Friday, April 04, 2003

Steven H. Strauss in Science
Genomic sequencing projects are rapidly revealing the content and organization of crop genomes. By isolating a gene from its background and deliberately modifying its expression, genetic engineering allows the impacts of all genes on their biochemical networks and organismal phenotypes to be discerned, regardless of their level of natural polymorphism. This greatly increases the ability to determine gene function and, thus, to identify new options for crop domestication. The organismal functions of the large majority of genes in genomic databases are unknown.

At the same time, however, government regulatory regimes are making field studies of genetically engineered (GE) plants needed to understand gene function in the context of normal plant development increasingly difficult. These regimes have been created largely because of biosafety issues raised by genes imported from distant species. However, they have been applied to asexually introduced genes whose source and effects resemble those of traditional breeding. This imposes large costs that impede the delivery of public benefits from genomics research....

Regulations that distinguish between classes of recombinant plants may decrease some public condemnation of agricultural GE. If regulatory costs and hurdles were significantly reduced, it might promote GE crop development by small companies and public sector investigators. Given the widespread suspicion of the power and ethics of many large corporations, and the major role that this social skepticism has played in the controversy over GE crops, such "democratization" of biotechnology might be as important as biological advances in promoting public approval of GE in agriculture.

[SciDev.Net posts the abstract here].


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