Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biotech regulations impede crop domestication

04.04.2003


An increasing amount of genetic engineering in agriculture closely resembles the conventional crop breeding that has been done for thousands of years, and unnecessarily stringent regulation of this type of gene research is choking off its usefulness, one expert says in a new policy forum in Science.



Government regulations that lump all types of genetic engineering together, instead of making reasonable distinctions between differing technologies, is stifling research, favors the efforts of large and wealthy corporations, and does little or nothing to protect the public safety, says Steven Strauss, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University.

In a policy report to be published Friday in Science, one of the leading international journals of scientific research, Strauss argues that the time has come to dramatically reduce the level of government regulations when genetic engineering is based on "native or homologous" genes, or those commonly found within related plant species.


This could free up the energies of small companies and university scientists to produce valuable new products, continue the green revolution into new areas, and can be done with very high levels of environmental safety, he said.

"For centuries with conventional crop breeding we created plants that never before existed in nature, and no one thought twice about it," Strauss said. "Now, as it becomes increasingly easier and less expensive to map out the genomes of different crop plants, we have an opportunity to make similar and more precisely designed types of changes with genetic engineering. But the current environment of regulations and oversight is making this almost impossible for all but large, wealthy companies."

In the early days of genetic engineering, Strauss said, it was in fact more common for very unusual genes to be inserted into a plant that never would have naturally contained such a trait – for instance, a gene for herbicide resistance into a corn plant. The advent of inexpensive genomic mapping has opened many new doors, he said.

"Now, it’s much more possible to take different genetic characteristics of a grain crop, for instance, and pinpoint the traits you want to turn on or off, create different types of crops with improved characteristics," Strauss said.

"Conceptually, this is the same thing we’ve been doing on a hit-or-miss basis with conventional crop breeding for centuries," he said. "For instance, creating crops that grew faster, were more nutritious or had seedless fruits. But now we can target our goals much more specifically and achieve the types of products we’re looking for much more quickly."

When this is all being done within the same plant or closely related species, Strauss said, history suggests that it poses virtually no environmental hazard, and there’s no need to make such a dramatic distinction between crops created with conventional breeding or those created with genetic engineering.

Many of the types of traits selected for agricultural purposes, such as dwarf fruit trees, seedless fruits or male-sterile hybrids, often have little in the way of competitive survival value in a natural environment, Strauss said, and thus pose very little danger of "invading" ecosystems. But decades of work with conventional crop breeding has shown that even plants with some types of increased survival value on farms, such as improved pest tolerance, have no increased success in invading a wild ecosystem.

Right now, Strauss said, government agencies regulate all genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, pretty much the same – a plant that has been genetically engineered to grow shorter faces similar regulatory hurdles as a plant that has been genetically engineered to produce a novel protein. This ignores the widely different potential that two different GMOs may have for the risks people are genuinely concerned about – nutritional safety, invasive potential or secondary ecological impacts.

"The net effect of this stringent regulatory environment is that many incremental advances in crop research are not being pursued, and the field tests needed to determine value to farmers and society are often avoided," Strauss said. "It’s too expensive, risky and complex, especially for small companies and academic researchers."

A better approach, Strauss said in the report, would be for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make some initial evaluations of the type of changes being done with genetic engineering and the nature of the genes being changed. They could then inject a little common sense and much less regulation into the process if it becomes clear that a project has a similar level of environmental safety to conventional crop breeding. After review, he said, some types of field tests should be exempt from further regulation.

Another effect of the current regulatory environment, Strauss argues, is to largely force out of business all but the largest and most powerful companies that can afford the costly field tests.

"Small companies and academic scientists have much they could contribute to this field, and the cumulative public benefits could be enormous, but the costs are often just too overwhelming for them," Strauss said. "We need to democratize this industry, and we need to start delivering to the public the benefits of biotechnology on a wider basis."

Strauss is an international leader in the use of genetic engineering in trees and has taught classes on biotechnology issues in society.

Steven Strauss | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.orst.edu/

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht How much drought can a forest take?
20.01.2017 | University of California - Davis

nachricht Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>