In a huge win for public health and science, Golden Rice is taking a major step towards reality in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) had been testing a strain of the beta carotene (a vitamin A precursor) enriched crop in contained environments. The rice passed these tests and will now proceed to open field tests at multiple locations around that country. If these tests are successful, the rice will be approved for farmers to grow, making the life-saving crop available for public consumption.
Officials announced the news on October 9; field tests will begin in November.
Golden Rice has taken a long and arduous path, despite its potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
It was initially developed in the 1990's by two European scientists, Prof Ingo Potrykus and Prof Peter Beyer. They noted that many people, particularly children, were severely vitamin A deficient, a condition which can cause blindness and even death.
A significant proportion of the afflicted population were in Asian countries where rice is a staple of the diet. One estimate suggests citizens of Bangladesh rely on rice for 70 percent of the calories in their diet. With this information, the two scientists genetically engineered a rice line that used a daffodil gene to produce beta-carotene in the edible portion. Later, a second strain was produced that used a corn gene to produce even more of the nutrient.
The potential of this crop to save so many lives has created one of the greatest humanitarian efforts in recent years. The Bill Gates Foundation donated millions of dollars to help improve and grow the crop. Syngenta has also made the seeds free to grow.
Despite it's widespread acceptance and praise in the scientific communities, environmental groups have protested the growing of the plant. Groups like Greenpeace have been associated with the terrorizing fields where scientists conducted tests. That fear of science and those terror tactics in the fields have led millions to suffer and perish unnecessarily.