Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 26, 2007
* Three GM oilseed rapes authorised
* ICAR reconfirms higher yield of Bt cotton
* The Seed Race
* Latest book on Bt-cotton in India
* Seedless Fruits Make Others Needless
GMOs: Three oilseed rapes authorised for import and processing in animal feed
- European Commission (Press Release), March 26, 2007, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/07/416&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en
The European Commission today authorised the placing on the market of three oilseed rapes known as Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3, genetically modified for tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium. This decision is valid for 10 years and covers the use of the oilseed rapes for imports and processing into animal feed or for industrial purposes. It includes measures to be taken by the company who developed the GM oilseed rapes to prevent any damage to health and the environment in the event of accidental spillage. Processed oil derived from these GM oilseed rapes has already been approved for food use in 1999 and 2000 in the EU.
Today's authorisation covers the import and the use of Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 oilseed rapes as animal feed, but not cultivation or food uses. These genetically modified oilseed rapes are tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium and do not contain an antibiotic resistance marker gene. They have been subject to a rigorous pre-market risk assessment and have been scientifically assessed by the Member States, as well as the European Food Safety Authority, as being as safe as any conventional oilseed rape.
When put on the market, products containing Ms8, Rf3 or Ms8xRf3 will need to be clearly labelled as containing genetically modified oilseed rape. They will be covered by the strict labelling and traceability rules in force since April 2004. The labelling will provide operators and consumers with the information they need to decide whether to buy the product or not. Robust post-marketing rules will ensure that the product can be traced and monitored once put on the market, thanks to a unique identifier assigned to the oilseed rape products. In addition, the authorisation includes a set of guidelines to Bayer, the company who developed the oilseed rape, on how to deal appropriately with accidental spillage should it occur.
During the past six years, the EU has put in place a clear, transparent and stringent system to regulate genetically modified food, feed and crops. The authorisation procedure under this new system ensures that only genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which are safe for human and animal consumption and for release into the environment can be placed on the European market. Individual authorisations are granted following appraisal of the GMOs in question on a case by case basis. Requests for authorisations which do not fulfil all criteria have been and will continue to be rejected.
This is the sixth authorising decision to be issued under the Directive of 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs.
In January 2003, Bayer submitted a request to the competent authorities of Belgium for placing genetically modified oilseed rapes Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 on the market. The initial request was for import, processing, feed use and cultivation, but not food use.
The Belgian authorities came to the conclusion that Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 oilseed rapes are as safe as conventional oilseed rapes and should be placed on the market for import and processing and for use as any other oilseed rape but not for the requested use of cultivation.
The European Food Safety Authority also appraised the application and focused on the scientific issues raised by competent authorities from the other Member States. Its opinion similarly concluded that Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 oilseed rapes were as safe as conventional oilseed rapes.
The Regulatory Committee established under Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs did not give an opinion in December 2005. The Commission therefore submitted a proposal to the Council. The proposal was considered by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 18 September 2006. At that meeting the Council did not reach a qualified majority either for or against the Commission proposal. Consequently, under the legal "comitology" procedure, the Commission must adopt the Decision. The Commission's decision to approve Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3 is therefore designed to ensure that this legal framework is correctly and fully applied by Member States.
This includes post-market monitoring of the continued safety of the product once it has been placed on the market via the use of surveillance systems. This monitoring is required throughout the period of validity of the consent. Reports of this monitoring programme must be submitted to all Member States and the Commission on an annual basis.
 The first product was NK 603 maize, see IP/04/957 of 19 July 2004. The second product was maize MON 863, see IP/05/1046 of 8 August 2005. The third product was oilseed rape GT73, see IP/05/1077 of 31 August 2005. The fourth product was maize 1507, see IP/05/1366 of 3 November 2005. The fifth product was maize MON863xMON810, see Commission Decision 2006/47/EC of 16 January 2006.
 Directive 2001/18/EC
Indian Council of Agricultural Research reconfirms higher yield of Bt cotton
- CropBiotech Update via SeedQuest, March 23, 2007, http://www.seedquest.com/News/releases/2007/march/18772.htm
A Front Line Demonstrations (FLD) study on cotton for 2005-06 recently released by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) reconfirms a net 33.7% increase in seed yield of Bt cotton hybrids over non-Bt hybrids and 73.8% increase over open-pollinated cotton varieties (OPV). Data in the study came from 1,200 demonstration and farmers plots in 11 cotton growing states in India.
