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December 30, 2000


Comments from Ann Oaks


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

> > 1. To what extent is irradiation, or indeed other means of inducing
> > mutations, used as a part of classical plant breeding programmes?
> *** It was thought that mutation would better the world food
> supply. However the overwhelming number of mutations proved to be
> detrimental. Current experiments along this line are chiefly to identify
> metabolis pathways.

But of course most were not useful to the breeders, but that is missing
the point. Irradiation was used to create new genetic diversity not
present in the target germplasm. From a large pool of mutations the
breeder then hopes to recover a small number that may be useful for the
breeder's objectives. Similarly the breeder will do hundreds to thousands
of sexual crosses and then sort through the offspring for those showing
positive traits. Should the breeder then cease using crosses just because
most are not useful or even detrimental?

> It seems to me that that is really where GMO's fit in very
> well. It is a powerful tool to define actuall metabollic pathways. I
> think here of the very fine work comming from Mar Stitt's laboratory.

A very important point. Genetic modification is a powerful tool in
our efforts to understand basic metabolism, development, and response
to stresses.

> *** With radiation it is not really a new gene. It is a mutation
> of an existing gene in a particular species and is usually a recessive
> when standard breeding is used. It obeys standard rules of breeding.
> What happens when plants with a transgene are crossed? How many
> generations does it last?
> Crosses as with triticale were difficult to
> achieve. They were tried commercially, but I have not seen reference to
> triticale for a long time.

Actually crosses with triticale are not much different than with other
cereals. The problem with triticale is that dispite its superior yield
and disease resistance, the flour from triticale is generally not suitable
for the products, such as breads, made from wheat flour. Triticale is an
example of an incompletely developed system. The original joining of wheat
and rye genomes yielded a superior plant, but one which still needed
additional changes to be a widely grown crop.

> ***What exactly are the benefits of biotechnology, except for the
> profit of the agroindustry. The green revolution did not solve the world
> food problems and neither will GMO's. they are quite simply too
> expensive for third world farmers.

Is there any doubt that the green revolution has saved tens, if not hundreds
of millions of lives. The fact that populations have continued to grow
and finally are in danger, at least in some situations, of overwhelming
green revolution crops is more a political/sociological problem that one
of science. As for the benefits of biotechnology, the above statement
makes the all to common error of equating the potential uses of biotechnology
with agroindustry. Even if industry has not distinguished itself on this
issue there is no reason to deride biotechnology itself. There are
thousands of scientists worldwide who couldn't care less about what
happens to the Monsantos, but care deeply about using the technology
to solve real problems for the citizens of all nations - developed and

Olin Anderson