Golden Rice: Harnessing the power of genetic engineering to improve vitamin A nutrition
Vitamin A deficiency remains a major public health problem in low- and middle-income countries. Although supplementation programs have proven highly successful in preventing the consequences of vitamin A deficiency (e.g., child death and blindness), this intervention is targeted only to preschool-aged children and, in all age groups, the prevalence of dietary inadequacy remains unacceptably high. Over the past 25 years, agricultural research programs have sought to improve the carotenoid content of staple food crops, thereby ensuring a stable dietary source of vitamin A for populations with low dietary diversity and a heavy reliance on grains. Conventionally-bred carotenoid-rich crops include orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, maize, and cassava. Given the lack of natural variability in carotenoid content of the rice endosperm, conventional breeding techniques cannot be used to biofortify rice cultivars. For this purpose, genetic engineering has been employed to develop “Golden Rice.” We are in the planning phase for a major randomized controlled trial of Golden Rice consumption. Our current work is focused on characterizing vitamin A status among schoolchildren in high-risk areas of Bangladesh—intended to identify a study site—and understanding knowledge and perceptions related to genetic engineering in these populations.
- Sylhet, Bangladesh - selected city