GM Crops May Reduce The Risk Of Birth Defects


Genetically modified crops could significantly reduce the risk of birth defects, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Ghent University, Belgium and Liaoning Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China, found that the bio-fortification of rice with a gene to produce more folate (vitamin B9) could significantly reduce the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida and other neural tube defect conditions, caused by deficiency of this nutrient.

The Flavr Savr tomato was  was the first commercially available GM crop in 1994, but by 2012 some 170 million hectares of GM crops were being grown worldwide in 28 countries by 17 million farmers.

The standard metric used in research, as described by the World Health Organization (WHO) is the DALY Disability-Adjusted Life Year. This equates to the sum of Years of Life Lost (YLL) due to premature mortality and the Years Lost due to Disability (YLD) for people living with a given health condition and so combines morbidity and mortality.

The findings show that folate biofortification could help avoid 29 to 111 DALYs each year in Balrampur per 1000 births and between 47 and 104 DALYs in Shanxi.

There are currently a diverse selection of crop plants being developed that are enriched in iron and zinc, vitamin A and other nutrients. Two well-known GM rice crops that were designed to improve nutrition levels in the food are in development. The first, so-called Golden rice, is an entirely safe, pro-vitamin A enriched rice and will be introduced soon with the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children who might otherwise die of malnutrition. By contrast, folate biofortified rice (FBR) is still at the laboratory phase of development, although proof-of-concept has been well established.

Researchers suggests that in regions of high folate-deficiency risk, such as Balrampur, India and Shanxi, China, there are many years lost of healthy life because of a lack of this vitamin. According to them, about 50 to 70 percent and up to 85 percent of all neural tube defects arise because of maternal folate deficiency.

The findings are detailed in the International Journal of Biotechnology.

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