with the goal of engineering a grain of rice which supplements the vitamin A deficiency of developing nations. The result is Golden Rice:
Although designed to supplement a vitamin A deficiency in humans, Golden Rice does not actually contain vitamin A like you might expect; rather, Golden Rice contains the organic compound β-Carotene.
β-Carotene is what creates the yellow or orange hue in carrots and corn. When being digested by the human body, β-Carotene is essentially cut into two identical halves, both of which are vitamin A. Therefore, foods containing any amount of β-Carotene indirectly contain double the amount in vitamin A.
Genetic engineering rice to be more nutritious – or any food for that matter – is not as simple as one might expect. You could inject a gene for synthesising β-Carotene in the plant’s DNA; however, which part of the plant will actually produce β-Carotene? The roots, the leaves, the stalk, the seed? Researchers have found a way to ensure the endosperm (the “rice” we eat) of the rice would produce the β-Carotene.
Golden Rice is a shining beacon for genetic engineering. Hundreds of thousands of children go blind annually due to vitamin A deficiency, and between 1 to 2 million children are dying annually. Golden Rice can bring an end to this devastating outcome.
The skills, knowledge and scientific application learned from genetic engineering should be applied to other foods in the future, to ensure the population consumes the recommended dietary intake of nutrients. Including first world nations. For example, potatoes (a highly consumed fast-food commodity) could be engineered to be more nutritious, and also engineered to reduce the risk of diabetes, liver disease or even obesity.
Genetic engineering could mean the end of nutritional worries for all future generations.
WHO, “Iron deficiency anaemia”, World Health Organisation, <http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/>, accessed 6 June 2015.
WHO, “Iodine deficiency disorders”, World Health Organisation, <http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/idd/en/>, accessed 6 June 2015.
WHO, “Vitamin A deficiency”, World Health Organisation, <http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/>, accessed 6 June 2015.
IRRI Photos, “Golden Rice grain compared to white rice (8)-24”, Flickr, <https://flic.kr/p/9puZaJ>, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, published 15 February 2011.
Ye X, Al-Babili S, & Klöti A, ‘Engineering the provitamin A (β-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm’, Science, vol. 287, no. 5451, pp. 303-305, published 14 January 2000.
Beyer P, Al-Babili S, Ye X, Lucca P, Schaub P, Welsch R, & Potrykus I, ‘Golden Rice: introducing the beta-carotene biosynthesis pathway into rice endosperm by genetic engineering to defeat vitamin A deficiency’, The Journal Of Nutrition, vol. 132, no. 3, pp. 506S-510S, published 2002.