Bad case of hay fever? Eat more rice. Japanese scientists have developed a genetically modified strain of rice they say will help alleviate the symptoms of an affliction that causes misery each year for some 10 percent of Japan’s population.
The new strain of rice contains a gene that produces the allergy-causing protein, a Farm Ministry official said on Friday. “Eating the rice … helps mute the reaction of the body’s immune system,” she said, adding that the effect was similar to other allergy treatments where a small amount of allergen is released into the body to allow resistance to build up. Millions of Japanese suffer from hay fever each spring caused by an allergic reaction to pollen from the Japanese cedar tree. The pollen count this spring is forecast to be 5 to 10 times worse than last year. Officials gathered on Friday to discuss steps to battle the pollen menace, including the new rice, pollen-free cedar trees and a tea-drink that helps combat symptoms. “This is becoming quite a social problem,” said Yasufumi Tanihashi, a special cabinet minister for science and technology. Growing the new rice could draw protests from consumers concerned about the safety of genetically modified products. The official said that if the new rice goes into production it will be the first genetically modified product to be grown in Japan. Ironically, production of rice, Japan’s staple food, has been on a long-term downtrend due to falling consumption.(Source: Reuters Health, Febraury 2005)