Rice with Vitamin A (Update)

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

We told you earlier this year about a new kind of rice that contains Vitamin A. An international team of scientists used genetic engineering to create the new rice. Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things.

The American company Monsanto owns the legal rights to some of the genetic engineering technology used in creating the new rice. Recently Monsanto announced it will not make others pay to use that technology. Monsanto says it wants to reduce the costs of getting the rice to farmers in the developing world. It says successful development and use of the rice could help millions of children who do not get enough Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is necessary for the body's natural defense system against disease. It is needed to help prevent skin and other tissues from drying out. It also produces a light-sensitive substance in the eyes.

People who do not get enough Vitamin A cannot see well in the dark. They may develop a condition that dries the eyes. The condition can result in infections that lead to blindness.

A lack of Vitamin A is a major cause of blindness among children. Health experts estimate that one-hundred-twenty-four-million children worldwide do not eat enough foods with Vitamin A. Vitamin A is found in fish liver oil and in the yellow part of eggs.

Rice is one of the most common crops grown worldwide. However, normal rice lacks Vitamin A. Scientists in Switzerland found a way to change the genetic material of rice. They added three genes to the rice. The genes produce beta carotene, the chemical that our bodies change into Vitamin A.

The new rice has a golden yellow color. The scientists say two-hundred grams of the rice have enough beta carotene to provide the necessary amount of Vitamin A.

In April, Monsanto said it had produced a genetic map of the rice plant. It recently announced the launch of a new computer web site. It is designed to provide information about the genetic map of the rice to scientists around the world.

Environmentalists have long criticized Monsanto for using genetic engineering to create new crops. They fear such crops could harm the environment.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English