In Malaysia, there grow four types of rice with more molybdenum—a mineral that helps rice plants deal with acidic soil—than any other rice on Earth. In other parts of world, different varieties of rice are naturally richer in calcium, potassium, iron and other minerals people need.
At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists have tested 1,643 types of rice from around the world to find the ones that are the most nutritious. "It's like, where in the world are the genes we're looking for?" Shannon Pinson, a USDA geneticist, tells Popular Science.
In the future, the USDA hopes such knowledge will help breeders create rice varieties that may help with mineral deficiencies in developing countries where rice is a staple. Grown-in fortification might find a market among U.S. shoppers, too. For one thing, it would mean white rice could have the same nutrients that now only appear in brown rice, or in white rice that's enriched after the fact with minerals added to its surface.
Interestingly, the USDA's plan is to help breeders grow rice with the minerals they want, not to genetically engineer it. Once scientists find the genes that are responsible for mineral levels—the next step in their research—they'll hand that information over to plant breeders. "I'm right next door to the breeder at the University of Arkansas," Pinson says. "I've got stuff in her fields and she's got stuff in my fields."
Breeders create new varieties of rice the old-fashioned way, by reproducing only the plants with the genes they want.
Pinson's lab's avoidance of genetically modified rice isn't about whether GMO foods are good or bad, she says. She simply doesn't have the facilities to genetically modify rice. "In fact, I don't think GMOs are a problem," she says. "My personal opinion is, I would eat them." But she doesn't study them.
Instead, Pinson's line research is at once old and new. Of course, humans have bred and selected for the plants they want for as long as they've farmed. Even identifying and targeting specific genes is a well-known technique that researchers have honed since the 1980s. Most of the rice, as well as the corn and wheat, that Americans buy in grocery stores have benefitted from these non-engineering genetic techniques, Pinson says. That nice, dry, fluffy texture American rice has? That came from work done by researchers like Pinson.
Making mineral-enriched grains is more difficult, however, because it involves many genes. It also involves many interacting minerals. You don't want to increase the calcium in rice, for example, only to decrease magnesium at the same time. So cooked rice texture, which is controlled by one gene, came first. Then resistance to a fungus called blast. Mineral content is a farther frontier; Pinson guesses people won't see high-calcium or high-iron rice in supermarkets for another 20 or 30 years.
The idea of genetically enriching rice to deal with malnutrition has a notorious predecessor. In 1999, researchers invented the first variety of golden rice, which was genetically engineered to produce vitamin A. It was supposed to help kids in developing countries who don't get enough of the nutrient. It met with fierce opposition from groups ranging from Greenpeace to local groups where the rice was supposed to go. Research on golden rice is still ongoing, but with its setbacks, it's progressed much slower than originally promised.
Unlike mineral-enriched rice, golden rice cannot be bred, as no varieties of rice produce vitamin A on their own. It's got to be engineered in.
Pinson doesn't have a lot to say about golden rice, besides that she would eat it. She says her research group is sensitive to two major market forces: One, rice appears in many American baby foods and even those who don't normally buy organic often prefer organic baby food. GMO rice can't be organic, but bred rice, even if it's bred using the genetic knowledge Pinson develops, may still be grown organically. Two, roughly half of the rice the U.S. grows is exported, and many countries don't wish to import GMO foods.
Throughout life insist to only eat white rice and refuse the others with some odd belief they are eating something pure, because of the white color.
For that reason, I am glad to see the white rice become more nutritionally.
Personally, I enjoy trying all the various kinds of rice, YUMMY!
I don't see what the big deal is over GMO foods. They don't seem drastically harmful. In fact, they hardly seem harmful at all, but instead rather healthy. If they do turn out to be more harmful than good, I doubt it would be by a whole lot. Plus, great success requires great risks, but this wouldn't be a great risk.
nebulation represents the general character of “science” devotees. Judging things only by whether those in “science” who stand to profit or whose friends and sponsors stand to profit. And backing it up without proof, only “seems”. As well as misinformation, such as equating selective breeding with genetic manipulation.
Something that has skipped the realization of dangerously many people.
Not all nutrients are nutritious!
In fact, many are deadly.
All the vitamins, for example, are actually potent, highly reactive substances. They have to be since they assist in metabolization. But that means the must have something metabolize! If the person does not have enough metabolizable substances to be metabolized, substances like vitamins begin to feed off the body. And then they become a poison.
And banned and bad mounted substances are actually crucial. Most vitamins are fat soluble, which means that if you have too little fat in your system, they will not be utilized. Vitamin C is water soluble, but those who insist on drinking only water as a beverage run the risk of diluting and even removing needed vitamin C, as well as necessary salt and other electrolytes.
The fact is, the fraud that has gone by the name “dietary science” over the past few decades has consistently ignored such crucial facts. Subsequently, the majority of the population of the U.S. at least appears to be at least 15% malnourished, that is, not having a necessary balance of consumable substances and metabolizers to be in good health.
Any emphasis on “vitamins and minerals”, without a reference to fat, protein, salt, should be a danger signal. They always emphasis “vitamin and mineral” content, but not substances to be metabolized! The fact is, the food manipulation companies are making the rest of the world seriously more malnourished, as well.
well, if that's the case then I apologize and take back what I said earlier. In fact, I kind of changed my mind thinking that we should probably keep things in their natural state as God would probably want them that way.
nebulation, the primary issue with GMO's is the lack of documented long term studies to back the claims made by the manufacturers regarding our health.
julianpenrod - you speak like an advantaged person, meaning that even if you make less than minimum wage in the U.S., you are better fed, clothed, and housed than most people worldwide who depend on rice for their dietary energy and mineral needs.
Take the time to read the actual article itself, and you will quickly understand that this work by scientists to improve the nutritional value of rice is not for people who are advantaged enough to follow this media report online. It is being conducted for the benefit of those persons unfortunate enough to have to plant, protect, and harvest their own rice in order to eat enough calories a day to stay alive.
Rice is a staple food for more than half the world's population. People who eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner rarely have the luxury of eating foods rich in Zinc (oysters, beef, crab, lamb) or foods rich in Copper (liver, oysters, lobster, and chocolate). Adding these minerals naturally, by having the plant put them in the grains, would improve the health of those persons in less-developed countries who are dependent on rice. Without copper, bones lose their strength and the minimal iron one is able to eat is not properly absorbed. Zinc is not stored in the human body, so must be consumed daily. Without daily consumption of zinc, the body cannot produce proteins, and thus cannot grow normally. In the U.S., consuming lozenges loaded with zinc can shorten the length of a cold. What a luxury this must seem to persons in poor countries, where rice is a dietary staple. I did not know these things till ignorant comments on this site motivated me to spend 5 minutes googling minerals and vitamins in the human diet.
The best avenue to a diet of balanced nutrition is to eat a varied diet, balanced for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, leaving things "as God made them" will leave many people around the world suffering from insufficient sources of minerals like zinc, copper, calcium, and iron.
I counter-argue that God put humans on the earth to care for each other. And God gave people brains to do science as well as hearts to do science for good. These scientists are following God's plan by working to create a rice grain with improved nutrition.