Australian GM rice breakthrough gives hope to micronutrient deficient billions

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 8th September 2011

Scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) have produced rice with high enough iron levels to meet daily recommended requirements for iron intake.

The ACPFG claims the fortified rice provides an inexpensive and sustainable solution to the micronutrient malnutrition problems that currently plague people in developing countries.

Scientists based at the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and South Australia, and Flinders University, genetically modified rice to increase the amount of iron that is transported to the endosperm of the grain (the part that people eat). This resulted in rice that has up to four times more iron than conventional rice. The rice also has doubled zinc levels.

Dr Alex Johnson from ACPFG said, “Rice is the primary source of food for roughly half of the world’s population, particularly in developing countries, yet the polished grain, also known as white rice, contains insufficient concentrations of iron, zinc and pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements.

“A lack of genetic variation in rice has hindered efforts by conventional breeding programs to address iron levels. These programs have not been able to achieve the level of iron and zinc in the rice grain that we are able to achieve with a biotech approach in our glasshouse experiments.”

This research represents the first time rice lines have been reported with iron levels at or higher than the daily recommended levels.

According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world and affects more than two billion people (30% of the world’s population). Symptoms include poor mental development, depressed immune function and anaemia.

The results of this research were published yesterday in the online peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE.

The research was funded by the Australian Research Council and HarvestPlus. Work is now underway to test this technology in field trials.