In the demonstration plots, the Bt cotton hybrids proved to be highly productive with an average yield of 2,329 kg/ha of seed cotton compared to the non-Bt cotton hybrids (1,742 kg/ha) and varieties (1,340 kg/ha). Similarly, the average yield of Bt cotton hybrids was higher in farmers' plots at 1,783 kg/ha compared to non-Bt cotton hybrids (1,362 kg/ha) and OPV in farmers' field (1,072kg/ha).
Performance of Hybrids (Bt and non-Bt) and Varieties [table]
The FLD study of cotton was conducted by the Division of Agricultural Extension of the ICAR, in collaboration with various stakeholders under the Mini Mission-II of the Technology Mission on Cotton (TMC).
A copy of the study "Front Line Demonstrations on Cotton 2005-06" is available on request from the Division of Agricultural Extension, ICAR.
For more details contact Bhagirath Choudhary of ISAAA South Asia Office at b.choudhary+at+isaaa.org.
The Seed Race
- Sarah Bzdega, The Business Record (Des Moines), March 25, 2007, http://www.businessrecord.com/Main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=3563
As a farmer of more than 500 acres, Ted Crosbie sees competition among agricultural biotechnology companies as good, because it increases his seed options and drives down prices. As vice president of global plant breeding for Monsanto Co., he is in the race with other biotech company executives to get more farmers to purchase his company's products.
Ethanol and other new uses for crops are driving prices to record levels, making Iowa's agricultural economy more promising. As a result, biotech seed companies are investing millions of dollars into research and development of new seeds that will increase yields and protect crops, in addition to increasing their share in the market. The result: Iowa is seeing more jobs and money being poured into the state each year.
This investment, said Crosbie, who also is Iowa's chief technology officer, will help stimulate economic development in the state for years to come. "It's easier to grow up when you're growing," he said. "So this is all good news for economic development."
Biosciences is one of three areas the state is focusing on for future economic development based on a strategy outlined for Iowa by the Battelle Memorial Institute, the other two being advanced manufacturing and information technology. Though the three areas need to develop side-by-side, said Shawn Rolland, public information officer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development, having "two leading ag science corporations (Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Monsanto) in the state is a great thing for Iowa workers. Both provide high-paying jobs, grow the economy and demonstrate Iowa's commitment to renewable energy."
The number of people employed in the bioscience industry in Iowa in 2005 was 72,682, a 5.5 percent increase from 2000. These jobs provided total wages of $3.2 billion.
"I think Iowa is positioned to take advantage of all the things happening in biotechnology," said Pam Johnson, a Floyd County farmer who also chairs the National Corn Growers Association's research and business development action team. She pointed out that in addition to these companies, the state has the natural resources and university research programs to be a major player in the industry.
The job figures are expected to look even better a year from now, as many agricultural biotech companies continue to expand their facilities and invest more dollars in research and development.
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. announced earlier this year that it is investing $100 million in its seed business, primarily through its Johnston-based Pioneer subsidiary. The increased funding will add 400 new positions and expand 67 of Pioneer's 92 research centers worldwide over the next year. It is the largest year-to-year increase in research investment and staffing at Pioneer since it was founded 81 years ago.
The plan includes adding 62 research positions to Pioneer's headquarters in Johnston and expanding its genetic discovery and trait technology programs. The company's Dallas Center facility also will expand and add about 11 staff positions; all of Pioneer's discovery breeding field staff, which will focus on finding new products and technologies, will relocate to the center.
"We think about how biotechnology and different tools in the industry are improving productivity, profitability and sustainability," said Frank Ross, vice president and business director of Pioneer's North American operations. "What it means to Pioneer is accelerated growth in investments in [research and development] and sales and marketing in order to position our products and provide better products and services that increase the productivity and profitability for our customers."
Monsanto also is expanding its centers throughout Iowa. It is moving into the second floor of its Ankeny research center, which will increase its operations by 30 percent. A 125,000-square-foot research center in Huxley is near completion, and the company plans to double production capacity at its Grinnell facility.
The company consistently invests 10 percent of its revenues into research and development, which last year was about $725 million.
