GM rice to be grown for medicine

A A A

GM crops specially engineered to produce drugs are to be grown commercially for the first time, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

An American biotech company plans to start growing medicines to treat diarrhoea in modified rice this spring. Its proposals were examined last week by regulatory authorities in California, but they have no power to stop the planting.

The rice will usher in a second generation of GM crops, which are bound to polarise opinion even more than those that have already caused controversy around the world. Unlike current crops they could offer real benefits to millions of people - but they also pose far greater health risks.

Top officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believe that the danger is so great that the new crops should never be grown in Britain. But Downing Street has cautiously endorsed them.

The possibilities for growing drugs in plants - dubbed "pharming" - have been researched for years, with scientists developing a wide range of vaccines and other medicines in several common foods in the laboratory. But now Ventria Bioscience, based in Sacramento, is to break new ground by planting 130 acres with two new varieties of GM rice that will produce lactoferrin and lysozyme, infection-fighting chemicals that it will market for use in oral rehydration products to treat severe diarrhoea.

It says that this could generate enough lactoferrin to treat at least 650,000 sick children, and sufficient lysozyme for 6.5 million patients. It hopes to expand production to 1,000 acres within a few years.

The company will not disclose the site that it has earmarked for the new crops because it is worried that protesters will destroy them. But its plans have already caused alarm in California's rice-growing country. Organic farmers, in particular, fear that the GM rice will contaminate their crops; the company says that there is "no risk".

On Thursday the arguments were thrashed out before a meeting of the California Rice Commission, which is drawing up a protocol of conditions under which the rice can be grown. But Tim Johnson, the commission's president, told The Independent on Sunday that neither it nor the state's agriculture secretary, to whom it reports, has the power to stop the rice being cultivated.

He said that the commission was instead concentrating on working out precautions - such as the distance the GM rice must be from conventional crops - to try to minimise risks.

The chemicals in the rice are relatively mild - they are found in mother's milk - but they are likely to pave the way for a wide range of stronger ones. Scientists, for example, have developed vaccines to treat diseases ranging from measles to hepatitis B - and antibodies to treat cancer and dental caries, provide contraceptives and prevent genital herpes - in potatoes, maize, wheat, rice, alfalfa, carrots and tomatoes.

The company says that its plants "will become 'factories' that manufacture therapeutic proteins to combat life-threatening illnesses". It adds that "plants improved through the use of biotechnology" can produce them "for innovative treatments for diseases such as cancer, HIV, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, kidney disease, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis and many others".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?