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Sent: 03 December 2002 11:00
Subject: 72: Optimal allocation of resources - technologies
I am Bill Muir, Professor of Genetics Purdue University. I am a co-author of the recent report of the National Academy of Science's National Research Counsil "Defining Science Based Concerns of Biotechnology" [Available at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309084393/html/ ...Moderator] and speaker at the PEW Charitable Trust symposium "Biotechnology in the Barnyard" [See http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0924/ ...Moderator]. I teach courses in both conventional and biotechnological methods of plant and animal improvement.
The answers to the issues posed in this conference can be addressed using principles of economics and genetics. Essentially, given that there are limited resources and time, what is the optimal allocation of resources. Optimal allocation of resources are different at different levels of development. To define the optimal allocation of resources, the following must be defined: What are the alternatives technologies, what are the costs of each, and what are the likely benefits from each.
The alternative technologies are classical breeding methods (domestication), molecular methods to assist classical breeding methods (Marker Assisted Selection-MAS), and transgenic. The cost for the first technology is low to moderate and can be implemented in all regions. The initial cost of MAS can be exceedingly high in the initial phases while searching for genes associated with important traits. After discovery, the cost is then reduced to genotyping only those few loci which were found to be important. Finally for transgenics, the initial cost is high in developing the genetically engineered (GE) organism, but costs associated with environmental risk assessment can be greater than the cost of developing the organism, but a necessary part. After development and risk assessment, recurring costs are low. Because of the cost of environmental risk assessment, those regions with limited budgets may bypass this phase, but that could be a critical mistake as the long term harms of some GE organisms could outweigh the short term gains. I feel this will be the exception rather than the rule, but nevertheless needs to be examined.
The real question is relative benefit, because the benefits of the alternative technologies differ by region, i.e. the base levels of agriculture, commodities, inputs, weather, and cultures differ. The use of classical breeding initially has the highest benefit/cost ratio because so much can be gained with relatively low costs. The greatest impact on the green revolution was crossbreeding. The increase in yield from crossbred rice allowed Asia to feed it's masses. Crossbred maize in the early to mid 1900's allowed North America to double and quadruple production per acre. In the latter part of the last century, improvements in plant breeding in developed countries were largely through improved culture methods and inputs (nitrogen). In contrast, animal improvement by classical means has made steady improvement throughout the last century and continues into the present, without increasing inputs. In a recent symposium I challenged plant breeders to use advanced quantitative breeding techniques, more like animal breeders, utilizing within breed improvement methods, such as BLUP [Best Linear Unbiased Prediction - a statistical method using information on the animals (phenotype, pedigree, herd, year etc.) to identify the best genetic individuals for use in the next generation...Moderator]. Cross breeding via the inbreed-hybrid technique is a dead end, utilizing random genetic drift to differentiate inbred lines. Plant breeders have made little advances since the development of crossbreeding and need to look toward variety improvement as a sustained method of increasing yield and, to be applicable to developing countries, it needs to occur without increasing inputs beyond that available in the region. Sufficient genetic variability exists to accomplish that goal in nearly all species. What is needed is a sustained drive towards that goal and not jumping on every bandwagon that comes along that diverts attention from that goal. Molecular genetic techniques, such as MAS, should be viewed as fine tuning only after coarse tuning using appropriate breeding methods.
William M. Muir, Ph.D.
1151 Lilly Hall
W. Lafayette, IN 47906
bmuir (at) purdue.edu
Sent: 03 December 2002 11:30
Subject: 73: Research into tracing GMOs
My name is Jagdish Nazareth, a doctoral student in agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India.
I would request this group to consider that biotech is not unleashed on innocent populations until a system of markers is placed in every GMO, so that we can know who made it and from where it came. This system of markers should be of international specification. Then we will only have to worry about the rogue GMOs that people may unleash for whatever reasons, rather than all GMOs.
Along with the markers we should have an international understanding under the World Trade Organization of the 'polluter pays' principle, so that those who may profit from the release of a GMO or biotech product (both firms and their governments) will also be held liable for their adverse consequences, should they arise.
The analytical capability to make the necessary causal attributions should be an international public good available to all nations and peoples everywhere. The research to create this capability should be what we should all strive for together.
D-0716, Indian Institute of Management,
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat,
Phone: 91-79-632 6716
jagdish_nazareth (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 03 December 2002 11:31
Subject: 74: Transgenic research
This is Swapan Datta from IRRI
"What should be the role and focus of biotechnology (transgenic research and product development) [the 5-word insert is by Swapan Datta...Moderator] in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries?".
My response is as following:
- Transgenic research is an extension and modern tool of today's plant
breeding so it is inevitable for the developing countries to achieve towards
- Once again [see message 36, November 22...Moderator], I would emphasize the need of support from the FAO, World Bank, EU (the European Union), USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) etc. to help in developing the infrastructure of doing research in food and biosafety and access to the intellectual property for the benefit of developing countries.
- Biotechnology or transgenic research has not developed with an objective to prevent poverty but as an efficient technology that, if used properly with management, may help in boosting the economic growth of the farmers and eventually will help all.
