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More Than 11 Million US Dollars for Rice Research

The “Grand Challenges” initiative has made more than eleven million US dollars available for the further development of the “golden rice” project, which started in Freiburg.

PProfessor Peter Beyer with rice
Professor Peter Beyer with rice 
With its “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative, the “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation” aims to support new solutions and technologies to boost health in developing countries. The initiative was founded in 2003 in partnership with the American National Institutes of Health. The “Grand Challenges” initiative has made more than eleven million US dollars available for the further development of the “golden rice” project, which started in Freiburg. The money is to benefit an international consortium that is led by Freiburg biology Professor Peter Beyer as research coordinator.

Rice used in the fight against vitamin A deficiency and more...

A deficiency in vitamin A and high-quality protein, iron or zinc is often the cause of diseases and a heightened mortality rate. Especially children in developing countries suffer as a consequence of malnutrition. They develop a weakened immune system, which makes them susceptible to diseases. In societies with rice as a principle food, this leads to numerous cases of blindness and death in early childhood.

A new gene makes rice successful

With the help of gene technology, Professor Beyer (Biological Institute at the University of Freiburg) and Dr. Ingo Potrykus (Professor Emeritus at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) were able to change the genome using two additional genes, thus creating a rice grain enriched with provitamin A (beta carotene). The genetically-modified rice becomes golden – giving it the name “golden rice”. A prototype was first created in 1999 but it exhibited relatively low concentrations of provitamin A. Since then, new strains, with higher concentrations, have been developed. The technology is available to the public free of charge in developing countries.
Golden rice next to conventional rice
Golden rice next to conventional rice  
The “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative views genetically-modified grains with high concentrations of important nutritional elements as a promising, long-term solution to malnutrition in underdeveloped countries. Grand Challenges funding supports a project that is aimed at developing new varieties of “golden rice”. The main goal is to turn rice into a full-fledged food for people in developing countries. Based on the existing genetically-modified strains of “golden rice”, which accumulate provitamin A, new varieties are also to contain vitamin E, iron, zinc and high-quality proteins. The advantage of vitamin E is also that it stabilises the amount of vitamin A in the grain. The interdisciplinary team of scientists is researching the bioavailability of plant iron and zinc in the human body. Rice enriched with zinc and iron only makes sense if the body can take in those additional nutritional elements. The researchers are investigating which genetic and biochemical factors are responsible for the biological availability of iron and zinc. The investigation of local rice varieties, which also have the new characteristics, are to provide information regarding the extent to which vitamin A is responsible for making iron available to the body. In addition, the ideal rice varieties can be determined before they go into large-scale cultivation.
Scientists at the University of Freiburg, Michigan State University, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and the University of Hong Kong are participating in the research. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the rice research institute PhilRice in the Philippines are responsible for the transfer of new characteristics to local rice varieties. The Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute in Vietnam is also part of the project. As partners in the research project, they possess experience with national programmes and regulatory authorities. Dr. Adrian Dubock, responsible for international cooperation in biotechnology at the agro-chemical company Syngenta, is also part of the team.

Source: Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Württemberg - 08.07.2005

University of Freiburg
Institute of Biology II
Professor Dr. Peter Beyer
Phone: +49 (0)761 / 203-2529
Fax: +49 (0)761 / 203-2675
E-Mail: peter.beyer@biologie.uni-freiburg.de
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