SAN DIEGO -- Ingo Potrykus can in no way be considered objective when it comes to the subject of genetically modified organisms, specifically golden rice, a crop he helped develop.
“The public sector is incompetent and unwilling to solve humanitarian problems,” Potrykus said in a keynote speech Wednesday on the final day of the 13 th annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference, arguably the largest annual gathering of scientists specializing in the genomic research of non-human species.
Potrykus is not without controversy. He has been criticized for being too public-relations minded, and for using golden rice as leverage for all GMO crops, and there are questions about the viability of the rice, subject of a Time magazine cover in July 2000, as a miracle food.
The retired professor of plant sciences at the Institute of Plant Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and now the president of the international Humanitarian Golden Rice Board, helped develop the rice as part of an EU project. The rice has been modified to activate pathways to accumulate Provitamin A and positioned as of potential benefit to third-world populations plagued by malnutrition and blindness caused by dietary vitamin A deficiencies.
The rice, which has a golden hue due to the insertion of daffodil genes, has yet to come to the market, enmeshed in intellectual property issues, many of them owned by Syngenta, and, of course, the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms. Last summer, in the first field tests in Louisiana, six lines of the plants were planted and grains were harvested, Potrykus said. Now, it awaits permission for possible plantings in Asia.
Potrykus was not optimistic about that possibility.
“The public would rather listen to Greenpeace than experts,” he said. “It is immortal to delay field testing in these countries.”
When he was finished, a number less than half of the audience gave him a standing ovation. One conference-goer said he was sure that in a large gathering such as this, Potrykus could likely find a collaborator or collaborators.
Potrykus laughed and responded, “Is that an invitation?” There was no answer.
Potrykus said he thought the rice tasted wonderful in a risotto.