Saturday, June 20, 2009

Quotes on GM Crops and Technology and Technology - Taking a cue from top scientists and leaders

In this article I would like to share some of the views of eminent personalities and organizations on GM crops and technology. Surely, for the cream of the crop to accept this technology, it cannot be junk science. Let these views erase the horror stories of GM crops created by naysayers. Enjoy reading. 

"Research is international. Restrictions here in Germany do not prevent worldwide progress; they just shut German researchers and plant breeders out of the international competition." 

Prof. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

Nobel Laureate and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen.  

"It is paradoxical that field trials connected with biosafety research, of all things, are being destroyed and the scientists responsible are being publicly vilified." 
Prof. Mathias Kleiner
President of the DFG (German Research Foundation) 

"Shortages on the global markets are foreseeable, so we have a clear responsibility to use progress and innovation, and to promote research. Plant breeders rely on the whole range of tools, from classic breeding to crop biotechnology." 
Carl-Albrecht Bartmer
President of the DLG (German Agricultural Society) 

"Crop biotechnology is a complex science and the background cannot easily be explained to a broad public. In the public debate, objective, rational arguments are frequently countered with statements that are charged with emotions and designed to fuel fears."
Dr Arend Oetker
President of Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, Germany's science innovation agency 


"Refusing GM technology will hold back efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger, to save biodiversity and protect the environment."
Baron Marc Van Montagu
President of the European Federation of Biotechnology 

“The anti-GMO movement is an imperialism of rich tastes imposed on the poor." 
Robert Paarlberg
Wellesley College 

“The debate should not be whether to adopt biotechnology, but how to adopt it. African countries need to discuss issues of biosafety and intellectual property rights, which are the main points of contention”.
Margaret Karembu, Director of ISAAA AfriCentre 

“To solve the food problem, we have to rely on big science and technology measures, rely on biotechnology, rely on GM”

Premier Wen Jiabao
Chairman of the State Council/Cabinet of China 

“Using GM rice is the only way to meet the growing food demand”.

Dr. Dafang Huang
Former Director of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) 

“It is important to apply biotechnology in agriculture. What has been done in Bt cotton must be done with food grains”.

Dr. P. Chidambaram
India’s former Finance Minister

“Accelerate research and development and increase access to new agricultural technologies to boost agriculture production; we will promote science-based risk analysis, including on the contribution of seed varieties developed through biotechnology”.

G8 members meeting in Hokkaido in July 2008 

“GM crops can play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food crisis”.

The European Commission 

The World Health Organization (WHO), has emphasised the importance of GM crops because of their potential to benefit the public health sector by providing more nutritious food, decreasing its allergenic potential and also improving the efficiency of production systems. 

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Art of Gene Silencing

In this post, I thought of discussing something a little technical but in simple, layman terms. I hope this will be informational and enhance the understanding of biotech for those who are not in this field.

We all know DNA is the hereditary material that makes the protein and gives the individualistic traits to all living organisms. Most traits are wanted and useful, but there are traits that are undesirable and create problems. For example, it would be good to have edible oils with higher ratio of good fatty acids to bad fatty acids. How about eliminating the genes that cause cancer and other deadly diseases? And how about timber trees that don’t flower early, instead grow bigger girth and produce better timber? These are possible if we can knock-out or silence the unwanted genes to prevent them from expressing themselves and producing the unwanted proteins and traits. This is what is known as gene silencing.

Gene silencing is part of genetic modification and is a very useful technique in developing new crop varieties, and has tremendous potential in controlling diseases in humans and animals. Gene silencing simply means switching off or turning down the activity of any undesired gene. Just like DNA, RNA is also made of nucleic acids and is like a courier that delivers the gene’s instruction to make a protein. To silence or turn off a gene’s activity, a mechanism is activated to interfere with the RNA, so the gene’s instruction is never transmitted and the protein is never made. Thus, the gene has been silenced. Because gene silencing involves in the interfering with the RNA activity, it is also known as RNA interference (RNAi).

Scientists are consistently proving that diseases start at gene level and is caused because of malfunctioning of gene expression. With gene silencing, it is possible to shut down a gene and make mutant genes to behave normally. So, turning off the gene that causes cancer is a possibility. Gene silencing too offers tremendous help in drug development. Since this mechanism switches off the activity of only a targeted gene, it is possible to determine the precise function of that gene. This helps in the identification of a target in human cells and is poised to revolutionize drug development.

In the agriculture sector too, gene silencing is an important step in the quest to develop better plants – plants that are able to resist diseases and pests, and plants with improved nutritional qualities.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Launch of ISAAA’s Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008 in MARDI

Last week, for the second time MARDI hosted the launch of the ISAAA’s Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops. The first one was in 2007. This time round the publication was launched by the Dato’ Mohd Mokhtar Ismail, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry in the presence of Datuk Dr. Abd. Shukor Abd. Rahman, the DG of MARDI and Dr. Umi Kalsom Abu Bakar, the Director of Biotechnology Research Centre, MARDI. Both MABIC and ISAAA are pleased with the continued support rendered by MARDI towards promoting public awareness on biotechnology.

ISAAA has been tracking the trends of the adoption of GM crops since 1996 and this is one of the most cited literatures in agribiotechnology. The report is entirely funded by two European philanthropic organizations: a philanthropic unit within Ibercaja, one of the largest Spanish banks headquartered in the maize growing region of Spain; and the Bussolera-Branca Foundation from Italy, which supports the open-sharing of knowledge on biotech crops to aid decision-making by global society.

In 2008, ISAAA found that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries were able to experience the benefits associated with biotech crops. Additionally, total planted area grew 10.7 million hectares. Most notably, in 2008 biotech farming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso. Africa is considered the “final frontier” for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain. In 2008, Egypt planted 700 hectares of Bt maize and Burkina Faso planted 8,500 hectares of Bt cotton. They join South Africa, which since 1998 has benefited from biotech cotton, maize and soybean.

Political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability. For example, G-8 leaders in 2008 for the first time recognized the significance of biotech crops and called to “accelerate research and development and increase access to new agricultural technologies to boost agriculture production; we will promote science-based risk analysis, including on the contribution of seed varieties developed through biotechnology.”

The European Union also has acknowledged that biotech crops “can play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food crises.” In China, Premier Wen Jiabao has said “to solve the food problem, we have to rely on big science and technology measures, rely on biotechnology, rely on GM.” As a result, China has committed an additional US $3.5 billion over 12 years for continued research and development. Biotech rice alone, already developed and field tested in China, has the potential to increase food availability and net income by about US$100 per hectare for approximately 440 million people in the country.

“Biotech crops make two important contributions to global food security,” Dr. Clive James, the author of the report said. “First, they increase yields, which increase food availability and supply. Second, they reduce production costs, which will also ultimately help reduce food prices. With 9.2 billion people to be fed by 2050, biotechnology plays a crucial role in helping satisfy the growing demand.”

Further, biotechnology is beginning to identify solutions to the growing challenges with drought being seen in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Drought is the single largest constraint to increased productivity. For example, Argentina currently faces a drought so severe that farmers have made a loss on their wheat crop. Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds expected to be commercialized in the United States by 2012 or sooner and by 2017 for Africa.

In his speech during the launch, Datuk Dr. Shukor highlighted the various GM researches that are ongoing at MARDI and his hope to commercialize them. Whereas, the Secretary General stressed the importance of GM crops and their positive impact on the environment. He further envisaged its potential to the rural communities. He also urged all government agencies involved in agriculture to embrace this technology or face the reality of lagging behind countries like India, China, Philippines, Brazil and Argentina.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan