[Via Xconomy Life Sciences Feed]
Duffy Cox and his dad, James, had a great idea that went nowhere for years. Their quest to develop Vitamin-A fortified rice, which could put a dent in global malnutrition, started in 1985. That’s when the father-and-son inventors at Bellingham, WA-based Bon Dente International, a research and development firm, were asked to give it a shot by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Vitamin A deficiencies are thought to kill 2-3 million children a year in developing countries, so getting it into a staple food like rice is a big deal. For years, though, food scientists considered such rice fortification a big challenge, because Vitamin A has a short shelf-life and is susceptible to heat and humidity common in warehouses of the developing world, Duffy Cox says.
After five years of experiments, and the assistance of a researcher at Iowa State University, they nailed it. Through a process that’s like making pasta—running rice through a type of noodle-making machine—they were able to extend the shelf life of Vitamin A in rice from one week to about six months, and withstand hot and humid storage conditions, Cox says. The patent issued in the mid-1990s, and the family entrepreneurs then traveled to Asia and Latin America, trying to strike deals with local partners and distributors to get it out into the marketplace. They trademarked it Ultra Rice.
Then the whole thing fell flat. It could have been language barriers, cultural barriers, resistance from competitors, all of the above, or something else, Cox says. “We’re not marketers. We like to develop a unique concept and let somebody else take over,” he says.
This a neat story, abut how research can provide novel ways to feed people, and even if the market place is not initially receptive, the technology can get out there. It is a nice story of donated IP and non-profits working together to make something happen. It will be worthwhile to see how this develops.