Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unholy grails of grain

If you would like to see what climate change adaptation looks like from one perspective -- a purely capitalist one -- read how Monsanto and other biotechnology companies are racing to develop a variety of drought-and-heat-resistant wheat. Although Monsanto gave up its search for a variety of wheat that was resistant to its deadly pesticide Roundup back in 2004, don't be surprised if they don't try to incorporate that trait into their latest genetically-modified quest. (GW)

Companies begin a difficult search for a climate-hardy variety

By Tiffany Stecker
March 28, 2011

In 2009, Monsanto, the biggest agricultural company in the world, did something that had been unthinkable just five years before.

It made a major investment in wheat.

This wasn't the company's first foray into developing more advanced wheat cultivars. In the 1990s, it had begun research in developing Roundup Ready wheat to add to its suite to herbicide-resistant crops. But economics reared its ugly head. Acreage in spring wheat had declined dramatically, and Monsanto ended the research in 2004.

Just five years later, wheat markets were on the upswing. Growers began pushing heavily for private investment in research. Monsanto bought WestBred, a small grain biotechnology research firm out of Bozeman, Mont., in 2009 for $45 million. With the merger, Monsanto acquired WestBred's "germ plasm" -- a kind of toolbox of genetic resources that might improve wheat.

Monsanto gave itself five to seven years to develop genes that promoted drought tolerance and high yield. The company is now developing high-yielding, locally applicable varieties, and the next step will be to apply biotechnology know-how acquired in corn research to begin playing with wheat genetics, said Claire CaJacob, wheat technology lead for the company.

"The biggest focus is on drought and intrinsic yield," said CaJacob. Disease and pest control -- a factor also linked to climate change -- "is also pretty important."

In the short term, Monsanto will continue to develop its germ plasm through advanced breeding techniques, using molecular markers -- pieces of DNA that 'mark' a certain trait on a plant's genetic blueprint -- to formulate climate-hardy seeds.

Eventually, the company hopes to develop its germ plasm to a point where genes from corn and soy to improve yield, drought tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency can be implanted into the wheat genome.

Looming challenge to seed developers

Monsanto could start field testing genetically modified wheat by 2012 and deliver the variety to the market in the next decade, said a spokesperson for the company.

With not a single genetically engineered wheat variety on the market, and a pressing need to feed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050, seed developers are beginning to grasp the challenge looming just ahead.

While traditional wheat breeding has been accelerated by modern science, it is still no match for the potential of genetic engineering. Isolating a drought-tolerant or nitrogen-efficient gene through crossbreeding different species -- even with today's molecular marker technology -- can take up to 20 years.

In theory, genetic engineering can cut that time in half, even less. But there are other factors that are keeping genetic engineering research stalled.

According to Mark Sorrells, a researcher in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, the major factor holding back the technology is regulation, which can cost companies millions. More precisely, it costs between $100 million and $150 million to develop genetically engineered crops before they hit the market, according to a spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

In addition, unpredictable results might require multiple attempts at placing the transplanted gene into a wheat genome. And although official reports claim that bioengineered crops are no less safe than traditional ones, many people -- especially in Europe -- still refuse to accept them as a food crop.

But despite the costs, scientific uncertainty and public skepticism, even traditional plant breeders agree that genetic manipulation, along with age-old methods, is needed to keep the world fed through the next 40 years. The two approaches are complementary; both have their place.

And whether for transgenic or traditional breeding research, recent private investment in wheat has elicited a sigh of relief for many in the industry.

"There's only so much public investment that will go through research," said Jane DeMarchi, director of government affairs for research and technology at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). "If we limit ourselves to just public investment, we might not see the innovation we need for our crop to reach its potential."

Hybrid wheat, approaching the 'holy grail'

Like Monsanto, Syngenta, the third-largest seed company in the world, is looking to corn, wheat's competitor on the global market, for clues on making heartier varieties. The company is developing a hybrid variety of wheat -- a cross between two species of the same genus -- that is impossible to create in nature.

Hybrids are often much more vigorous than their inbred versions. In the case of corn, the hybrid variety far outyields its non-hybrid version, and responds better to fertilizer, as well.

"Hybrid wheat has been holy grail for people in wheat genetics," said John Bloomer, head of cereals for Syngenta. That's because hybrids are a moneymaker for seed companies, who can resell the choice variety every year. Otherwise, farmers would simply save the seeds themselves.

