[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 28 March 2007 10:32
Subject: 57: Re: Alternatives to genetic modification in solving water scarcity
I am Ossama El-Tayeb, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at Cairo University, Egpyt.
I read with interest and respect Friderike Oehler's message (nr. 56) and fully appreciate her concerns and am similarly convinced of the potential of "alternatives". I wish to add that transgenicity for drought tolerance and other environmental stresses (or, for that matter, biological nitrogen fixation) are too complex to be attainable in the foreseeable future, taking into consideration our extremely limited knowledge of biological systems and how genetic/metabolic functions operate. Those who propagate the ideas that any biological function could be genetically manipulated are optimists who are probably victims of a consortium of "arrogant" scientists and greedy business who have strong control on policy making and the media. Having said that, I feel we should not lose hope of reaching such noble goals and should continue to fund such research whose fruits may be reaped by a future generation. These goals have been used by the proponents of currently available genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the control of big business, who propose that GM crops will alleviate poverty soon while in fact currently available ones mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market. The holders of intellectual property rights for present day GM crops keep teasing us about the potential of GMOs resistant to abiotic stresses and the like while doing nothing about developing such crops for this generation. These are simply not easily exploitable in a business market and are accordingly not on their agenda. Basic research in this area is being funded almost exclusively by public funds.
Ossama El-Tayeb, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology
omtayeb (at) link.net
[Relevant to the point made here about the potential development of GM crops that are resistant to abiotic stresses: In 2003, FAO launched FAO-BioDeC, a searchable database which aims to providing information on biotechnology (GMO and non-GMO) products and techniques which are in use, or in the pipeline, in developing countries (http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp). A first analysis of about 2,000 crop-sector entries from 71 developing countries contained in the database as of 31 August 2004 was published in an FAO report entitled "Status of research and application of crop biotechnologies in developing countries – Preliminary assessment" (http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5800e/y5800e00.htm). While noting that the data was was still largely incomplete, the report indicates that some general conclusions can nevertheless be made about the state of plant biotechnology research and development in developing countries. In relation to the traits introduced in the transgenic crop varieties (with activities combined for the research, field trial or commercialisation phases), the report says "they include resistance to pathogens and pests, herbicide tolerance, abiotic stress tolerance, or modifications to quality traits. Table 12 shows that 168 (35%) of the 479 total GM activities undertaken were for transgenic crops resistant to some pathogen, followed by those resistant to some pest, 97 activities (20%) and by those showing modification to some quality traits, 78 activities (16%), or resistance to some herbicide, 76 activities (about 16%). Far less numerous, 40 activities (8% of the total GMOs) were transgenic varieties resistant to abiotic stresses and 20 activities (4%) being GMOs with multiple resistances". Of the 40 activities reported for abiotic stress, only 8 were for drought resistance. Note, these figures exclude GM activities carried out by international agricultural research centres based in developing countries and or carried out by institutions in developed countries that may have relevance to developing countries...Moderator].
Sent: 28 March 2007 10:37
Subject: 58: Re: Drought resistance - No molecular mapping
I agree with the points mentioned in Message 55 (by Hubert Dulieu). Precise phenotyping and correct genotyping is the key factor that determine marker-assisted selection (MAS). Though there are different marker types available, a phenotype which is true representation of the drought resistance is still under discussion.
I would appreciate getting more information on which mapping populations should be evaluated for drought resistance both under greenhouse and field conditions.
Dr. N. Manikanda Boopathi
Assistant Professor (Bio-Tech)
Department of Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
Centre for Plant Molecular Biology
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
Coimbatore 641 003
Mobile phone: +91 98425 09611
biotechboopathi (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 28 March 2007 10:44
Subject: 59: Re: Use of microorganisms in abiotic stress management
First, an introduction: I am a professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas, Austin, USA. My background is plant genetics and agroecology. My current research focus is soil ecology and grazing systems in management of semiarid rangeland. I work with Holistic Management International (Albuquerque, NM, USA) as a certified educator. My family remains active in agricultural production in central Texas. I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in Natural Resource Management and in Genetics.
My former office mate and long time friend, Wes Jackson, received the 2000 Right Livelihood Award for his work at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, USA. A major focus of their work is development of perennial grain cultivars in several species. The benefits are diverse, beginning with the perennials developing deeper root systems, reduce labor and manipulation/cultivating, are compatible with "cropping" multiple species with seasonal diversity of production from interplanted in a "polyculture" with a greater productivity per unit area, with greater drought resistance, lower labor and energy input, etc.
To the point made by Dr. B. Venkateswarlu (Message 53), soil organisms on grasslands applied as "compost tea" have shown remarkable improvement on expansive grey clay soils, increasing friability, water intake, and productivity of many species of perennial grasses. These "teas" are high in bacteria and fungi, and can be derived by digging up healthy plants with soil around roots, and culturing the microbes in an aerated solution of dilute molasses. Application requires a low pressure large orifice spraying system to minimize disruption of fungi. If the soil is degraded by erosion or poor management, several applications over several seasons may be needed before the system becomes self maintaining.
