Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Into the Future: Nutritious Food [Revised]

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:

  • Iron deficiency: Leading to “poor pregnancy outcome[s], impaired physical and cognitive development, increased risk of morbidity in children and reduced work productivity in adults” [WHO: Iron deficiency anaemia]
  • Iodine deficiency: Leading to impaired cognitive development and reduced intellectual capacity [WHO: Iodine deficiency disorders]
  • Vitamin A deficiency: Leading to irreversible blindness in children, and night blindness in adults [WHO: Vitamin A deficiency]

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.

Introducing “Golden Rice”

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:

A comparison of Golden Rice and standard rice [Source: IRRI Photos]

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.

Genetically Engineering Golden Rice

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.

Preventing Blindness, Restoring Sight

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.


Sources

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.

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2 comments on “Into the Future: Nutritious Food [Revised]

  1. Adam
    April 21, 2016

    G’day James,

    Thank you for this blog, I didn’t know about golden rice and it makes me feel good to know these types of things are happening. What a fantastic innovation!

    I think this blog is really well written and you get a great balance between the science and importance of this work.

    Some links to further interesting reading would be really helpful. And perhaps have a friend or family member go through with a fine tooth comb for grammar and clarity (but this is hardly necessary)

    I think you should probably just start a real blog called ‘Into the Future’, I would definitely read it. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Like

    • jkanjodeakin
      May 5, 2016

      Hi Adam, glad you learned something from this post!

      I’ve taken on your suggestion of including some external links to some of my mentioned topics, for readers who’d like to learn more. Hopefully I’ve successfully corrected those grammar mistakes in the process.

      Thanks again for reading my blog!

      Like

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This entry was posted on March 31, 2016 by in Burwood - Thursday 2pm.

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