Nutritional breakthrough: Genetically modified vitamin B1-fortified rice could help us overcome some health deficiencies (2024)

University of Geneva | April 23, 2024



Nutritional breakthrough: Genetically modified vitamin B1-fortified rice could help us overcome some health deficiencies (3)

Vitamin B1 is an essential micronutrient for human beings. Its deficiency is the cause of numerous diseases of the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), in collaboration with teams at ETH Zurich and Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University (NCHU), have achieved a significant advance in the fight against vitamin B1 deficiency, frequently associated with a rice-based diet. By specifically targeting the nourishing tissues of the rice grain, the scientists have succeeded in considerably increasing its vitamin B1 content, without compromising agronomic yield. These results, to be read in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, could help solve a major public health problem in regions where rice is the staple food.

Most vitamins cannot be produced by the human body and must be supplied by the diet. When the diet is varied, vitamin requirements are generally covered. But in populations where cereals such as rice are the main or even the only food source, deficiencies are common. This is particularly true of vitamin B1 (thiamine), a deficiency of which causes numerous nervous and cardiovascular diseases, such as beriberi.

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Vitamin B1in rice is lost during processing

Rice is the staple crop for half the world’s population, particularly in the tropical countries of Asia, South America and Africa. Rice grains are low in vitamin B1, and processing steps such as polishing (i.e. removing the bran by grating the peripheral layers) reduce it even further, taking 90% with them. This practice thus further aggravates chronic deficiencies.

The laboratory of Teresa Fitzpatrick, full professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the UNIGE Faculty of Science, specializes in vitamin biosynthesis and degradation pathways in plants. Her group, in collaboration with a team from ETH Zurich and Taiwan’s NCHU, focused on improving vitamin B1 content in the endosperm of rice, i.e. the nourishing tissue that makes up the bulk of the seed, and therefore of what is eaten.

‘‘Previous attempts at biofortification by other teams had succeeded in increasing the vitamin B1 content of the leaves and bran – the outer layer of rice grains – but not that of the ready-to-eat rice grain. In our study, we specifically targeted the increase in vitamin B1 content in the endosperm,’’ explains Teresa Fitzpatrick, first author of the study. The scientists generated rice lines that express a gene that sequesters vitamin B1 in a controlled manner in the endosperm tissues. After growing in glasshouses, harvesting and polishing the rice grains, they found that the vitamin B1 content was increased in rice grains from these lines.

Promising experimental crops

The lines were then seeded in an experimental field in Taiwan and grown for several years. From an agronomic point of view, the characteristics analyzed were the same for both modified and unmodified rice plants. Plant height, number of stems per plant, grain weight and fertility were all comparable. On the other hand, the level of vitamin B1 in rice grains, after the polishing stage, is multiplied by 3 to 4 in the modified lines. This modification therefore enables vitamin B1 accumulation without impacting yield.

‘‘Most studies of this type are carried out with glasshouse grown crops. The fact that we have been able to grow our lines under real field conditions, that the expression of the modified gene is stable over time without any of the agronomic characteristics being affected, is very promising,’’ enthuses Wilhelm Gruissem, Professor emeritus at ETH Zurich and Distinguished Chair Professor and Yushan Fellow at NCHU. A 300-gram bowl of rice from this crop provides around a third of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B1 for an adult. The next step towards the goal of biofortified plants with vitamin B1 will be to pursue this approach in commercial varieties.However, regulatory steps relating to biofortification by genetic engineering will have to be taken before these plants could be cultivated.

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Nutritional breakthrough: Genetically modified vitamin B1-fortified rice could help us overcome some health deficiencies (36)

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Nutritional breakthrough: Genetically modified vitamin B1-fortified rice could help us overcome some health deficiencies (2024)


Nutritional breakthrough: Genetically modified vitamin B1-fortified rice could help us overcome some health deficiencies? ›

A team from UNIGE

Founded in 1559, the University of Geneva enjoys worldwide recognition and ranks amongst the top 100 best universities in the world. A polyvalent institution, it fosters the emergence of inter- and multidisciplinary fields in both research and teaching. › university › presentation
, together with ETH Zurich and NCHU in Taiwan, has developed a rice line that has enhanced vitamin B1 content. Vitamin B1 is an essential micronutrient for human beings. Its deficiency is the cause of numerous diseases of the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Why is Golden Rice bad? ›

Golden Rice Risks

Risks include potential allergies or antibiotic resistance. There is also the possibility that genetically modified foods may enter the food supply inadvertently when GMO crops are planted near non-GMO crops, without the consumers' knowledge.

What is Golden Rice and write about it? ›

What is Golden Rice? Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene (provitamin A, a plant pigment that the body converts into vitamin A as needed). This compound is what gives this grain its yellow-orange or golden color, hence its name. Golden Rice is developed through genetic engineering.

Is Golden Rice safe to eat according to the FDA? ›

Golden Rice, the staple food genetically designed to contain beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, has been judged safe to eat by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Is Golden Rice safe FDA? ›

Golden Rice is safe to eat, says FDA.

Which vitamin is rich in Golden Rice? ›

Golden rice is a variety of rice produced through genetic engineering, to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in the edible parts of rice. Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A when metabolized by the human body. We need Vitamin A for healthier skin, immune systems, and vision.

What is the science behind Golden Rice? ›

Golden Rice technology is based on the simple principle that rice plants possess the whole machinery to synthesise β-carotene, and while this machinery is fully active in leaves, parts of it are turned off in the grain.

How has rice been genetically modified? ›

The Chinese scientists put recombinant HSA protein promoters into 25 rice plants using Agrobacterium. Out of the 25 plants, nine contained the HSA protein. The genetically modified brown rice makes the same amino acid sequence as HSA. They called this protein Oryza sativa recombinant HSA (OsrHSA).

Why do people not want Golden Rice? ›

Contamination of other rice varieties and wild relatives of rice — Field trials conducted so far have only looked at the agronomic traits of Golden Rice, and not its long-term effects on the environment, including its possible effects on the genetic diversity of the thousands of rice varieties being cared for by small ...

Why are farmers against Golden Rice? ›

"GM crops have never been proven safe, and have hindered necessary progress on climate resilient ecological agriculture that keeps the control of seeds on our farmers." Ordinary rice, a staple for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in Asia, produces beta-carotene in the plant but it is not found in the grain.

Is Golden Rice bad for the environment? ›

Although, the main environmental concern surrounding Golden Rice is the possibility of the plant contributing to the growth of superweeds or the modified product transferring genes to other natural plants. Researchers have yet to determine the likeliness of either occurring.

Why is Greenpeace against Golden Rice? ›

For its part, Greenpeace has insisted over the years that Golden Rice is a hoax and that its development was diverting resources from dealing with general global poverty, which it maintained was the real cause of the planet's health woes.


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