Dow Agrosciences LLC also is evaluating where to increase investments, which could affect its facilities in Huxley, Belmond, Davenport and Marshalltown.
"We're very committed to the breeding program and are continuing to make larger investments," said Ben Kaehler, trait and germplasm licensing leader for North America. As a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., Kaehler added, Dow Agrosciences has a "large, very supportive parent company that sees a value in the ag market and is willing to support that business."
These private companies are also making investments in public-sector programs. Pioneer, for example, just announced that it is contributing $50,000 for a proposed bio-based products industry center at Iowa State University, which will focus on the economic, business and policy aspects of the emerging bio-economy.
Monsanto officials believe Pioneer's huge investment in research and development is an affirmation that Monsanto's business model is working.
Monsanto was one of the first companies to invest heavily in biotechnology, while other companies continued to look for new chemical products to apply to crops. In 1996, it commercialized the first biotech product, Roundup Ready Soybeans, designed to withstand certain herbicides, including the company's Roundup, making weed control easier for farmers. It introduced the trait in corn and other crops soon after.
The company began offering this new technology through licensing agreements with seed companies like Pioneer, which provided the seed while Monsanto provided the technology. But soon after, Monsanto began acquiring its own seed companies. It purchased Asgrow Seed Co. and DeKalb Genetics Co., two national seed companies, in the late 1990s, and in 2004 formed American Seeds Inc., which is designed to market seeds through regional sellers.
Monsanto's strategy to widely distribute its traits seems to have worked. According to a Jan. 22 story in The Wall Street Journal, 60 percent of corn acres planted in the United States today have seeds with the company's traits and 96 percent of soybeans planted have a Monsanto trait. Monsanto has sold out of its triple-hybrid seeds this year, Crosbie said.
Although Pioneer has been slow to enter the biotech market, the company has been a leader in the seed business for the majority of its existence. Ross doesn't see that changing.
"When it comes to North America corn market share, we are the leader," he said. "We have the highest market share of acres in the U.S. for both corn and soybeans; we have for years."
Though Monsanto dominates in the triple-stack hybrids, which combines its herbicide-tolerant technology and insect protection and rootworm protection technologies in one seed, Ross added, "we are aggressively ramping up our triple-stack hybrids. In 2008, we expect to be fully competitive in the rest of the industry."
In 2003, Pioneer, in collaboration with Dow, commercialized a biotech trait called Herculex, a biotech corn seed that protects against a variety of crop-damaging pests. By 2009, Pioneer expects to introduce Optimum GAT, its first independent proprietary biotech seed, which is designed to withstand certain herbicides.
All of these biotech products are a result of 15 to 20 years of research, and Ross said part of the excitement surrounding the agricultural biotech industry stems from the fact that many biotech products are just starting to come on the market.
Andy LaVigne, president of the American Seed Trade Association, believes some of the industry's hype is because people are recognizing the importance of agriculture and the role biotechnology will play in agriculture in the future.
"I think there's more competition in the industry than we've seen in the past, mainly because of new developments we've seen in technology and seed, and I think people see that as the growing area of opportunity in technology for agriculture," he said. "Everyone wants to be where the new demand and the new technology will be."
More opt for biotech
Monsanto claims that its share of the U.S. corn market grew slightly more than 3 percentage points last year, the greatest gain it has had since it acquired Asgrow and DeKalb, which makes it the No. 2 branded corn seed provider in the country.
Though Monsanto is gaining a larger portion of the market, Crosbie said, many ag biotech companies are increasing their seed sales because more farmers are purchasing biotech seeds than ever before.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's June 2006 acreage report, 64 percent of Iowa's 12.6 million corn acres were planted with biotech corn hybrid last year and 91 percent of Iowa's 10.15 million soybean acres were planted with a biotech variety.
As the value for crops has increased with the discovery of new uses, like more healthful oils from low-linolenic soybeans and ethanol, many farmers want the higher yields and better security of crop production that biotech products promise.
In February, Iowa's corn prices hovered above $4 per bushel. Brian Jones, research and business development manager for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said when prices reached this level in the past, it was usually driven by weather. "What we're seeing now" he said, "is $4 being driven by demand, which is unique."
