Genetically modified rice could help eliminate birth defects, says study

Rice could soon be genetically modified to add folic acid to our diets. — AFP pic
Rice could soon be genetically modified to add folic acid to our diets. — AFP pic

BRUSSELS, May 2 — Bolstering rice with a gene to produce more folate, or vitamin B9, could ward off birth defects, according to a new study.

An estimated 50 to 70 per cent of all neural tube defects occur due to maternal folate deficiency, according to the Belgian research team.

The researchers suggest their folate biofortified rice (FBR) would be consumed in regions that lack the vitamin such as Balrampur, India and Shanxi, China.

In a paper on the product, the research team used the standard metric of the World Health Organisation called the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

According to them, the DALY reflects the sum of Years of Life Lost (YLL), a measure of premature mortality, in addition to the Years Lost due to Disability (YLD), which accounts for both morbidity and mortality for those with health problems.

By the team’s count, folate biofortification could eliminate between 29 and 111 DALYs per year in Balrampur per 1,000 births and between 47 and 104 DALYs in Shanxi.

In China and India, between 16,000 and 18,000 babies are born per year with neural tube defects, say the researchers, whose study was published in the International Journal of Biotechnology.

This accounts for 12 per cent of the global estimated number of 300,000 babies born with neural tube defects per year.

The idea of fortifying food with folic acid isn’t new. Yet around the world, women are not taking enough folic acid and one study says that two thirds of UK women bypass recommended pre-pregnancy doses.

According to the paper, 1,000 pregnancies affected by spina bifida occur in the UK per year.

The Centre for Disease Control in the US recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid daily. — AFP-Relaxnews

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