Do you remember the 110 Nobel laureates’ call to promote The GMO golden rice, the archetype of the "good transgenic"? With a high percentage of vitamin A, it would have solved the world problem of malnutrition forever. The so-called "golden rice" is one of the most expensive myths of the biotechnology industry, aiming to change the general rejection of GMOs.
They present it as the archetype of the "good transgenic" because it is a rice that presents a precursor of vitamin A, whose lack is a significant weakness for many people suffering from malnutrition and which, in extreme cases, can lead to blindness. Its promoters have, however, failed to prove that in practice it really makes vitamin A. Furthermore, in 2017, scientists in India gave an account of an experiment in the field that showed how the insertion in normal rice of this transgenic construct, has decreased the yield and the quality of the cultivation so much that the crop was unusable.
The so-called "golden rice" has been widely used as a propaganda weapon. In 2016, a letter - not at all scientific - signed by a hundred Nobel Prize winners was perhaps the most significant example of the manipulation made by the transgenic industry with this rice. The letter is full of falsehoods, which should shame those who signed it and those who continue to cite it as if it were a serious document.
This type of campaign is not a surprise coming from the agro-biotechnology industry, where there are companies such as Monsanto, against which there are also tried cases of corruption in its efforts to have its products approved, for example in Indonesia. What is surprising in this case is that the "golden rice" does not exist under the functional aspect, because neither the scientists who promote it, nor the corporation Syngenta that has patented it, have so far managed to produce a stable line of "golden rice" satisfying the benefits that are attributed to it.
To this must be added that, in 2017, in field experiments carried out in India, the transgenic construct transferred to one of the best [rice] varieties of this country, significantly damaged the productivity and quality of the rice. A team of scientists has carried out a study introducing transgenic traits to obtain "golden rice" with the Swarna variety, one of the most productive varieties of India. The resulting rice contained pre-vitamin A, but the yield decreased drastically, with dwarf plants, pale leaves, very few grains and abnormal lateral roots. After detailed analysis, the team concluded that the atrophy of the plants was due to the interference of the transgenic construct of the "golden rice" with the production of auxins, the typical plant hormones that favor rice growth. To this regard, Dr. Allison Wilson, in an article on the Independent Science News of October 2017, expresses her belief that with unexpected impacts of such gravity, it is time to say goodbye to this expensive and unsuccessful experiment.
Those who promote transgenics ensure that, if this rice commercialization failure was due to opposition of environmental organizations to transgenics, it could have prevented the children of the third world benefitting from it. Actually, says Wilson, the reason is that after two decades and despite an enormous amount of resources, time and financial support, unusual for any public research, it is clear that it is "the problems inherent in the development of GMOs" that prevented the commercialization. According to Dr. Jonathan Latham, director of the Bioscience Resource Project, quoted in the same article, "the Syngenta golden rice" caused a metabolic collapse [in India's rice]. "The classic criticism of genetic engineering in crop development are based on the fact that the introduction of foreign DNA alters the original genetic sequences and on the other that there will be unpredictable interferences of normal plant metabolism. The experience with ‘golden rice’ perfectly exemplifies both defects."
This is the fundamental problem of metabolic engineering, says Wilson. It seems easier to artificially alter the metabolism of plants - for example, to produce the A vitamin precursor - than at the same time, checking that no unexpected changes occur, with negative effects on the development of the crops.
The common denominator of experiments with genetic engineering, transgenic and so-called "gene editing" is the extraordinarily and intentionally narrow approach in evaluating both the problems that are presumed to be solved and the means to achieve this goal.
For example, we can focus only on the lack of A vitamin, isolating it from the general situation of poverty and malnutrition (which causes many other shortcomings) of those who suffer from it. In the Philippines - where "golden rice" is cultivated - campaigns to improve nutrition, returning to integrate traditional vegetables and rice diet, have given excellent results in the long-lasting coverage of A vitamin deficiency, with a far lower cost. It is no longer even considered a public health problem. The "technological solution" proposed by the industry and by biotechnologists, ignores more (or, obviously, intentionally) the complexity of the genomes and their interactions within the organisms and in coevolution with agro systems and ecosystems, producing aberrations, as happened with one of the most productive rice varieties of India. For all this, it is absurd that in Mexico, entrepreneurs-biotechnologists like F. Bolívar Zapata, Luis Herrera Estrella and A. Lopez Munguía, use the myth of "golden rice" as an example to defend the sowing, in Mexico, of transgenic maize. They do not convince anyone - or maybe some uninformed - but they do good service to Monsanto and Syngenta (https://tinyurl.com/y8auu5qq).