GMOs: Improving Nutrition and Golden Rice

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  • 0:01 Introduction to GMOs &…
  • 0:40 What Are GMOs?
  • 1:11 Why Is Golden Rice Important?
  • 2:19 How Was Golden Rice Made?
  • 3:37 Controversy Over…
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Golden rice is a genetically modified rice crop that produces vitamin A. In this lesson, you will learn about how golden rice is made and how it can be used to prevent blindness and death in the developing world.

Introduction to GMOs and Golden Rice

In many areas of the world, rice is a staple food, especially for the poorest people. Since these people often do not have access to a variety of food sources, they suffer from many nutritional deficiencies. In particular, vitamin A deficiency is a major problem in many parts of South Asia and Africa. Golden rice is a type of rice that has been genetically modified by the addition of two genes so that it will produce beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Golden rice has the potential to save many lives and prevent blindness in children throughout the world, although it has not been widely adopted yet.

What Are GMOs?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are used in research and to produce food crops that are disease-, pest-, and herbicide-resistant, as well as crops that have increased nutritional value. Although no ill effects from consuming these products have ever been reported, there is still controversy over whether they should be produced and sold. Many groups oppose the production of GMO food crops because of fears over human health and damage to the environment.

Why Is Golden Rice Important?

Imagine that you're a poor child in Southeast Asia or Africa. Rice probably makes up a big part of your diet, and it's very likely that you may be deficient in several important vitamins. One important vitamin that is not typically found in rice is vitamin A. Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient found in yellow and orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, like Southeast Asia and Africa, people do not have access to these foods, and they suffer from vitamin A deficiencies. This causes blindness and immune system problems, particularly in children.

It's estimated that about one-third of the children under five in the world have a vitamin A deficiency and about 200 million children and 20 million pregnant women worldwide are affected right now. Over 500,000 die from infections or complications of blindness each year, so this is a serious worldwide health crisis. Golden rice is a genetically modified form of rice that produces beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. This causes it to take on a golden yellow color, and that's why we call it golden rice.

How Was Golden Rice Made?

Rice plants possess the ability to produce beta carotene already, but the genetic machinery that allows it to be produced is only turned on in the leaves and not in the grain of rice, which is what people eat. Two genes were added to rice plants, a plant phytoene synthase and a bacterial phytoene desaturase, to turn back on the machinery to make beta carotene in the grain of rice. The first golden rice was produced in Switzerland by Peter Beyer and Ingo Potrykus in 1999.

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