You can listen to the National Public Radio discussion forum (with
listener call back) on "Third World Countries & Genetically Modified
Crops" that aired on December 27, 200 in the "TALK OF THE NATION" program
at the website:
Requires the RealAudio Player (you can get it for free at
HOST: JUAN WILLIAMS; GUESTS: JOHN BIEWEN *Correspondent and Producer,
American RadioWorks CHANNAPATNA (C.S.) PRAKASH *Professor, Plant Molecular
Genetics, Tuskegee University ANURADHA MITTAL *Co-Director, FOOD FIRST
(Institute for Food and Development Policy)
Genetically modified crops are a scientific wonder and the focus of heated
debates in the U.S. over food safety and environmental concerns. But
farmers in other parts of the world say genetically modified crops could
give them self-sufficiency and be the answer to world hunger. Should
genetically modified crops be harvested in Third World countries?
AMID CONTROVERSY, AGBIOTECH FLOURISHES
INTEREST IN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY REMAINS STRONG IN SPITE OF 2000'S
December 28, 2000 Cynthia J. Sollod (From Agnet)
Despite the recent controversy over transgenic or genetically modified
(GM) crops, the field of agbiotech is advancing at a remarkable rate. The
worldwide acreage of transgenic crops for 2000 is 109.2 million acres, an
11 percent increase from 1999. This acreage compares to an area slightly
larger than the entire state of California.
Both industrial and developing countries are growing GM crops, which are
now planted in at least 13 different countries. According to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications,
the proportion of transgenic crops grown in developing countries has
increased consistently from 14 percent in 1997 to 24 percent in 2000,
indicating a growing acceptance of the technology by farmers.Corresponding
with the increase in acreage is an abundance of new science. A glance at
the scientific literature published in 2000 on agriculture and
biotechnology yields an amazing 3,500 articles.
Just what are these folks doing? Quite a lot according to Ralph Hardy,
president of the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, or NABC.
Hardy lists several areas of advancements including work at Cornell
University on the development of aluminum tolerance in plants. Owen
Hoekenga, postdoctoral fellow at the USDA plant, soil and nutrition lab at
Cornell is working with Leon Kochian and others to understand how
tolerance to aluminum functions at a molecular level.
Aluminum toxicity is a soil condition that severely inhibits plant growth.
Most crop plants have difficulty growing in highly acidic soils because
the availability of aluminum ties up the phosphate, which the plant needs
to grow. Aluminum also directly inhibits root growth, preventing proper
uptake of water and nutrients. Some plants can exude aluminum-chelating
organic acids to the root area making them better able to survive such
conditions. Hoekenga explains that clay-based soils naturally contain high
aluminum levels, so it is important to understand the genetic basis for
Map-based cloning experiments are underway, and Hoekenga is making headway
in identifying where aluminum tolerance genes map in wheat, sorghum and
Arabidopsis. Once identified, the genes will be available for development
of transgenic crops and as a tool for traditional plant breeders to
increase their understanding of the genome. Developing tolerant plants
will vastly increase the arable land in the world allowing farmers to grow
crops on land that was previously considered useless for agriculture.
Hardy also remarked on the development of plants for delivery of vaccines
that can be tailored to specific diseases. "Food and health are becoming
more and more seamless," he says.
Companies are developing many types of pharmaceutical products in plants.
For example Epicyte, San Diego, is a leader in producing monoclonal
antibodies, called "plantibodies," in plants. Plant-based systems have the
potential for significant cost advantages over other systems for
production of antibodies. In addition to lower costs will be the ability
to produce large volumes of product that is not possible by other means.
Epicyte is developing products against several viruses and bacteria,
including herpes simplex and HIV. In addition to food and health,
agbiotech may be essential in the production of other goods. Hardy
indicates the "increasing visibility of the bio-based economy is an
important piece of 2000. Agriculture should be more than food, feed and
Indeed, the vision statement for the NABC says that bio-based products
will provide security and sustainability in food, health, energy,
environment and economy. Agriculture provides the opportunity for this
development. Genes to make plastics and other polymers have been inserted
into plants so that they can make biodegradable plastics. Fuels and other
products, which once were dependent on petroleum for manufacture, are in
development to be made by transgenic plants or from plant biomass using
C.S. Prakash, professor at Tuskegee University and director of the Center
for Plant Biotechnology Research, says, "There have been many positive
developments in 2000." An example that cannot be overlooked is that of the
'golden rice' containing the b-carotene gene. This rice was developed over
a number of years with the cooperation of numerous researchers under the
guidance of Ingo Potrykus at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in
Zurich. The development of this enhanced rice was not the result of a mere
single gene insertion, but a multistep manipulation of several enzyme
genes in a complex biochemical pathway. This is the first case of pathway
engineering in plants to reach full development, and it represents a
considerable technical advancement. Additional crosses with different
transgenic strains have been done to incorporate genes for iron production
all into one plant. Such enhanced rice can help prevent blindness and
boost immunity for millions of people suffering from vitamin A and iron
deficiencies in poor countries.