Much of this technology has been calibrated with improved quality monitoring from the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham, who has an international reputation from research, lectures and informal classes she has taught in the US, Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere. Further information can be found in the literature.
This is an inexpensive approach that maintains a perennial and annual sward of diversity, both monocot and dicot plants. This enhances productivity of native and "improved" cultivars from selection and hybridization.
The University of Texas at Austin
Biology Labs, 114A
1 University Station, Bio 404
205 W. 24th Street
Austin, Texas 78712-0253
d.richardson (at) mail.utexas.edu
Sent: 28 March 2007 10:54
Subject: 60: A landscape perspective required with traditional methods
I am E.M. Muralidharan from the Kerala Forest Research Institute in India. I work on different aspects of biotechnology of forestry species for conservation and improvement of planting stock.
I tend to agree with the thoughts put forth in Messages 54 (by S. Seshadri) and 56 (by Friderike Oehler). I think it will be a sound strategy to tackle problems of drought in developing countries using the proven traditional biotechnologies that complement water conservation methods, rather than put the major share of the burden on modern biotechnology and expect miracles to happen in the form of plants bred or genetically transformed for drought or salinity tolerance. Traditional methods like biofertilisers and water conservation and watershed management measures have a lot to offer and are easier and more cost-effective to implement in developing countries. Since water for non-agricultural purposes also has to be considered, the strategy should be from a total landscape perspective and not just for agriculture.
One of the ways in which modern biotechnology could be put to use to tackle the problem in drought prone areas is in the deployment of drought tolerant clones of multipurpose trees and other woody perennials through mass clonal propagation. The clones could be either selections or those obtained through breeding and planted in non agricultural lands or as agroforestry crops. The tree cover, in conjunction with other traditional water conservation measures, will ensure that the land will sustain itself and make do with whatever precipitation that is available. Water that eventually charges the aquifers after the natural filteration process is free from most of the problems that were discussed in Messages 38 (by Bosibori Bett) and 39 (by C Kameswara Rao) viz. that of unclean water.
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Kerala Forest Research Insititute
Peechi, Thrissur, Kerala 680653,
emmurali (at) gmail.com
[For a brief introduction to biotechnologies in forestry, see e.g. the Background Document to Conference 2 of this Forum (http://www.fao.org/biotech/C2doc.htm) or "Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry, including genetic modification" (http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae574e/ae574e00.htm) ...Moderator].
Sent: 28 March 2007 11:17
Subject: 61: From knowledge to the practical problem solving process
It's Gian Nicolay again, coming back to the question of how biotechnologies could best be implemented for practical solutions (see my earlier Message 41).
Messages 46 (by Sarbeswara Sahoo), 54 (S. Seshadri) and 56 (Friderike Oehler) indicate the need to consider existing knowledge, technologies and institutions in order to mitigate water scarcity. What I captured so far, is that we have solutions in the areas of crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) plants, plant breeding (with or without markers), best choice of varieties/crops ("No rice in the desert") and more variety in cereal and pulses, organic agriculture and crop rotation, composting (including soil improvement, green manure and vermiculture), biofertilizers, wastewater treatment, desalination and I guess many more. Now water scarcity is always concrete and locally contextual. It builds a holistic problem (water scarcity for specific users), which has to be understood as such. Biotechnology could best play a role if it accepts the need to serve as a part of the solution. (Bio)Technology and its knowledge is only a part of the solution. Another part is the institutions and people involved, and here we have to be aware about the deterioration of social capital, manifested in impoverished villages, disempowered rural areas and increased social conflicts amongst rural poor (see also Message 46, by Sarbeswara Sahoo, about India). I think most land areas are affected, but more seriously in non-industrialized countries.
I believe that the fragmentation amongst the sciences, and between science and practice, has become a major problem itself. How can this be solved? More people and institutions should focus more on practical problem solving and less on pure provision of (fragmented) knowledge. The first step in problem solving is in understanding the problem and its complexity (water scarcity problems are often highly complex). This can not be done in isolation, but only inside a systematic social process (see my message 41). Water problems are, in first line, local problems. The locality - village, commune, district, ev. national departments or civil society organizations has to design a participative plan of solution, including all relevant parameters of the "knowledge" part, of the stakeholders (or members), the "power" dimension (who decides on what) and the "values" (what do we want). These dimensions are all interlinked with the solution, which is mitigation of water scarcity.
The famous mathematician G. Polya once said: 'The open secret of real success is to throw your whole personality into your problem'. Are we all passionate enough to contribute to sustainable solutions concerning water scarcity and biotechnology? Are we open enough to start discussing problems and solutions with people outside our professional 'habitat'?
