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Golden rice scientists working on new lines

R. Balaji

CHENNAI, Nov. 1

DR Peter Beyer, who along with Professor Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, developed the golden rice, has said work is on to develop several new lines enriched with micronutrients.

Dr Beyer told Business Line that golden rice was just the beginning, which has demonstrated that the technology was viable. Work has been directed towards enhancing the amount of provitamin A and in trying to enhance the bio-availability and enhancing iron content.

The genetic material for golden rice would be made available to India in two or three weeks, Dr Beyer said. These will be available in two forms, the genetic material as such incorporated in a vector to directly introduce into the genetic material of the local varieties and grains of golden rice that would enable conventional breeding process to develop local varieties of golden rice, he said.

Dr Peter Buyer, a professor in the University of Freiburg, Germany, developed the golden rice by introducing a gene from daffodil to enable the rice plant to generate the precursor of Vitamin A in the endosperm, the edible portion of the rice grain.

The demonstration of the golden rice technology means that staple crops in different countries could be enriched for the benefit of the population. For instance in South Africa, maize and cassava could be fortified. The thrust was for the development of technology and not for just one crop, he said. Even within India, a number of varieties of rice need to be identified depending on the preference in each zone.

The team that developed the technology was giving the Intellectual Property Right freedom to India to carry the work forward, but binds it to "non commercial'' use of the golden rice. It, however, did not prevent the farmer from reselling the seeds. A token ceiling of $10,000 on the maximum value of seeds that a farmer can sell per year has been fixed, but this would not be a limitation to the farmer, he said.

It has taken over two years for the paper work and the approvals relating to import permits and non-commercial licensing to hand over the genetic material. Lab work could take an additional two-year before field trials could commence, he said.

Golden rice will be introduced into India in the established organisational framework of ISCB, an Indo-Swiss collaborative programme on biotechnology, with ten years experience in technology transfer. The license has been transferred to the Department of Biotechnology, and it will have the license to supply seeds to institutions that will develop the local varieties, he said.

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