Prakash notes another breakthrough advance this year related to this
technology: the unprecedented cooperation of companies holding many of the
basic patents used in the development of golden rice. These companies are
providing nonlicensed use of their patents to allow for the free
distribution of golden-rice seed to farmers in developing countries.
Prakash also mentions the development of stacked traits - the inclusion of
more than one single gene trait in the same plant. For example, there are
now cotton varieties on the market that are both herbicide-tolerant and
insect-resistant. And more second-generation biotech-enhanced crops are in
development. These crops will have traits with enhanced nutritional value,
such as increased vitamin content or a healthier fatty-acid profile and
other characteristics that have more tangible benefits and consumer
appeal. In addition to creating new plant varieties, biotechnology tools
have been invaluable in basic research.
Molecular techniques are being used to understand everything from the ways
in which plant genes work to how various plant pathogens behave. Jean
Ristaino, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at North Carolina
State University, is using biotechnology to reconstruct the history and
spread of the infamous Irish potato famine pathogen. Using herbarium
samples from around the world, preserved since the 19th century, Ristaino
has ampilified pathogen DNA and is using mitochondrial DNA sequences to
determine how the pathogen spread. Understanding historical epidemics of
plant disease will help in preventing future epidemics. The late-blight
pathogen still causes havoc on modern-day potato and tomato crops
worldwide. Ristaino has also used DNA fingerprinting to track modern
populations of the pathogen. What does the future hold?
Prakash says: "More products will be genomics-based. Genomics will provide
knowledge that can be applied in the frontiers of agriculture and food."
These products may be more acceptable to critics because they will be
enhanced by knowledge rather than inserted genes. That is, knowledge
gained from the sequences of plant genomes will "provide an understanding
of how to tweak genes without introducing new ones," according to Prakash.
It will be possible to change plant traits by turning them on or off with
small structural changes in the plant. This will assist production
agriculture by increasing plant resistance to disease, stress and other
abiotic factors. It will also be possible to make a safer food supply by
suppressing toxins and allergens naturally found in foods such as peanut
allergens or glutens in wheat.
As science advances, many issues will become of less concern to critics.
For example, in cases where genes are inserted, scientists will be able to
target the genes more precisely, increasing the stability and
predictability of these genes, thus alleviating many of the fears and
questions regarding transgenic crops today. Understanding of GM organisms
will increase, as will understanding of food allergens. The science is
"moving forward," says Hardy. "The mistakes that have been made (for
example, in the case of Starlink corn) were not based on science or
technology, but in industry and regulatory authority." Indeed the science
is moving forward, perhaps not always at a groundbreaking pace, but
agbiotech is moving forward in many directions that will provide a variety
of benefits beyond food and feed to both growers and consumers.
Cynthia J. Sollod, Ph.D., is research director for the Institute for
Biotechnology Information, or IBI. Cynthia has a B.S. in botany from the
University of Maryland and an M.S. and Ph.D. in plant pathology and
genetics from North Carolina State University. Her interests include
fungal physiology and molecular biology. She has had 14 years of technical
research experience, including work at the Department of Agriculture.
Sowing seeds: The little mustard that could
Atlanta Journal Constitution; December 24, 2000
You might find Arabidopsis growing in a Walton graveyard or hiding in a
winter wheat field near Watkinsville, according to University of Georgia
geneticist Rodney Mauricio. You've probably seen look-alikes insinuating
themselves in late winter lawns.
They're not much to look at --- a cluster of oblong leaves close to the
ground early on, followed by a spike of tiny white flowers, each with four
petals arranged in a cross. Some of Arabidopsis' wild mustard cousins are
much prettier, dappling abandoned fields or roadsides with splashes of
bright summer yellow. We have even taken to using them in our gardens ---
decorative cabbage, if you will.
