Over one-fifth of the world depends on rice to survive — more than one billion people, to put it into numbers. This isn’t hard to fathom when you consider the versatility of rice. As a food, it is a cheap, filling option that can endure long storage times. In fact, uncooked white rice can last decades if stored properly. As a crop, it can be grown, processed, and sold easily. It’s a staple food in many cultures and the center of many popular dishes. For this reason, it’s readily available in almost every country in the world.
In the future, rice may do more than just feed people. Scientists have been genetically modifying rice to overcome a number of obstacles, including climate change and malnutrition. They’ve recently found another use for rice, although it’s a bit less straightforward. According to research groups in the UK, US, and Spain, rice can be developed to combat HIV.
In developing areas like Africa, HIV and AIDS are a widespread problem. According to DoSomething, a million people die of AIDS every year in Africa alone. 91% of children with HIV are located in Africa, and many of these children contracted the virus from their mother. Without the proper treatment, the virus is passed on in the womb. To make matters worse, nearly 60% of women in Africa have contracted HIV.
Contrary to popular belief, HIV is not a death sentence. In fact, those who receive proper treatment can go on to live long, healthy lives. However, it is difficult to properly medicate every person suffering from HIV. Many people do not receive treatment, and the onset of AIDS limits their lifespan drastically.
This genetically modified rice might mark a turning point. The rice seeds of this particular strain contain the lectins griffithsin, cyanovirin-N, and the monoclonal antibody 2G12. These bind to a specific protein and prevent the virus from targeting other cells.
According to IFLScience, the seeds can be ground up and turned into a cream, and the topical medication can somewhat replace retro-viral medication. Not to mention, the seeds cost very little to grow, harvest, and process. If the rice farms are spread evenly through the area, people in remote areas won’t have to travel far to find treatment. This creates a cheap, accessible form of medication for those who would go untreated otherwise.
While it might take a while for the rice to pass trials and regulations, the potential behind the concept is impressive.