Seed firms bolster crops using traits of distant relatives
Wall Street Journal, 31 October 2006 [via Agnet] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116226333799308526.html
SLATER, Iowa -- In a low-slung building amid farm fields, agriculture's second biotechnology revolution is, according to this story, dawning.
The story describes how rows of robotic devices are deciphering the DNA in slices of thousands of corn plants sent daily from as far away as Chile and Hawaii. Scientists here search the results for subtle genetic differences that explain why a particular plant is better than others at tolerating cold, repelling insects, surviving drought or making more seed.
Armed with this knowledge, crop breeders can create better corn. But not by gene-splicing, the method that has stirred resistance, especially in Europe, to crops spiked with DNA from other organisms. The new technology usesm old-fashioned selective breeding -- finding plants with desirable traits and mating them. Except that in this case, selective breeding is turbocharged.
Thanks to the decoded genetic blueprints, seed producers can know with precision which plants carry a desired trait and which genes cause it. Just as important, once they've planted seeds from such a plant, they can learn quickly through gene tests whether its offspring sprouting in a test field have inherited the trait.
George Kotch, research director of Syngenta AG's North American vegetable seeds business, was quoted as saying, "The public is lukewarm [!!] on GMO products. Now we have a technology that doesn't have an image problem."
Using it, Syngenta, the big Swiss biotech company that operates the Iowa laboratory, is developing drought-resistant corn, which someday could open up more of the Great Plains to the crop. DuPont Co.'s Pioneer Hi-Bred unit is developing corn that resists a Midwestern bane called Anthracnose stalk rot. Monsanto Co. has developed soybeans whose oil stands up to repeated reheating, as in fast-food restaurants, without having to be hydrogenated, which creates artery-clogging trans fats. [but only made it available in a GM version with resistance to its Roundup herbicide!]
RESOURCES: see also
This crop revolution may succeed where GM failed - Gene splicing has been made obsolete by a cutting-edge technology that greatly accelerates classical plant breeding Jeremy Rifkin The Guardian, October 26 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1931467,00.html