ST. LOUIS (AP) - Monsanto announced it will give away free licenses to use
its patented technology for so-called "golden rice" and other genetically
engineered rice varieties that advocates say could save millions of Third
The St. Louis biotechnology company made the announcement Thursday at a
symposium in Chennai, India.
Along with the new licensing plan, Monsanto said Thursday it will release
its rice genomic sequence database on a new Web site, www.rice-research.org.
"We want to minimize the time and expenditure that might be associated with
obtaining licenses needed to bring 'golden rice' to farmers and the people
in dire need of this vitamin in developing countries," Monsanto Chief
Executive Hendrik Vefaillie said.
"Golden rice," which is enriched with vitamin A that could save malnourished
children from blindness or death, was developed by scientists in Switzerland
and Germany. Critics of biotech crops say not enough is known about their
safety or effect on the environment.
Scientists working on improving the rice will now be able to use any of
Monsanto's biotechnology tools free of charge.
The company hopes the licensing plan will spur development of rice varieties
with increased levels of vitamin A, more commonly known as beta carotene.
The modified rice is expected to provide nutritional benefits to those
suffering from vitamin A deficiency-related diseases, including irreversible
blindness found each year in hundreds of thousands of children. Adequate
consumption also can reduce the number of deaths associated with infectious
diseases, such as diarrhea and childhood measles, by improving the immune
Monsanto announced in April it had a draft sequence of a rice genome, the
first crop genome to be described in such detail.
Monsanto is a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Pharmacia.
Rice is a relatively poor source of many essential nutrients, including
vitamin A, but is the staple for half the world. An estimated 124 million
children worldwide are deficient in vitamin A, including a quarter million
in Southeast Asia who go blind each year because of the problem. Improved
nutrition could prevent 1 million to 2 million deaths a year, scientists
Rice naturally produces its own beta carotene, but it is lost in the milling
process. The biotech variety would have the beta carotene right in the
endosperm, the part people eat. The beta carotene gives the golden rice
grains a distinctive yellowish hue.
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