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[SANET-MG] marker assisted selection
Last year I wrote about marker assisted selection (MAS) in SANET.
Jeremy's white paper described below does not really say what it is nor
does it try to deal with QTLs which are the reason MAS may prove
powerful.Nevertheless, there are some instances in QTLs determining size
and yield where farmer selection is more effective than MAS.Last year I
suggested that since MAS did not involve genetic modification ( only
selection is involved) there is no logical reason to exclude MAS derived
strains from organic certification. It might be wise to deal with the
serious issue sooner rather than later.
The article below quotes some snarky comments about Jeremy from
biotechnology public relations people. I think Jeremy is a genius in
public relations. I attended a protest about GM milk in Ottawa, Canada
in the mid1990s Jeremy and his associates put on a great press
conference. The thing that impressed me the most was that an absolutely
gorgeous young lady associate of Rifkin's dressed up in a very
unflattering cow suite for the conference. Not only was the cow suite
effective but it shows the power of public relations, biotechnology
public relations people never were able to place a lovely lady in an
unflattering cow suite anywhere!
Science 16 June 2006:
Vol. 312. no. 5780, pp. 1586 - 1587
News of the Week
A Kinder, Gentler Jeremy Rifkin Endorses Biotech, or Does He?
For years, activist Jeremy Rifkin was the bête noire of biotechnology.
Beginning in 1983, he filed several lawsuits to block field trials of
genetically modified (GM) organisms and grabbed headlines around the
world. Rifkin, an economist who runs the nonprofit Foundation on
Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., said such actions were necessary to
force an insulated research world to confront pressing ethical
questions. To many in the scientific community, however, Rifkin was
simply fanning irrational fears about biotechnology. A headline of a
1989 Time magazine profile called him "The Most Hated Man in Science"
and captured the prevailing sentiment.
Advocate. To some researchers' surprise, a new report by Jeremy Rifkin
endorses genomics for crop breeding, as shown here with soybean DNA.
CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM): PIERRE VERDY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; PIONEER HI-BRED
After a decade and a half of protests and campaigns to ban GM crops,
Rifkin largely moved on to other topics, such as commerce, European
politics, and hydrogen fuel. But now Rifkin, 61, is jumping back into
agricultural biotech--this time, as a promoter. "This is an amazing
twist for Jeremy Rifkin," says Susan McCouch, a rice geneticist at
Cornell University. "I've never seen the man come out in favor of
anything." But, like many others, she doubts his support will make much
difference, as he is endorsing a biotech approach, known as
marker-assisted selection (MAS), that is already well accepted.
In a white paper posted to his organization's Web site* this week,
Rifkin says MAS offers all the advantages of new genomic science without
what he calls the great risks to human health and the environment posed
by GM crops. Instead of transferring genes from one species to another,
MAS simply speeds and improves traditional plant breeding. Researchers
search through maps of a plant's genome for sequence markers that are
consistently associated with desired traits such as improved yield or
disease resistance. Those markers can then be used to screen breeding
stock and the progeny of traditional crosses even before they are grown
or planted in the field.
Rifkin touts MAS as a path toward cheaper organic food and more
sustainable agriculture. And to ensure that all reap its benefits, he
advocates that MAS be used in a patent-free, or "open source," system in
which the genetic information and techniques used to assist breeding are
freely exchanged. "It's not enough to know what you're against. … This
paper is my effort to try to frame an opportunity to move into a new age
for agriculture," says Rifkin, whose immediate goal is to "open a
conversation" with scientists, industry, and policymakers about the
future of MAS.
Greenpeace and other advocacy groups, which have already come out in
favor of MAS, say they welcome the move. But many scientists suspect
that Rifkin's newfound enthusiasm for MAS is just a subterfuge for
another attack on transgenic modification of crops. "This tract is
typical Rifkin material," says Alan McHughen of the University of
California, Riverside. "He still twists information to fit his agenda."
Rifkin does indeed argue that GM crops should be phased out. He claims
that few crops have been improved by transgenic modification--"it's
primitive science" he says--and, to make matters worse, contamination of
wild relatives by transgenes may complicate the process of MAS, he warns.
As Rifkin describes it, his conversion was gradual. After following MAS
for some time, he says he realized last year that it had eclipsed
transgenic technology in its potential. MAS certainly has provided an
enormous boost to breeders, and the pace has accelerated as ever more
DNA is sequenced and as genetic screens have become cheaper and faster.
Although scientists and companies share Rifkin's enthusiasm for MAS and
predict it will become even more powerful, they disagree that transgenic
technology has failed or that MAS has somehow rendered it obsolete. "To
say that marker-assisted breeding will replace biotech is simply wrong,"
says Roger Beachy, who directs the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
in St. Louis, Missouri. That's because of the enormous task facing plant
breeders, says Mike Gale, an emeritus cereal geneticist at the John
Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K.: "If we are going to produce enough food
to feed the world, we need every tool in the toolbox."
McCouch agrees that gene splicing remains a crude approach--like
adjusting an intricate watch with a sledgehammer. Yet, she and others
say, it is the only way forward in some cases--for instance, if a gene
for a particular trait can't be found in a crop or its wild relatives.
The classic example is Bt, a toxin from a soil bacterium that was added
to corn to provide broad and powerful protection against lepidopteran
insects. Now companies are working to add genes for omega-3 fatty acids
into soybean, to make the oil more healthful. "Those genes don't exist
in soybeans at all," says David Fischoff, head of technology strategy
and development at the Monsanto Co. in St. Louis, Missouri.
Nor is transgenic technology inherently risky, scientists say. "It is
the gene and the management of the crop that make the difference and not
the technology used to develop them," says Les Firbank of the Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, U.K.
Rifkin's concerns aren't just biological. He couples his endorsement of
MAS with a few caveats about policy, as well. He wants to be sure the
technology is used in a way that meets his broader goals of sustainable
agriculture and open-source technology--in other words, no patents.
"We've seen too much how the patent system restricts the cooperative
nature in science," he says. Charles Benbrook, a scientist with the
Organic Center in Enterprise, Oregon, agrees that tight constraints on
intellectual property are a concern, as ever more technology and markers
are locked up in company labs. "I worry that marker-assisted breeding is
not going to be able to deliver on its potential." Although Rifkin stops
short of calling for an overhaul of patent law, he predicts that genetic
technology and genomic information will eventually make it so easy and
cheap to produce germ plasm that companies will have to make profits by
selling agroecological consulting to farmers. Rifkin says he plans to
start actively hawking his message on the lecture circuit and in his
advice to business leaders and governments. "This is what I'm going to
hammer away on: MAS should be phased in on the condition of an
agroecological approach and open source."
Rifkin's pleas aside, Monsanto and other agribusiness companies
contacted by Science don't plan to drop their GM research or stop
seeking patents. And several in the scientific community say they don't
need Rifkin's help promoting a field that's already flourishing. "Having
the endorsement of Jeremy Rifkin means nothing," says Martina Newel
l-McGloughlin, director of the University of California's Biotechnology
Research and Education Program in Davis. She and others doubt that any
conversation with Rifkin would be productive. "Let's just ignore the
man," says Gale. "Let's get on with the job we have, which is to feed
the world." But whether or not Rifkin succeeds in opening the
conversation he desires, he no doubt will keep talking.
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