Scientists have identified a rice protein that is reportedly an anti-cancer agent, particularly effective against breast cancer.
This is the first time the Bowman-Brik Trypsin Inhibitor (BBI) protein has been identified in an Indian variety of rice, Njavara, which grows in Kerala. The BBI protein has earlier been isolated from barley, soya and sunflower.
“This is the first report of the gene fragment in Indica rice (common rice varieties of the country). Once clinically developed, it will be a big boon for cancer patients,” said Dr D. Alexander, director of the research wing at Kerala Agricultural University (KAU). The university’s scientists found the presence of BBI protein in the Njavara rice after extensive molecular studies undertaken at the College of Horticulture in Thrissur.
Grown mainly in Wayanad and Palakkad districts, Njavara (Oriza Sativa) is widely used in Ayurvedic treatments. Practitioners claim the rice helps cure everything from lifestyle diseases to neurological disorders and ‘njavara kizhi’ and ‘njavara kanji’ (rice gruel) are used often in treatments. It is also extensively used in pancha karma chikilsa (rejuvenation therapy).
“For the last one-and a-half years, we have been studying the specific chemical substance and genetic properties which give therapeutic value to the gifted rice,” said Dr Alexander. “The sequenced part of the gene shows about 94 per cent identity with the Bowman-Brik Inhibitor protein. Certain protease inhibitors like BBI are found to be effective at preventing or suppressing carcinogen-induced transformation,” he said.
Vice chancellor KR Viswambharan said the university plans to patent the Njavara protein. “Since the gene has already been patented in cases of sunflower and soya beans, we have to explore a new tool to identify the Njavara protein before getting it patented,” Viswambharan said.
According to scientists there are around one lakh varieties of rice in the world, of which 40 per cent are still unidentified. Njavara, an early maturing variety when grown in normal soil under rain-fed conditions, is one of them.
Of late, farmers here have identified the variety as ‘gifted’ — and seen its potential as a cash crop — and have begun cultivating it on a large scale.