To capitalize on the potential for huge profits in agriculture, the biotech industry has undergone a period of consolidation over the past few years. Jones believes it is a natural evolution as companies come up with new strategies and develop more efficient processes.
At the same time, some experts believe there are opportunities for smaller companies to create a niche in the marketplace, especially as corn, soybean and other seed products become tailored to specific uses, such as more healthful oils, better feed for animals and even clothing.
"There's so much work to be done in research," Johnson said. "No matter how big one company is in the marketplace, they cannot afford to do it all."
Jones said the project funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy to sequence the corn genome, or map its genetic code, could level the playing field for smaller companies, because they could access the public information. It also will lead to development of more advanced biotech seeds.
"I think we've reached a point where we've identified the easy targets," he said, citing to herbicide-tolerant corn as an example. "Those are sort of low-hanging fruit, and now we're looking at more complex trait opportunities."
A better understanding of the genetic makeup of the corn plant is expected to allow companies to find traits that do things such as increase yields to maximize the crop's potential. With this ability, Ross believes more biotech products will start to reach the marketplace faster.
Pioneer has developed FAST corn, a miniature corn plant that can reach maturity in 50 to 60 days and is part of a process that speeds up testing of new traits in corn plants. Monsanto is focused on marker-assisted breeding, which quickly identifies a desirable plant characteristic that can then be developed to maximize that seed rather than going through the process of cross-breeding plants and then testing their genetic makeup. Pioneer also is ramping up its research in this area.
Though the competition is steeper, leaders in the field believe that the collaboration that's common among companies could still exist. "Competition is very fierce, but there are times when the company looks and sees that products combine well with others," Kaehler said.
Johnson would like to see the public sector invest more money into research and development in addition to private investment. "We think that biotechnology is our future and we think that especially now, when we're starting to turn from a society that's petroleum-based to one based on biorenewables, that there needs to be a lot of investment," she said.
The private sector at least is planning to continue its heavy investments and is expected to continue to create jobs in research and development and marketing, especially in Iowa and the rest of the Corn Belt.
"I just think we have significant opportunities to increase profitability and productivity and the science that we're working on today will really drive productivity, not only short term but in the medium and long term," Ross said.
So, who will come out the winner?
"As a farmer I think it's wonderful because it means more investment," Crosbie said. "The more competition there is, the better the products I can plant will be, and more competition means more choices."
Latest book on Bt-cotton in India
Manjunath, T.M. 2007. Q & A on Bt-cotton in India: Answers to more than 70 questions on all aspects. All India Crop Biotechnology Association, New Delhi, February 2007 (78 pages).
A book entitled "Q & A on Bt-cotton in India: Answers to more than 70 questions on all aspects" authored by Dr. T. M. Manjunath, a well-known agricultural entomologist who has been closely associated with the Bt-cotton technology in India, has been published recently (Feb 07; 78 pages) by the All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA), New Delhi. Bt-cotton, being the first and until now the only agri-biotech product approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of Govt of India in March 2002, has attracted enormous interest, curiosity and controversy right from 1996 when its first regulatory studies were initiated in India. An increasing number of farmers have quickly adopted this technology as evident from the exponential increase in its area to 3.8 million hectares (9.4 m acres) in five years. At the same time, those who are opposed to this technology have made serious allegations that Bt-cotton is not safe and beneficial. Such claims and counter claims have creating a lot of doubts and confusion in the minds of farmers and the general public alike.
An attempt is made in the present publication to explain the Bt-technology and clarify various doubts and perceptions by presenting the facts based on scientific data. The information on diverse aspects of Bt-cotton has been presented in a simple manner in the form of answers to more than 70 questions, divided into several sections such as cotton bollworms, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), development of Bt-cotton, efficacy, safety, insect resistance management, field performance and adoption, costs and benefits, opposition to Bt-cotton, legal and illegal seeds, and regulation. Some of the issues covered include:
What is Bt and Bt-cotton and how bollworms are controlled; what are the advantages and limitations of Bt-technology; will the non-Bt cotton in the neighbourhood of Bt-cotton fields suffer from more pest damage; how safe is Bt-cotton to humans/animals/environment and biodiversity; what is the role of 'refuge' crop and what are the insect resistance management strategies; does Bt-cotton contain 'terminator gene'; does Bt-cotton deprive farmers' right to save seeds; why are there so many Bt-cotton hybrids; what is the cost vs benefits of Bt-cotton; is Bt-cotton technology suitable for Indian bollworms; why is there such a powerful campaign against Bt-cotton and what is the validity of various allegations against its safety and benefits; how is farmers' response to Bt-cotton in India; what is the impact of illegal seeds; what are the social, economic and environmental impacts of Bt-cotton; and what is govt's role in the regulation of genetically engineered crops.
