Subcommittee C: Research on the Horizon
As the current uses of genetically modified organisms show, there has been much research devoted to developing disease, pesticide, and herbicide resistant crops; this research continues. But scientists have directed increased interest at biotechnology as a means to improving the nutritional value of some plants.
A new technique, chimeraplasty, has recently been developed that will allow scientists to increase the nutritional benefits of an agricultural product with much less risk of unintended side effects. Instead of transplanting foreign genes into a plant, chimeraplasty diminishes or enhances genes already present in that plant. Scientist can target the specific gene responsible for the production of a vitamin, such as vitamin E, and alter it by a single amino acid base to increase that production.xi This technology will make it far simpler for scientists to change the nutritional content of a crop, without the stigma sometimes attached to the use of foreign genes.iv"Chimerplasty: The Choice to Grow a Better Crop"
Even without the use of this technique, scientists have succeeded in developing new rice grains with increased levels of vitamin A and iron that will help solve the problems of iron deficiency anemia and vitamin A deficiency in countries where rice is the staple food. Dr. Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technologys Institute for Plant Sciences achieved the production of beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A) by adding two daffodil genes and one gene from the bacterium Erwina uredovora to rice plants. He also added an iron storage gene from the French bean to increase iron content and introduced a phytase gene to prevent phytic acid from inhibiting iron absorption.xiii"New Rices May Help Address Vitamin A and Iron Deficiency" Scientists say this is only the beginning; Dr. Dean DellaPenna of the University of Nevada, Reno, believes that improved knowledge of plant metabolism will enable future manipulation of the levels of micronutrients in plants to contribute to improved human health.vi
Many of biotechnologys other promising frontiers lie in the area of developing crops that have been largely neglected until now. More attention is being paid to improving the traits and nutritional value of cassava, bananas and potatoes than ever before. These crops, usually considered by the western world to be secondary in importance to corn, wheat, and rice, are mainstays of the developing worlds diet primary sources of starch in South America and Africa. By taking advantage of the unexplored biotechnology possibilities these crops hold, scientists can help the agricultural situations of countries which have not benefited from the technology that is so widespread in developed countries.
For instance, scientists at the Research Institute of Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology in Buenos Aires have succeeded in modifying types of potatoes grown in South America, coding for resistance to various viral, fungal, and bacterial diseases. They also hope to introduce genes that code for resistance to herbicides and the natural insecticide Bt toxin.v In addition, research has been devoted to improving the nutritional content of Andean potatoes by blocking the natural but bitter compounds glycoalkaloids, while still retaining essential proteins and vitamins. As a result of this innovation, these native tubers could be used in breeding programs and bring certain desirable traits, such as frost resistance, to the table.xix"Potato Gene Engineering Should Benefit Andes Farmers"
Research has also been devoted to developing resistance in cassava; protein from the gemini virus has been used to make the plant resistant to the African mosaic cassava virus and yields could increase up to 10-fold. And research in bananas in so promising that one plant biologist compares its status to that of rice research in 1990 poised to make great gains.v Scientists at the Banana Research Station in Kerala have engineered an early maturing hybrid banana that is resistant to some diseases and pests.iii "An Early Maturing Hybrid Banana"Charles Arntzen of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research has even gone so far as to hope to engineer bananas to produce antigens against certain bacteria, notably Escherichia col, using bananas as an edible vaccine.v
i Abelson, Philip H. and Pamela J. Hines. "The Plant Revolution." Science. Vol. 285. 07/16/99.
ii Albor, Teresa. "Scientists Develop Rice for Low-Quality Farmland." The Christian Science Monitor. Philippines.
iii "An Early-maturing Hybrid Banana"http://www.biotechknowledge.com/showlib_biotech.php3?1624 (accessed
iv "Chimeraplasty: The Choice to Grow a Better Crop."
v "Crop Engineering Goes South" Science Magazine, Vol. 285, pg. 370-371, 7/16/99.
vi DellaPenna, Dean. "Nutritional Genomics: Manipulating Plant Micronutrients to Improve Human Health." Science
Magazine, Vol. 285, pg. 375, 7/16/99.
vii "Food Victory as Government Pulls Plug on Genetically Modified Crop." Friends of the Earth.
viii "Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties Derived through Recombinant DNA Technology." USFDA.
ix "Genetically Engineered Crops for Pest Management."Economic Research Service.
x "Genetically Engineered Foods." Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. http://www.groworganic.com/e/e1.html.
xi "Look, no new genes." New Scientist Magazine, pg. 4, 7/31/99.
xii "National Agricultural Organization Condemns Growth and Consumption of Genetically Modified Crops and
Food." Farm forProfit. http://www.farmforprofit.com/Prels.html.
xiii "New Rices May help Address Vitamin A and Iron Deficiency, Major Causes of Death on the Developing World."
http://www.biotechknowledge.com/showlib_biotechphp3?1847 (accessed 11/30/99)
xiv "Not Ready for Roundup." Greenpeace. http://www.greenpeace.org/~usa/reports/biodiversity/roundup/.
xv "Our Lives Depend on Plants." Monsanto. http://www.monsanto.com/ag/articles/PlantBiotech/Intro.htm.
xvi "Panel Sees Use for Genetically Altered Crops." Freep. http://www.freep.com/news/health.qdiet141.htm.
xvii "Plant Biotechnology at Monsanto." Monsanto. http://www.monsanto.com/ag/articles/BioTech.htm.
xviii"Poison Plants?" Scientific American. http://www.sciam.com/explorations/1999/070599plants/index.html.
xix "Potato Gene Engineering Should Benefit Andes Farmers"http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/1999/991115.htm
xx "Products of Plant Biotechnology." Global Harvest.
xxi "Regulation of Genetically Engineered Organisms and Products."
http://www.nal.usda.gov/bic/Education_res/iastate/info/bio11.html (accessed 11/30/99)
xxii Statement of Rebecca Goldburg, of the Environmental Defense Fund, at the FDA Public Hearing on Genetically
Engineered Food.http://www.biotech-info.net/policy.htm (accessed 12/2/99)
xxiii Williams, Brian. "Seeds of Discontent?" The Columbus Dispatch.
Jump toTable of Contents