Gian L. Nicolay
Program Director Helvetas Ethiopia (NGO)
helvetas (at) ethionet.et
Sent: 28 March 2007 14:12
Subject: 62: CGIAR breeding for drought tolerance
Further to the remarks made in message 57 by Ossama El-Tayeb and the moderator, there are alternatives to GMOs.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has 22 mandated crops (including 6 cereals, 6 food legumes, 4 forages and 4 tuber crops). Increased drought resistance is a breeding goal in all these crops. Most of the drought tolerance traits are derived from wild relatives. For most of these crops, sources of enhanced drought tolerance have been identified and several varieties have been released for evaluation by researchers and farmers. Examples of releases are rice (IRRI and WARDA), maize (CIMMYT) wheat (CIMMYT and ICARDA), barley (ICARDA), common bean (CIAT), groundnut (ICRISAT), lentil (ICARDA), sweet potato (CIP), grass pea (ICARDA) and cowpea (IITA). Work is ongoing on faba beans, sorghum, millet, chickpea and pigeon pea.
The question is how to get these released varieties to the farmers. CGIAR centres have no mandate to produce basic or certified seed for distribution and in most countries in Africa and elsewhere state actors are unable to provide these services effectively. Instead of heaping scorn on the private industry, public-private partnerships are the only alternative to make sure that improved varieties reach the farmers that need them. Recent initiatives such as the Sustainable Commercialisation of Seeds in Africa (SCOSA) and the Program for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS) (supported by new funding mechanisms such as the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations) are trying to address this situation by stimulating the production of basic and certified seed as a commercial opportunity for farmers and farmer groups and the training of small agro input dealers in further spreading the adoption.
For more information on drought resistance breeding by CGIAR centres (including an overview of QTL mapping) see 'Opportunities for increased water productivity of CGIAR crops through plant breeding and molecular biology' by John Bennett (IRRI), 2003 - Chapter 7 of http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/pubs/Book/CA_CABI_Series/Water_Productivity/unprotected/0851996698toc.htm
309 rue de Bombon
e-mail: lin.edo (at) free.fr
[The CGIAR is an informal association of 64 members that supports agricultural research and related activities of an international public goods nature carried out by 15 autonomous research centres. The CGIAR partnership includes 25 developing and 22 industrialised countries, 4 private foundations and 13 regional and international organisations that provide financing, technical support and strategic direction. FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank serve as cosponsors of the CGIAR. The 15 CGIAR research centres are Bioversity International, CIAT, CIFOR, CIMMYT, CIP, ICARDA, ICRISAT, IFPRI, IITA, ILRI, IRRI, IWMI, Africa Rice Center (WARDA), World Agroforestry Centre and WorldFish Center - see http://www.cgiar.org/ for more information...Moderator].
Sent: 28 March 2007 14:25
Subject: 63: Re: Wastewater treatment in agriculture
This is Professor Hubert Dulieu, again.
I agree with practically all the recommendations of S. Seshadri (Message 54). I congratulate him for his clear-sightedness!
First, GMOs appear to me to lead certainly to confiscation of the genetic resources and seeds by international financial corporations. Moreover, GMOs will lead, after the dispersion of their culture in arid or semi-arid zones to insurmountable difficulties, notably to control their GM characters in order to avoid the transgene flows both towards classical varieties and wild ecotypes.
Then, the points 1 to 5 developed by S. Seshadri on selecting drought-resistant varieties are in accordance with my suggestions (Message 55). My opinion is, however, still more restrictive about the use of MAS/QTL in many species where almost no molecular data exist because they are of no interest for financers.
All the 8 following points (6 to 13) can be accepted as a guide of good practices in agriculture in every region of the world, particularly point 7 (permanent covering of soils, either by mulch, in arid regions, or by plants, in semi-arid or tropical regions, could be added).
I appreciate particularly the sentence: 'look for alternatives through benign technologies'. Nature has proven its enormous capacity to change and adapt species (notably plants) and ecosystems. Fine observation of living materials in their changing environment must be the first attitude of the scientist, just before to decide how to intervene. It is just why this FAO conference appears as so welcome. "On ne commande à la Nature qu'en lui obéissant", i.e. :"One orders Nature only in obeying to it", said Buffon (1788).
Emeritus Professor of Plant Genetics and Population Genetics,
University of Burgundy,
hubert.dulieu (at) wanadoo.fr
Sent: 28 March 2007 16:14
Subject: 64: Re: Alternatives to genetic modification in solving water scarcity
I am Michel Ferry in charge of the Date palm and oasis agriculture research station of Elche in Spain.
Various participants have formulated in this conference doubts and criticisms about the real interest of plant genetic modification research to address the huge problem of water scarcity in an increasing number of countries. I fully agree with their arguments. Many other methods exist to improve greatly water efficiency and the use of limited water resources. The advantages of these other possibilities are multiple: poor and small farmers full control and research participation; more know-how than inputs needs; many techniques already available; better integration in a global farming sustainable strategy. Genetic modification to introduce genes to improve drought resistance seems to me much more another hype for the biotechnology sector to get funds. These promises of miraculous and rapid solutions to save humanity are not only simplistic and perhaps dangerous but also a deceit by the simple fact that it is not serious to claim that such complex research could give results, if any, in the short place of time necessary to answer to this urgent challenge. With a lot of arrogance, hype and insincerity, the biotechnology sector has used compassion for the poor to justify socially its activity. The fight to face the water crisis represents, according to me, a new theme of propaganda for this sector.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) telefonica.net