The US Department of Agriculture is allowing Ventria Bioscience to go ahead with field-scale cultivation of rice containing human genes that can be used to help fight diarrhoea. The company has introduced human genes into rice that encode lactoferrin and lysozyme, two proteins found naturally in breast milk.

Ventria recently reported a Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition study that showed adding lactoferrin and lysozyme to standard electrolyte solution helped children recover a day and a half faster from diarrhoea than with standard electrolyte solution alone. Globally, childhood diarrhoea is the second leading killer of children under the age of 5, claiming 2 million lives annually.

However, some groups, such as Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), are concerned that the GM rice could accidentally end up in the food chain, or cause allergic responses. The UCS has previously criticized what it regards as lax regulation over such molecular farming research.

For more information on risk assessment on pharmaceuticals produced in transgenic plants see the blog entry How Safe Is Making Drugs in GM Plants? and the paper “Risk Assessment for plant-made pharmaceuticals” by J.D. Wolt, S. Karaman and K. Wang appears in CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 2007, 2, No. 012.

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