But unpretentious Arabidopsis --- "the little mustard that could" --- has
shaken up biology like no other plant. Its tiny size and rapid generation
time --- six weeks from germination to seed set --- make it ideal to study
just about everything plants do. Now the shaking has turned into an
earthquake. On Dec. 14, scientists finished the DNA sequence of all five
of Arabidopsis' chromosomes, the first for a flowering plant. What they
have found so far, and will discover in coming years, should bear sweet
All the instructions this tiny plant needs to grow, fight disease, flower
and fruit are packed into 25,498 genes. Much larger and agronomically more
important plants, such as soybean and corn, have about the same basic
complement. That's why scientists are eager to find out what each gene
Information gleaned from Arabidopsis can improve crops and save lives.
Remember, plants literally feed the planet --- we wouldn't be here without
them (or the oxygen they produce). Scientists soberly admitted their
responsibility in a report published in the magazine Nature: They are
eager to "meet the challenge of sustaining our food supply in the coming
years." Plant biologists are already using Arabidopsis to improve the
nutritional value of another mustard, canola, a source of healthful
vegetable oil for millions.
And strange as it may seem, "the weed" can even tell us something about
ourselves. The genetic blueprints of humans and plants are similar in many
ways --- a product of common ancestry more than a billion years old.
Arabidopsis shares about 140 genes that, when defective, cause disease in
people, including BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, implicated in breast cancer.
But plant scientists are most excited about what the Arabidopsis genome,
and those to follow, will tell us about the biology of things green.
Plants and animals, though related, took far different evolutionary paths.
Much of what animals do, from feeding to sex, is based on mobility and
behavior. Plants, on the other hand, are stuck in the ground and make
their own food through photosynthesis.
It's sobering to realize that humans have only two to three times the
number of genes of Arabidopsis, yet we're vastly different. On the other
hand, Arabidopsis has almost twice the genes of the common fruit fly, a
simple animal but much more like us than any plant. What is encoded in the
respective gene sets that makes for such different lifestyles, especially
since many of the instructions are the same? By comparing the Arabidopsis
genome with those of humans and fruit flies, revealed earlier this year,
we should learn a lot.
We tend to think of plants as boring --- just sitting there, not doing
very much. But just beneath the surface of these sedentary beings is a
wealth of activity. They're fascinating in their own right. The
Arabidopsis genome is "the beginning of the beginning," says Mary Clutter
of the National Science Foundation, the lead U.S. agency funding the
genome project. In the coming decade we'll mine that information to better
understand what it means to be a plant, and perhaps by virtue of things
held in common, even human.
Barry Palevitz is a science writer and professor of botany and biology at
the University of Georgia in Athens.
From: Liberty Institute
Prof. Deepak Lal's paper "The New Cultural Imperialism: The greens and
economic development" is now available on our site at:
Golden chance wasted
Debra Saunders The Washington Times December 20, 2000
Imagine that you have worked for years to develop a strain of rice that
contains vitamin A in a world where an estimated 100 million children
under age 5 suffer from vitamin A deficiency. This vitamin can prevent
diarrhea, which kills 2.5 million children a year, and measles, which
kills some 1 million children a year. So you've offered to give the seeds
to poor farmers in India, where many children are raised on a
You rightfully could expect to be lauded as a hero.
You would not expect to be shouted at by angry students or have to place
your rice in a fortified grenade-proof greenhouse. Yet as the New York
Times has reported, that is exactly the situation for Ingo Potrykus of
Switzerland and his ``golden rice.``
You see, the rice is genetically modified, which offends the sensibilities
of self-styled environmentalists, who argue that genetically modified
foods will endanger biodiversity. They call a strain of rice that could
save millions of children ``Frankenfood.`` And they are especially
incensed at golden rice because they see it as a ``Trojan horse.``
Anuradha Mittal of the Institute for Food and Development, based in
Oakland, Calif., explained that golden rice ``is being used by biotech
companies as the silver bullet to end vitamin A deficiency, which causes
night blindness. For us at the institute, it shows a blindness to other
There are other alternatives that, Mr. Mittal argued, can be used
immediately and cheaply. For example, UNICEF fights vitamin A deficiency
by giving high-dose capsules to children twice a year. The cost: two cents
per pill. (If you want to send a check for the UNICEF vitamin A project,
call 1-800-FORKIDS, or try unicefusa.org . You might save a few lives.)
