At one time, golden rice was just a wild idea that Ingo Potrykus thought up. Optimally, golden rice would improve the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. The rice would contain beta-carotene which is the building block for vitamin A. However, imagining golden rice was one thing and bringing it into existence was another. He struggled for years with his colleagues to deal with the finicky growing habits of the rice they transplanted to a greenhouse near the foot hills of the Swiss Alps. Potrykus and his colleagues became successful in the spring of 1999. By creating golden rice, Potrykus wanted to be sure it would reach malnourished children of the developing world; those for whom it was intended. He knew that would not be easy because of the fact that the golden grains also contained snippets of DNA borrowed from bacteria and daffodils. Being a product of genetical engineering, Potrykus's product was entangled in a web of hopes, fears, and political baggage.
Until now, genetically engineered crops were created to resist insect pests or to control the growth of weeds by using herbicides. However, in this circumstance the genetically engineered rice not only benefits the farmers who grow it, but primarily the consumers who eat it. These consumers include at least a million children who die every year because they are weakened by vitamin-A deficiency and an additional 350,000 people who go blind. In addition to this concern, there is another. It is prospected that by the year 2020, the demand for grain, both for human consumption and for animal feed, is projected to go up by nearly half, while the amount of farmable land will probably dwindle, thus introducing a whole new series of problems.
There is only a short four step process that enables one to produce golden rice. The genes that give golden rice is its ability to make beta-carotene in its endosperm come from daffodils and a bacterium called Erwinia uredovora. These genes, along with promoters (segments of DNA that activate genes), are inserted into plasmids that occur inside a species of bacterium known as Agrobacterium tumefaciens. These agrobacteria are then added to a Petri dish containing rice embryos. As they "infect" the embryos, they also transfer the genes that encode the instructions for making beta-carotene. The transgenic rice plants must now be crossed with strains of rice that are grown locally and are suited to a particular region's climate and growing condition.
There are a few concerns with product such as golden rice. All foods created through genetic engineering, are potential sources of allergens. The genes that are transferred contain instructions for making proteins, in which all proteins are not created equal- some proteins cause allergic reactions. "Genetic pollution" is another major concern. Pollen grains from wind-pollinated plants as corn and canola, for example, are carried far and wide. Transgenic canola, for instance,...