Thursday, 3 May 2012

Human Genes In Rice: Opening up Pandora's Pot?

Thanks to Dhanesvara Prabhu for this post


Human Genes In Rice: Opening up Pandora's Pot?
Rice with human genes will soon be grown in Kansas.

Rice engineered to contain human genes will be grown for the first time
outdoors instead of in a laboratory, bringing it one step closer to
commercial production, according to The Washington Post. The genes that the
California-based biotechnology company Ventria Bioscience has infused into
rice enable the plant to produce bacteria-fighting proteins found in human
breast milk and saliva. “We can really help children with diarrhea get
better faster,” Scott E. Deeter, the company’s president and chief
executive, explained of the product.

But many consumer groups are worried the engineered rice will do more harm
than good. Genetically modified (GM) plants have a history of migrating out
of their target plots and contaminating other plants, critics note, and it
would be difficult to control the doses of human proteins that people
purposely or inadvertently take in. “This is not a product that everyone
would want to consume,” Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists
told the Post. “It is unwise to produce drugs in plants outdoors.”

A study in Peru sponsored by Ventria Bioscience demonstrated that children
with severe diarrhea recovered a day and a half faster when taking fluids
that contained the proteins. But this does not make the rice a “silver
bullet” for combating diarrhea in developing countries, experts say.
“There’s no guarantee that the public will use this in poorer nations, as
patent issues have obstructed altruistic biotech applications before,” notes
Worldwatch Institute researcher Brian Halweil.

And, according to Halweil’s colleague Danielle Nierenberg, “most of these
GM-enhanced varieties of crops don’t really address the root problems of
poverty and disease.” Every year, over one million infants and children die
from diseases associated with inadequate water and sanitation, and hundreds
of millions of people are “debilitated” by illness, pain, and discomfort,
authors David Satterthwaite and Gordon McGranahan write in Worldwatch’s
State of the World 2007 report.

“Instead of pushing these products on poor consumers who lack the financial
ability to say ‘no’ to GM plants, the money invested in developing these
crops could go to broader goals like providing clean water and sanitation to
prevent the very diseases these crops are created to treat,” Nierenberg

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch
Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth
stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT]
org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.

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