Golden Rice is unique because it contains beta carotene, which gives it a golden color. Many fruits and vegetables that are commonly eaten, such as squash, papaya and carrots, also get their color from beta carotene.
The body converts beta carotene in Golden Rice to vitamin A as it is needed. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, daily consumption of a very modest amount of Golden Rice – about a cup (or around 150 g uncooked weight) – could supply 50% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin A for an adult.
Golden Rice was developed using genetic modification techniques, with genes from maize and a common soil microorganism that together produce beta carotene in the rice grain. Surveys of rice varieties around the world failed to identify any varieties that contain significant amounts of beta carotene, so conventional breeding programs could not be used to develop Golden Rice.
Golden Rice was invented by Professor Ingo Potrykus, then of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany. By 1999, Professor Potrykus and Dr. Beyer produced a prototype Golden Rice and published their landmark research in Science.
The inventors’ desire to donate Golden Rice as a gift to resource-poor farmers in developing countries led to a public-private partnership with Syngenta to help further develop Golden Rice.
Scientists at Syngenta then carried out additional laboratory, greenhouse, and field research to help raise the beta carotene levels in Golden Rice. In 2005, they developed a new version of Golden Rice that produces substantially more beta carotene than the 1999 prototype - as published in Nature Biotechnology.
Syngenta arranged royalty-free access to the patents and intellectual property, held by several biotechnology companies, for a number of key technologies used in Golden Rice. This allows IRRI and others to develop Golden Rice varieties on a non-profit basis.
The inventors, with the help of Adrian Dubock, also established the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board and the Golden Rice Network of public sector institutions through which they continue to actively work to enable the development and introduction of local Golden Rice varieties that would be well-suited to the different target countries.
IRRI is the coordinating institution for the Golden Rice Network and has been working to develop Golden Rice with national partners since 2006.
In April 2011, IRRI and national rice research institutes in Bangladesh and the Philippines began working with Helen Keller International to evaluate Golden Rice as a potential tool to help address vitamin A deficiency in those countries.