Try any frequently asked question on Bt-cotton - you are most likely to find an answer in this book. It is the primary objective of this publication.
Dr. C. D. Mayee, Chairman, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, ICAR, New Delhi, who was earlier the Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, who has written the 'Forward' says "...Bt-cotton being a new technology, several aspects were/are not clear to many including those whose opinions matter. Therefore, I always felt that there is need for a publication that explains this technology and clarifies all the doubts. I am very glad that it has been fulfilled........this publication has a lot of educational importance on transgenic crops and should be a constant companion for those interested in this area."
The book provides a comprehensive account on all aspects of Bt-cotton and should be very useful to various scientists, teachers, students, policy makers, seed companies, journalists, NGOs, extension workers, progressive farmers and other stake holders.
For any enquiries or copies this publication, please contact:
Mr. R. K. Sinha, IAS (Retd.), Executive Director, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, B-5, Kailash Colony, New Delhi 110 048. India. Phone: (011) 29243301, Telefax: (011) 29243300. Email: email@example.com, Website: www.aicba.com
Seedless Fruits Make Others Needless
- David Karp, New York Times via The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), March 25, 2007, http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070325/NEWS/703250324/1001/BUSINESS
Maricopa, Calif. - A swarm of bees can get anyone worked up, although most people would not think to file a lawsuit in retaliation.
Last April, though, California's largest citrus grower threatened to sue beekeepers, accusing them of letting their insects "trespass" on mandarin groves.
The growers were not afraid of being stung; they were afraid that the bees would pollinate their trees, something farmers usually want bees to do. But these trees in the San Joaquin Valley were planted to bear seedless fruit, and pollination would create seeds.
This spring a citrus growers trade association will be lobbying the state legislature for a Seedless Mandarin Protection Act that would establish "no-fly zones" of two miles for hives around designated groves.
If the response seems unusual, it's because of what is at stake: Seedless mandarins fetch three to four times the price of seeded ones, according to a 2005 study. The acres in California planted with mandarins, mostly seedless varieties, have grown to 27,000 from 10,000 in 1998. In 10 years it will probably be hard to find mandarins, also known as tangerines, with seeds.
"It's becoming impossible to market mandarins with a high level of seeds," said Etienne Rabe, a manager for Sun Pacific, a large grower, as he watched harvesters clip fruit at a huge planting near Bakersfield.
Tom Mulholland, who grows 400 acres of mandarins southeast of Fresno, was even more dismissive of seeded varieties. "Push 'em out, bye-bye," he said. "That's where your low prices are going to be."
As growers learned starting 70 years ago with seedless grapes and more than a decade ago with seedless watermelons, shoppers will pay for convenience. To feed the demand for fruit with less mess, farmers and scientists have been chasing new varieties and developing new technologies.
But the process began long ago, when growers found natural mutations of citrus fruits with few or no seeds, like navel oranges and Persian limes, which they propagated by grafting. A few seedless mandarins have been around for more than a century, notably the early-season satsumas, but they were limited in season and not as addictively sweet and richly flavored as the best varieties, like clementines.
Originally, clementines were seedy and required pollination by bees to bear regular crops. In the 1960s, California researchers discovered that by applying a spray at bloom, simulating the growth hormones naturally secreted by seeds, farmers could obtain good harvests of seedless clementines. Bees became undesirable.
Spanish scientists improved this technique, and in the 1980s and 1990s seedless Spanish clementines conquered markets in Europe and the eastern United States.
California growers saw this success, and in the late 1990s rushed to plant clementines, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt from south of Bakersfield to Fresno.
