This paper summarizes research to date on improving the nutritional characteristics of rice by using biotechnology, including efforts to produce β-carotene in the rice endosperm, to introduce a heat-stable phytase gene, and to increase iron concentration. The results obtained using
biotechnology are compared with the results of breeding research by conventional techniques. Based on this comparison, the following lessons are drawn as to the potential usefulness of biotechnology in providing more nutritious food staples: (1) It must be established that plant-breeding is
more cost-effective than alternative interventions. This is apparently the case, in large measure because of the multiplier effects of plant-breeding, over time and space, as compared with supplementation and fortification. (2) There must be aspects of breeding for which biotechnology is superior
to conventional techniques. For rice, this is the case for adding β-carotene-related and heat-stable phytase genes. For increasing mineral concentration, conventional breeding techniques work as well and may be applied more quickly. (3) For those aspects of the plant-breeding strategy
for which biotechnology is superior to conventional breeding, it must be established that there are no serious negative agronomic consequences; that consumers will accept any changes in the colour, taste, texture, and cooking qualities; and that the characteristic being added will result in
a measurable improvement in the nutritional status of the malnourished target population. The conditions under lesson three, in particular, have yet to be firmly established. However, it is important not be overly cautious, in view of the potentially enormous benefits to the poor.
Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.
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