Work on ‘Golden Rice’ focuses on raising yield

  • 10 April 2015, Friday

Source: BusinessMirror
11 Mar 2015

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—Opposition to the commercialization of “Golden Rice” has never waned, but the enthusiasm of plant breeders and geneticists in developing the biotech crop has not wavered a bit.

The crop is being developed jointly by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) here in the hope that once commercialized, Golden Rice will combat vitamin A deficiency (VAD), the leading cause of childhood blindness and inability of the immune system to combat diseases.

Golden Rice has been reinforced with a gene that produces beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A that is produced within the human body.

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) also supports the development of Golden Rice since its mandate covers food sufficiency among member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean.)

Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said at a recent forum at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati City that Golden Rice, once grown in the Philippines, will contribute to the reduction of VAD annually.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2009 and 2012 that between190 million and 250 million preschool children worldwide suffer from VAD annually.

For its part, global coordinator Dr. Randy Hautea of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said vitamin A supplementation could reduce mortality among children younger than 5-years old from 24 percent to 30 percent.

“This means that vitamin A availability for 8 million late infancy and preschool-age children in undernourished settings could prevent 1.3 million to 2.5 million child deaths annually,” the ISAAA leader claimed.

The IRRI said that as of March 2014, research, analysis and testing of beta-carotene-enriched Golden Rice continues in partnership with research agencies in the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

“The Golden Rice event R [GR2-R] was introgressed into selected mega varieties, field tested for three seasons to evaluate the agronomic and product performance under Philippine field conditions.

“Preliminary results of the conducted multilocational trials show that while the target level of beta-carotene in the grain was attained, yield was on an average lower than yields from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers,” the IRRI reported.

“Hence, the new objective of increasing yield became the focus of the current research to include other versions of GR2, such as GR2-E and others,” it added.

The IRRI is breeding the Golden Rice trait into mega varieties to get suitable advance lines.

Once this is achieved, the series of confined field trials will resume, it stressed.

The IRRI and its many research partners remain committed to developing a high-performing Golden Rice variety that benefits farmers and consumers.

The institution said it follows all biosafety and other regulatory protocols in its effort to develop and disseminate Golden Rice in collaboration with PhilRice.

“Once released, Golden Rice has the potential to provide beta-carotene-fortified carbohydrate staple, totaling an estimated 2,006,869 calories per day in the major countries of the South suffering from VAD.

The following is the breakdown by region per day: people living in South Asia (1,130,648 calories), Southeast Asia (660,979), Africa (125,124), Latin America (75,238), and Central Asia (14,880) for a total of 2,006,869 calories per day—these are the regions where most VAD occurs,” the IRRI concluded.