Mr. Mittal also suggested injecting more leafy green vegetables in the
Third World diet. And: ``We need to have the political will to end
hunger.`` That`s a nice agenda, but hunger won't end tomorrow, and leafy
green vegetables don't grow on trees in Calcutta.
UNICEF adviser Werner Schulting isn't anxious to scoff at a product that
could save lives. He said of golden rice, ``I think it is in principle a
great development, which could potentially contribute significantly to a
reduction in vitamin A deficiency.`` If children don't have enough vitamin
A, he said, they risk a 20 percent higher chance of dying in early
childhood. Gary F. Barton of Monsanto, a biotech company that has
developed a ``golden mustard`` that will yield vitamin A-rich cooking oil
for the Third World, is taken aback by the venom at genetically modified
foods. To Mr. Mittal`s criticism that there are other ways to address
vitamin deficiency, he responded, ``Why aren't they doing it? No one's
Golden rice ``is going to lead to further concentration of wealth and
control by corporations,`` critic Mr. Mittal argued. ``They`re afraid it
might work and provide benefit to people,`` Mr. Barton said. ``I don't
It is hard to understand.
Of course there is a need for safeguards to keep bioengineered foods from
contaminating other plant life. Ditto studies that use objective criteria
to measure the effects of genetically modified foods. That said, there
also should be a sense of urgency to push for these foods to reach the
Third World in order to spare countless children from blindness, sickness
And the United States is silent. The anti-bioengineered food people have
managed to frame the debate as one between the good people, who want to
protect the purity of our food, and the bad people, who want to use evil
science to alter it. The good people who want to save the environment so
that Twinkies will be safe for ``our children`` vs. the bad people who
develop seeds that allow farmers to use fewer pesticides (which just
happens to be good for farm workers, but forget that).
Today, sensibilities trump sense. The modern person sneers at Marie
Antoinette`s famous remark, ``Let them eat cake.`` He sneers, happily
oblivious to the 21st century American equivalent: Let them eat leafy
GENETIC ENGINEERING NEWS LISTS 100 TOP BIOTECHNOLOGY WEBSITES
December 20, 2000 BW HealthWire (From Agnet)
N.Y. -- Genetic Engineering News (GEN; http://www.genengnews.com) has
published its list of the "Top 100 Biotechnology Websites." at
The sites appear in the December issue, and they were chosen on the basis
of their interest and importance to the international biotechnology
community. "While the Internet is a wonderful source of news and
information, it can also be overwhelming due to the incredible number of
Web sites out there in cyberspace, especially those related to biomedicine
and biotechnology," said John Sterling, managing editor of GEN. "We think
our listing of these 100 Web sites will help make it easier for our
readers to find information that they might need."
The Web sites cover a variety of topics. They include, for example,
Agriculture and Biotechnology Strategies (www.agbios.com/default.asp), The
Alzheimer Resource Forum (www.alzfourm.org), The Antibody Resource Page
(www.antibodyresource.com), Biotechnology: An Information Resource
(www.nal.usda.gov/bic), Medscape (www.medscape.com), The Online
Macromolecular Museum (www.clunet.edu/BioDev/omm/gallery.htm) and
PubCrawler: Update-Alerting Service for PubMed and GenBank
GEN's Top 100 Biotechnology Websites can be found at
http://www.genengnews.com/top100.asp Genetic Engineering News is published
21 times a year by Mary Ann Liebert Inc. For a copy of the magazine, call
914-834-3100, ext. 623, or e-mail: ebicovnyliebertpub.com.
From: Katie Thrasher
USE OF TECHNOLOGY CAN HALVE BANGLADESH'S POVERTY: BANK CHIEF Dec. 24/00
(Courtesy of AGNET)
Agence France Presse English DHAKA - Muhammad Yunus, a top Bangladeshi
economist (and winner of the World Food Prize..csp) and chief of the
renowned microcredit Grameen Bank was cited assaying that use of
appropriate technology could halve Bangladesh's poverty and double its per
capita income by 2010, adding, "Many said that it is not possible while
some said it is possible. But I think we can do it by utilising the
technological opportunities." The story says that Yunus, whose Grameen
Bank has earned international repute by changing the life of thousands of
rural poor and disadvantaged women by providing collateral-free small
credits, said information technology and biotechnology could bring about
significant changes in Bangladesh in near future. But he added: "We have
to sow good seeds and cultivate our land properly for getting good
results." The idea could double Bangladesh's per capita income from the
present 270 US dollars per year, he said.