The fate of golden rice is therefore important, as Jonathan Jones of the John Innes Centre said.
“When I started making GM plants 30 years ago I did wonder if there might be ‘unknown unknowns.’ But the evidence now is clear. GM food and crops are as safe as non-GM food and crops,” he said.
However, the prospect of further delays preventing future life-saving GM plants going to the field because of carefully orchestrated campaigns of opposition is viewed with concern.
The Golden Rice project has had one beneficial knock-on effect, however. It has triggered a series of similar crop modification programs that aim to tackle vitamin A deficiency through use of other GM foodstuffs. One example is provided by the “golden banana,” which has been created by scientists led by James Dale of Queensland University in Australia.
“In Uganda, where the banana is a key source of nutrition, there is considerable levels of vitamin A deficiency and also iron deficiency in diets,” he said. “The former not only causes blindness, but leaves children less able to fight disease which, in Africa, is particularly serious. The latter, iron deficiency, causes blood disorders,” he said.
To put this right, Dale and his team have found ways to boost beta-carotene levels in bananas. Now they are working on boosting iron levels as well. The team expects to have a golden banana that will raise both iron and vitamin A levels, though that will take us until the end of the decade.
“People in Uganda eat up to a kilogram of mashed banana a day, so we don’t need to get a great deal of beta-carotene in our bananas,” Dale said.