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Sent: 17 November 2003 12:46
Subject: 1: MAS for crop improvement in developing countries
From Denis Murphy, Head of Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan, UK. Researcher/consultant in crop biotechnology.
Marker-assisted selection (MAS) should be viewed dispassionately as a potential tool for crop improvement to be usefully deployed alongside conventional phenotype selection for certain crops and for certain characters. MAS is a downstream technology that can improve and accelerate selection of favourable traits in a crop population. As such it should not be regarded (as is some times stated) as a direct alternative to more upstream technologies like the various forms of transgenesis, mutagenesis (radiation, chemical or somaclonal), protoplast fusion or other forms of assisted wide crossing. These more upstream technologies serve to generate additional variation in plant populations. In contrast, MAS and conventional phenotype selection are all about selecting the optimal variants from a population that can number many thousands and where the trait(s) of interest may be either obvious or cryptic.
MAS can definitely play a part in the improvement of many crops in developing countries. However, as indicated in the Turin conference [proceedings available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/Torino.htm ...Moderator], not all crops will benefit equally from MAS, and even within a single crop some traits are more suitable for MAS than others. The development of molecular markers for crops in industrialised countries over the past two decades has involved extensive collaboration between industry and public sector research bodies. One example is our development in the UK of molecular markers and mapping populations for rapeseed.
Since developing countries are often interested in different crops, they will need to develop their own MAS-related tools and expertise. The above model of industry/public sector collaboration may not be appropriate, especially for non-cash, subsistence crops without a large traded market from where value can be extracted. Therefore, the establishment of MAS systems in developing countries would tend to become more of a public sector function.
This has advantages as well as drawbacks. In the short term, there is the obvious disadvantage that public funding is smaller and less focused than private sector funding. Also, it can be challenging to build up and retain an effective expertise base in the public sector. However, on the plus side, a public sector MAS program is much more amenable to international collaboration and resource sharing. This collaboration can be facilitated by global entities like FAO and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), where much of the initial transfer of expertise and hardware may be from industrialised countries. The next stage may be the establishment of regional groupings, either virtual or "real", of developing countries focussed on particular crops and/or traits.
There are many other important and effective avenues to the improvement of crop yield/quality in developing countries that may initially have higher priority than relatively expensive (but getting cheaper) technologies like MAS. For example, in some cases, crop gains from improved management and infrastructure can dwarf those from improved breeding. In Brazil, crop exports are jeopardised by week-long traffic jams on roads to the main ports in the North East while, in Malaysia, the yield of oil palm has stagnated for a decade at 3.7 T/ha despite the availability of germplasm from public programs that yields 7.5 T/ha. In the short term, basic, and easily addressed (at least in theory) issues like management and infrastructure should be accorded equal or higher priority as they can produce rapid returns on public sector investment. In the medium term, however, it is vital that developing countries build up a public sector expertise base in MAS and other crop improvement technologies, both new and "traditional". This will enable them to make their own informed decisions on when and how to deploy such technologies in the future.
Head of Biotechnology Unit,
University of Glamorgan,
dmurphy2 (at) glam.ac.uk
Sent: 17 November 2003 15:53
Subject: 2: Economic Impact of MAS
From Daniel Gianola, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
It seems to me that something that is badly lacking is economic analysis of MAS versus conventional phenotype-based selection procedures. Irrespective of whether the program is in a developing or developed nation, it would be essential to have a range of the internal rates of return to be expected from the (possibly massive) investment in genotyping costs, etc.
I would appreciate it if somebody in the conference can direct me to well done economic analyses, especially in livestock.
Professor Daniel Gianola
Department of Animal Sciences
Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics
Department of Dairy Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison
gianola (at) calshp.cals.wisc.edu