Introgression of the provitamin A trait from transgenic Golden Rice into a commercial, high yielding Indian rice variety leads to an array of unintended effects, a new study finds.  

Golden Rice is genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, a precursors of vitamin A, aiming to combat vitamin A deficiency. A new study now finds, that backcrossing of the genetically engineered Golden Rice, with the Indian mega rice variety Swarna, leads to morphological changes such as pale green leaves, a reduced plant height and a drastic reduction in yield.

The researches found that the transgene was inserted into an active region of the genome, thereby disrupting the coding sequence and ultimately the function of the plants own OsAux1 gene. The OsAux1 gene is involved in the transport of the hormon auxin, which is important for virtually every aspect of plant growth and development. The researchers also report a lower Chlorophyll content in the backcrossed plants, which probably causes the pale green leaves.

As a result the Golden Swarna lines are unifit for commercial cultivation the study concludes. These findings are on the one hand relevant for the risk assessment of the transgenic plants: once released, these plants could spread to other rice varieties and endanger rice harvest. On the other hand they show yet again that despite many years of research & development (R&D), the Golden Rice project has not yet produced a commercially viable rice line rich in provitamin A. Instead of investing in R&D that favors industrialised agriculture and corporate control over seeds, the root causes for hunger and malnourishment, such as rural poverty and access to markets, should be tackled.

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