Golden Rice project setback/Biotech crops may go to poor countries (11/7/2003)

It's interesting that Potrykus, the inventor of Golden Rice, has been going around for some time denouncing Greenpeace and others for causing untold death and suffering in the Third World by opposing Golden Rice, when this untested technology hasn't even got off the starting blocks!

"The first lot of seeds which were given to the Institute were found to have problems, hence they were not utilised for research and burnt." (item 1)

Item 2 seems like no coincidence as Bush uses his tour to talk of "the need for genetically-modified crops throughout the continent of Africa." A successful technique for introducing them is to encourage local researchers down this route.

1.Seed procurement delay hits Golden Rice project
2.Biotech Crops May Go to Poor Countries
1.Seed procurement delay hits Golden Rice project
M. Somasekhar
The Hindu Business Line, Friday, Jul 11, 2003
Hyderabad, July 10

THE controversial research initiative to genetically inject traits into common Indian rice varieties to produce Vitamin A with the help of technology developed by Swiss scientists seems to have hit roadblocks with delays in procurement of seeds.

The Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), a leading institute in undertaking back crossing of gene characteristics into indigenous rice is yet to receive the seeds. A team of Swiss scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus and the German scientist, Dr Peter Bayer, who developed the technology had offered it free to India nearly three years ago.

Responding to questions on the progress of the project, Dr B. Mishra, Director of the DRR, said "the first lot of seeds which were given to the Institute were found to have problems, hence they were not utilised for research and burnt. Now, we are expecting to receive good quality seeds in the next couple of weeks".

The DRR and the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, have the mandate to undertake the `back crossing' task, while the biotechnology group at the South Campus of the Delhi University and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) at Coimbatore are responsible for building the `constructs', under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), joint project.

While DRR and IARI wait for the seeds to start off research work, the Delhi University and the TNAU teams have started work on the golden rice variety `constructs'. DRR has also lined up collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, which has achieved success in integrating the genes into the well known `indica' rice variety.

'Golden rice', is the genetically-altered rice which is capable of producing and storing beta carotene (rich in Vitamin A) in the seed. When this rice is consumed, the carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the human body. With considerable number of people in India suffering from a deficiency of this vitamin, genetically injecting it into the staple rice varieties is perceived by scientists to be a good route to provide people a cheaper option.

To equip itself with infrastructure and facilities to take up genetic engineering work and evaluation of transgenics, DRR has set up a transgenics evaluation facility. It has proposed to the DBT that transgenic varieties, whether developed by the public or private sector should be evaluated at one place. "We have already evaluated transgenic material sent to us by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines under controlled conditions", Dr Mishra said.
2.Biotech Crops May Go to Poor Countries
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - State agricultural universities and research foundations are launching a project to get high-yield, genetically engineered crops to countries faced with starvation but too poor to pay biotech licensing fees.

The project, announced Thursday in Science magazine, will allow universities to share developments on genetically engineered plants with each other, international researchers and governments. Companies may also access the research as long as they use it to help needy countries.

The effort is led by the Rockefeller and McKnight foundations, and by state agriculture universities from California to Florida. Some research institutes also are participating.

The project "provides a mechanism for those researchers in developing countries like Nigeria, and Ghana and Kenya or Ethiopia to get access to technology in the public sector," said Robert Goodman, the chairman of molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Goodman also serves on the McKnight Foundation.

The schools and foundations also will create a database of patented research and regulations and later will make developments available for public use, said Gary Toenniessen, director of food security at the Rockefeller Foundation.

"Initially, it's going to be mainly information (sharing)," said Toenniessen. "But in time, it will be perhaps materials and germplasm that would be shared."

For years, developing countries and biotech researchers have cited licensing fees as a barrier to expanding the use of biotech materials and crops to feed people in areas troubled by bad weather or poor soil.

Additionally, research has lagged on small crops like cassava and chickpeas in Africa.

Major biotech firms have focused on engineering the genetic makeup of the biggest market crops - corn, soybeans and wheat - to resist pests or be tolerant to weedkillers.

Besides the Agriculture Department, state agriculture universities lead the public sector in biotech research on plants of all kinds, from corn to potatoes and tomatoes - but they often give up their patented research to private companies.

The report said more than 40 different patents and contracts were involved with golden rice, making it difficult to obtain the right to a product that is genetically packed with vitamin A to prevent blindness in malnourished children.

Such cases prompted biologists at Cornell University last fall to declare that their drought-resistant rice would remain available for study in the public sector.

Bryan Hurley, a spokesman for biotech leader Monsanto, said the company supports the new project and believes it won't interfere with commercial competition.

"Overall, we see that it's a recognition of the importance of biotech and it brings important new resources to ensure that biotechnology continues to develop and the benefits are applied more broadly," Hurley said. Monsanto has donated its work on a virus-resistant sweet potato to researchers in Kenya, he said.

Hunger advocates view the project as a step forward, but still worry that other obstacles to growing crops aren't being addressed.

"It's very much a positive step to make the technology or intellectual property available, but you also have to have the investment in research," said Charles Riemenschneider, director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (news - web sites) of North America. "You've got to have the research taking place at centers in those (developing) countries."


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