Since wheat naturally pollinates itself, cross-pollinating two parents from different varieties to create a hybrid is impossible without some genetic prodding. Expensive biotechnology is needed to correct this has inhibited hybrid research. Syngenta is using its experience from the development of hybrid barley -- a close relative to wheat -- to develop a hybrid variety of wheat.

For fighting climate change, research has centered on strengthening the rooting structure of wheat, enhancing the intake of water, increasing the plant's biomass and facilitating CO2 absorption.

Last year, Syngenta partnered with CIMMYT, a Mexico-based nonprofit corn and wheat research and training center, to do some more advanced wheat research. Using advanced genetic marker technology and traditional seed banks, the partnership seeks to develop both native and genetically modified traits for wheat. The company did not disclose its financial investment in the partnership.

"We're looking at genetics, native traits, GM approaches, seed care products," said Bloomer. "We're looking at all the tools possible to make plants utilize water better."


Blogger ninest123 said...

ninest123 16.02
gucci outlet, ray ban sunglasses, nike outlet, oakley sunglasses, tiffany and co, ugg boots, replica watches, ray ban sunglasses, tory burch outlet, prada outlet, ugg boots, polo ralph lauren outlet, oakley sunglasses, louboutin shoes, louis vuitton, michael kors outlet, replica watches, louboutin outlet, michael kors outlet, christian louboutin outlet, michael kors outlet, cheap oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton outlet, michael kors outlet, longchamp, nike air max, burberry outlet online, nike air max, tiffany jewelry, louis vuitton outlet, michael kors outlet, burberry, longchamp outlet, chanel handbags, ray ban sunglasses, louboutin, oakley sunglasses, jordan shoes, prada handbags, uggs on sale, polo ralph lauren outlet, longchamp outlet, michael kors, nike free, oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton, ugg boots, louis vuitton, ugg boots

12:51 AM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

hogan, true religion jeans, hollister pas cher, nike huarache, lululemon, nike air max, michael kors, air max, ray ban pas cher, converse pas cher, nike blazer, oakley pas cher, hermes, north face, nike air max, burberry, vans pas cher, north face, nike roshe run, abercrombie and fitch, true religion outlet, ralph lauren uk, ralph lauren pas cher, mulberry, michael kors, tn pas cher, nike roshe, louboutin pas cher, sac longchamp, timberland, coach outlet, lacoste pas cher, new balance pas cher, nike free run uk, michael kors, air jordan pas cher, longchamp, sac guess, michael kors, air force, vanessa bruno, nike free, hollister, longchamp pas cher, nike trainers, replica handbags, true religion jeans, nike air max, ray ban uk, coach purses, true religion jeans

12:53 AM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

s5 cases, nike air max, iphone 6 plus cases, bottega veneta, insanity workout, new balance, lululemon, ralph lauren, mcm handbags, hollister, gucci, instyler, nike air max, wedding dresses, babyliss, timberland boots, iphone 6s cases, asics running shoes, mac cosmetics, converse, ghd, abercrombie and fitch, louboutin, mont blanc, north face outlet, iphone 5s cases, nike roshe, giuseppe zanotti, iphone 6 cases, north face outlet, reebok shoes, chi flat iron, oakley, nfl jerseys, soccer shoes, ray ban, vans shoes, hollister, p90x workout, jimmy choo shoes, herve leger, ferragamo shoes, celine handbags, ipad cases, baseball bats, soccer jerseys, iphone cases, vans, iphone 6s plus cases, valentino shoes, birkin bag, beats by dre

12:57 AM  
Blogger ninest123 said...

moncler, moncler, doudoune canada goose, barbour jackets, pandora charms, marc jacobs, doke gabbana outlet, wedding dresses, louis vuitton, canada goose uk, pandora charms, moncler, swarovski crystal, bottes ugg, karen millen, canada goose, toms shoes, canada goose outlet, thomas sabo, swarovski, louis vuitton, montre pas cher, juicy couture outlet, pandora jewelry, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, canada goose, canada goose, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, sac louis vuitton pas cher, ugg boots uk, moncler outlet, louis vuitton, juicy couture outlet, moncler, moncler, replica watches, converse outlet, hollister, pandora jewelry, supra shoes, links of london, lancel, moncler, ugg pas cher, barbour, canada goose outlet, louis vuitton, canada goose, moncler, coach outlet
ninest123 16.02

12:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home