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI),
S.DATTA (at) CGIAR.ORG
[Note, biotechnology and transgenesis are not synonymous. For the purposes of this Forum, biotechnology is defined as follows: According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, biotechnology means "any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use". Interpreted in this broad sense, the definition covers many of the tools and techniques that are commonplace today in agriculture and food production. Interpreted in a narrow sense, as is often done and as is done in this Forum, biotechnology mainly covers technological applications involving reproductive biology or, secondly, the manipulation, or use, of the genetic material of living organisms for specific uses. This definition covers a wide range of diverse technologies including, for example, the use of molecular DNA markers, gene manipulation and gene transfer, vegetative reproduction (crops and forest trees), embryo transfer and freezing (livestock) and triploidisation (fish)...Moderator]
Sent: 03 December 2002 11:32
Subject: 75: What should be the role and focus of biotech research?
Following the Moderator's request to focus on the central question of this conference I would like to make the following remarks.
Dr Bhatia (message 53, November 27) refered to the Dutch-financed biotech programmes in 4 countries where, in a so-called participatory process, farmers, scientists, NGOs and civil servants together do the priority setting on what should be researched. Since we are a Dutch NGO, we have asked the ministry involved about how this programme realy works out. We were told by the ministry that this in reality means that 90% of the projects are classical biotechnology. Only 10% would be invested in transgenic research. However, we also learned that through this programme the Dutch seed industry is being promoted in these 4 developing countries. Thus, for example, Nepalese farmers were being sold tissue culture potato plants from the Netherlands until the Nepalese farmers decided that this was too expensive for them and it was far better for them to obtain potato seeds from India. Recently a Dutch radio programme on the research project in Colombia showed that farmers are being kept in the dark about what the scientists actually do in the laboratories. The farmers are asked to gather information on a certain identified problem and then the scientists take the plants to the laboratory and no farmer has a clue to what happens there. It will all depend on the views of the scientists which approach is taken. Scientists/civil servants who have knowledge of the agroecological approach would most likely look for other solutions than scientists who think genetic engineering is a good idea. In short, we fear that the Dutch programe is being used to sneak in transgenics through the backdoor.
For us it is up to societies in countries in the South to determine which research direction to take, and this decision should be based on all available knowledge about the biotechnologies and all possible other ways to achieve the wanted result. Then a cost/benefit analysis needs to be made. At this moment, it seems to us that classical biotechnologies (fermentations, vermiculture etc.) are much more worthwhile, beneficial and cost effective than fancy new technologies like tissue culture (which, like GE, gives somaclonal mutations) and transgenics with all related problems of intellectual property, safety questions etc.
Wytze de Lange
De Wittenstraat 43-45
1052 AL Amsterdam
wdl (at) xminy.nl
Sent: 03 December 2002 15:33
Subject: 76: Establishing biotechnology priorities in agriculture for Sri Lanka
My name is Athula Perera from Sri Lanka. I am the professor of agricultural biology and the Director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Center of the University of Peradeniya.
I was a member of one of the national biotechnology committees that established biotechnology priorities in agriculture for Sri Lanka which is now in the public domain. We practiced a 'bottoms to top' approach in this endeavour, realizing that our farmers are not yet exactly familiar with the potentials of biotechnology. We wrote to all the institutes in the national agricultural research systems (NARS) and other related institutes and requested them to discuss with relevant stakeholders and inform the committee of their future plans and priorities in the field of biotechnology. We corresponded several times, obtaining clarifications etc. and the data received was analyzed. The committee then decided on the national priorities by considering the real problems faced by the farming community and deciding which techniques could help solve/minimize these problems. After much hard work, we finally came up with the following categories: (only some examples are given)
1.Improvement of crop and livestock productivity (e.g. Molecular markers for pest & disease resistance in rice, early selection in rubber etc.; Wide hybridization in chilli; Dihaploid production in rice, tea, coconut)
2. Reduce cost of cultivation of crops and management of livestock (e.g. Disease diagnosis in rice, papaya etc.; Disease diagnosis and production of vaccines in livestock; Production of biofertilizer, biopesticides, bioherbicides)
3. Biodiversity of Sri Lanka (e.g. DNA fingerprinting of national collection, medicinal plants, livestock etc.; Bioindustry - use of biodiversity to produce pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals)
4. Environment (e.g. Biodegradation of waste/pollutants; Processing of waste)
5. Genome analysis & transgenics (e.g. Isolation of genes from rice, tea, medicinal plants etc.; Transgenic plants - rice, rubber; Transgenic animals)
7. Nutrition (e.g. Improvement of nutritive value of food; fermented milk products)
As and when new areas become important they will be added, such as the production of transgenic ornamentals for export. We encourage collaborative research, cutting across all barriers, such as for example, the production and use of biopesticides/biofertilizer in organic agriculture, as long as it helps solve national problems.
Proposals to achieve these priorities will be called for and selected by a process of bidding, as resources available are so scarce. The scientific Analytic Hierarchy Process can be used in the selection procedure. We intend to keep this as a dynamic process. I must add that the members of the committee functioned in a purely honorary manner and the response of the scientific community/institutes to this exercise was truly magnificent.
Director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Center of the University of Peradeniya.
profaperera (at) sltnet.lk