They also placed big bets on a clementine-like variety of seedless mandarin, found in Morocco in the 1980s, with the ungainly name of W. Murcott Afourer. A hybrid of Florida's Honey Murcott tangerine, possibly with a clementine, it has thin, easily peeled skin, a deep orange color and very good flavor. Ripening after clementines, from late January to March, and producing abundantly without bees or hormones, it quickly became the hottest new citrus variety.
A freeze in mid-January destroyed about half of the state's late-season mandarins, but as shipments soar in the next few years "there's going to be a head-on clash" with Spanish exporters, Rabe said.
But clementine and W. Murcott trees dependably produce seedless fruit only when grown in isolated blocks. If they are not, the presence of bees becomes an issue.
Most growers underestimated how much buffer zone they needed around plantings to keep bees from bringing pollen from nearby seedy citrus. In pressing for legislation, California growers are again following Spanish farmers, who in 1994 got their government to bar beekeepers from putting hives near their plantings during bloom.
Hives could be moved to other groves, or beekeepers could feed their colonies, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, a growers association.
Something has to be done, he said. "As more mandarin plantings start bearing, the situation's going to explode," he added.
Pollination by bees is crucial to many California crops, including almonds, stone fruit and melons, and while the law would let this continue, beekeepers vehemently object to the restrictions. They recently have sustained grave losses because of a mysterious syndrome called colony collapse disorder.
"It'd be a devastating loss of the locations needed to keep bees healthy," said Joe Traynor, a bee consultant in Bakersfield.
A partial solution for this problem - an irradiated version of W. Murcott that never develops seeds, even when cross-pollinated by bees - has been developed by Mikeal L. Roose and Tim Williams, citrus breeders at the University of California at Riverside. In 1996 they irradiated W. Murcott budwood sticks (stems used for grafting) to rearrange the chromosomes to cause sterility.
While many resulting trees had fatal mutations, one, now called Tango, was virtually identical to the original W. Murcott yet averaged only one seed in five fruits.
Nurseries started propagating Tango in June and have orders for millions of trees.
Using irradiation to breed mutations in citrus is not new - Richard Hensz developed the deep-red Star Ruby and Rio Red grapefruits using this technique, starting in 1959. But Dr. Roose and Williams have undertaken a far-reaching program trying to rid the seeds from 63 varieties of citrus. Although most are mandarins, their 6,000 experimental trees also include oranges, tangelos, lemons and grapefruits.
On a recent visit to his test plots in Riverside, Calif., Williams offered samples of a dozen selections, identical to the parents except that they averaged only one to three seeds instead of 10 to 30.
(There's a debate among growers over what is "seedless." A consortium of growers that markets 90 percent of California-grown clementines and W. Murcotts under the name Cuties allows no more than 15 fruits with seeds out of 100. Other growers say that is too strict.)
The original Daisy mandarin may be the most delicious citrus, but hardly anyone has planted it because it is so seedy. Williams said the University of California might release irradiated Daisy and other low-seeded varieties late next year.
Many researchers around the world are irradiating citrus. Florida, still the leading producer of mandarins in the United States, cannot grow high-quality clementines in its climate and has lagged in introducing seedless varieties. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida have several promising irradiated selections, including low-seeded versions of the state's three major commercial mandarins. One, Fallglo, may be released within a year; after that it will take about five years for fruit to be sold commercially.
Scientists also are breeding new seedless varieties, mainly by hybridizing trees with three sets of chromosomes rather than the normal two. That genetic imbalance causes the fruits to be seedless. Five years ago the University of California introduced three such triploid mandarins, of which some 200 acres have been planted, and University of Florida breeders are evaluating 12,000 triploid mandarins.
"Triploids are the future of seedlessness," said Jude W. Grosser, a citrus breeder at the University of Florida in Lake Alfred.
He also induces mutations by regenerating a tree from a single cell. One result bears seedless Valencias, the world's leading juice orange, in a version more suitable for eating fresh. He said it would probably be introduced in three years.
An experimental method called cybridization transfers a gene for sterility into seedy varieties, rendering them seedless more efficiently than the shotgun approach used in irradiation.
While all these techniques involve advanced biotechnology, none are considered "genetic modification" for regulatory purposes, Dr. Grosser said. And there has been no evidence that any of them have compromised flavor or healthfulness.
The success of all these methods may show that, paradoxically, the best way for a mandarin to proliferate is to be sterile.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.