Golden Rice and GM Modified Foods

Hello everybody,

Today is the first time I blog to you guys for over 4 months, and I deeply apologize, I have not found any time to blog for ages, and with it being summer down under, the nights just fly away, when I usually do my blogging.

But recently, I have been re-inspired to resume blogging frequently, by a science camp named The Science Experience (TSE), a 3 day camp run by the Young Scientists of Australia (YSA, check out their website, TSE brings together senior high school students from around Brisbane and beyond, to University campuses all over Brisbane for 3 days, to hear lectures and do science. Amongst other fascinating lectures which I may talk about later, and a brilliant keynote speech by Joel Gilmore (follow him on twitter @joelgilmore ), I listened to a lecture by Neal Menzies. He discussed food for the world in the future, agriculture and its impact on global warming (not so much cow farts, but the extra nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle thanks to commercially produced fertiliser, and GM modified food.

Tonight I wish to talk about GM food, and specifically golden rice, a genetically modified rice variety created for use by farmers in areas where there is a Vitamin A shortage in the population. Golden rice, so-called due to its golden colour, was created by Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Freiburg, respectively. By inserting two genes responsible for the biosynthesis of beta-carotene, the researchers where able to create rice which contained a precursor of vitamin A. Deficiency in Vitamin A is responsible for the death of over 670 000 children under the age of 5, each year. Science published the scientific details of the rice in 2000.

At the time it was published, golden rice was considered a significant breakthrough in biotech, as it was the first time that researchers had engineered an entire process and placed it in a species. It is known of as the first genetically modified plant to have no known negative side effects, and to be fully beneficial.

Golden rice is one of many genetically modified foods to have been created by scientists which have been beneficial to society. Round-up ready varieties of crops, which are resistant to a cheap and effective weed killing spray named round-up, allowing for entire fields to be sprayed with no effect to the crops, while eradicating all weeds in the field, are one very successful variety of genetically modified crops.

One GM crop which may become very useful going into the future is a genetically modified variety of Sorghum which is about 30% easier to digest than current varieties of Sorghum. This is important for two reasons, one being the fact that Sorghum is harder to digest than other grains which are main staples of all people’s diets, rice, wheat, barley and corn. The other is that Sorghum is different to other grains in that it grows better in tropical and subtropical climates, as opposed to grains which grow better in dry, mild climates. If a more digestible variety of Sorghum can be produced, and the widespread use of GM crops in subtropical areas such as Australia becomes accepted, this would result in food able to be grown in places other grains could not.

The use of GM crops going into the future will increase, and once the majority of people grow out of their fear of GM food, it will increase dramatically. It will result in the decrease of various agricultural impacts on the environment, such as the use of herbicide, pesticide and fertilizers, and allow for greater amounts of crops to be grown in an area, more efficient varieties and in places recently considered not fit for food production.