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New rices may help address vitamin A and iron deficiency, major causes of death in the developing world

etable origin (e.g., unrefined cereals including rice, nuts, dark leafy vegetables), whose poor absorption is considered a major factor in the etiology of iron deficiency anemia. Also legume staples and grains, including rice, are high in phytic acid, which is a potent inhibitor of iron absorption. Foods that enhance non-heme absorption such as fruits and vegetables rich in ascorbic acid, are often limited in developing countries. Heme iron, which is relatively well absorbed by the human intestine, is found primarily in foods containing blood and muscle. Due to their expense and lack of availability, heme iron-rich foods are often only a negligible part of a typical developing country diet.

Dr. Potrykus and his collaborators achieved beta-carotene production in rice grain by adding three genes to rice plants, two from daffodil and one from the bacterium Erwina uredovora. The resulting transgenic rice plants produce sufficient beta-carotene -- converted to vitamin A in humans -- in the grain to meet total vitamin A requirements in a typical Asian diet. (see attached scientific abstract)

To increase the bioavailability of iron in the rice grain, the Swiss-based researchers increased the iron content and enhanced iron absorption. To double the iron content in rice, the research team added a ferritin gene derived from French bean. Ferritin is an iron storage protein found in many animals, plants and bacteria.

Iron absorption, which is inhibited by phytic acid found in the rice, was increased by introducing a phytase gene that degrades the phytic acid and by overexpressing the rice's own iron absorption-enhancing cysteine-containing proteins.

Following careful tests to determine the impact, if any, on the environment and human health and after acceptance by national biosafety authorities, the novel varieties of rice will be distributed free of charge by IRRI and various national agricultural research centers in developing countries. Local rice
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Contact: Ellen Wilson, Dennis Kelly, or Eileen Kugler
ewilson@burnessc.com
301-652-1558
XVI International Botanical Congress
3-Aug-1999


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