Golden Rice: Can GE save three million lives with just two genes?

Every day, dietary micronutrient deficiencies kill countless children in the developing world. A lack of vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine in one’s diet leads to increased susceptibility to developmental and immune system deficiencies. The surest way to prevent micronutrient deficiencies is to maintain a rich and balanced diet. However, this is not a viable option in rice-based societies, where most of the nutrients in rice are lost during processing. In rice plants, β-carotene (a building block for vitamin A) is produced in the in green tissues but not in the endosperm, the edible part of the seed. This vitamin is lost with the bran fraction during milling and polishing, leading to vitamin A deficiency-related diseases, such as blindness.

"Vitamin A and zinc alone could save 25% of the 12 million children who die annually because of malnutrition worldwide"

 Healthy girl

Child with early stages of VAD (Vitamin A Deficiency)

According to the World Health Organization, this vitamin A deficiency causes between 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. However, blindness is just a precursor for more serious conditions, as over half the children who lose their sight die within a year of becoming blind.


            Enter golden rice, a genetically modified form of rice. In this rice, two genes from the daffodil, a vitamin-rich flower, are inserted into the genome via genetic engineering. This process leads to the production and accumulation of β-carotene in the actual grains. As scientists work to improve this prototype, it could soon be capable of meeting the recommended dietary level of vitamin A just 100-200 grams of rice, the average amount of rice consumed by children in countries like India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.

Countries most affected by VAD (vitamin A deficiencies)

VADD in SE Asia

 Golden rice has the potential to break the cycle of blindness and death in rice-based societies. The vitamin A and zinc in this rice alone could save one fourth of the 12 million children who die from malnutrition yearly. That’s three million lives saved! In other countries, golden rice could serve to fortify the diets of countless children.


            However, the discovery is only half the work, as we must work to incorporate golden rice into the world food supply. A strong, concerted, and interdisciplinary effort which includes scientists, breeders, farmers, regulators, policy-makers and extensionists is necessary for this to happen. Farmers must be educated and consumer must realize the benefits of this new rice.


But in all likelihood, golden rice is a step in the right direction. It does not create new dependencies, nor does it replace traditional cuisine, hence there is little chance of it being shunned by the public. Hey, it’s even got an appealing color.

            To donate rice to hungry people around the world, just log onto and expand your vocabulary! 


Click here to return to the Root of GM Foods

Citation 12, Citation 19