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[P]
First whole plant genome read

By spiralx in News
Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:59:24 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

In a collaborative effort involving laboratories across the globe, scientists have finished reading the entire genetic code of Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress. This is the first plant to have its genetic sequence read, and some scientists have said that they consider it an even more important development than the soon-to-be-completed Human Genome Project, because malnutrition kills far more people than genetic diseases do, and so the potential benefits to mankind as a whole are far greater.


One of the reasons Arabidopsis was chosen was that its genome is tiny even compared to other plants. Whereas maize has 2,500 Mb (million base pairs) and wheat has 16,000 Mb, Arabidopsis has only about 120 Mb, although contained within this is a complete set of genes for controlling developmental patterns, metabolism, responses to environmental cues and disease resistance, making it useful for research into a number of areas. As well as its small genome, its short life span and prolific seed production have also helped to make it an ideal choice for scientists to study and use in experiments.

However so far less than 10% of the plant's 26,000 genes have been studied to determine their effects, despite a large and open research community. But with this development, four years ahead of schedule, it is hoped that the pace of research will pick up.

It is hoped that advances in plant genetics such as this will enable scientists to develop superior strains of crop plants such as rice, wheat, soya and maize. Indeed, genes from Arabidopsis have already been used to double the yield from oilseed rape and to increase the disease resistance of wheat. An effort is underway to sequence the genome of rice, the staple food for half of the world's population.

It is estimated that the world's population will have doubled by 2050, and food production will have to increase by at least the same factor to ensure that everyone can be fed. Methods such as the use of biological fertilizers, pest control and soil and water conservation can all be used to increase agricultural productivity, but it is the use of transgenic plant varieties that seems to hold out the most promise of acheiving the necessary increase in productivity, especially in areas where conditions are marginal at best.

However of course, not everyone agrees that genetically engineered crops will solve the problem of hunger. Many argue that shortages are related to social, economic and political factors rather than any real shortage, and that any attempt to provide more food without addressing these issues is doomed to failure. Others argue that transgenic crops could pose biological dangers both to humans and animals as well as other crops.

Are transgenic crops a good thing, or should be be looking for alternative solutions instead?

The paper on the sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana can be found here at Nature.

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Related Links
o finished reading the entire genetic code
o Human Genome Project
o large and open research community
o genome of rice
o will have to increase by at least the same factor
o not everyone agrees
o transgenic crops could pose biological dangers
o here at Nature
o Also by spiralx


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First whole plant genome read | 18 comments (18 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
GM is good *and* we should seek alternatives (4.33 / 3) (#1)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 08:34:52 AM EST

I don't understand the fuss over GM crops. I can see that there are issues with some particular crops, such as increased levels of "natural" pesticide in crops that have had their pest resistance enhanced, or a risk of cross pollination with wild varieties. But I don't see these as major issues for the whole concept of GM.

Unfortunately the Green movement has exhibited a knee-jerk reaction to GM foods which has succeeded only in obscuring the genuine need to examine new GM crops carefully and evaluate the risks they pose.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

GM is *EVIL*, we should seek regulatory measures (2.50 / 2) (#2)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:24:00 AM EST

As an example, Monsanto is currently suing Percy Schmeise, a Canadian farmer for "Seen Piracy", who claims to have had Monsanto Roundup Ready canola (rape seed) plants infect his property from seed blown in by passing trucks. Monsanto argues that he has grown these plants on purpose and must pay the hefty licensing fees. Ironically, the Roundup Ready seed has blown pollen all over his crops, thus destroying generations worth of cross breeding he and his family have engaged in over the life of their farm.

So, Monsanto gets to destroy his family's lifelong cross breeding work, claim damages for intellectual property violations, and in the process force everyone to become dependent on their product every planting cycle.

I do NOT consider this a good outcome.

--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

jesus, using Monsanto as an example is ludicrous (4.00 / 3) (#3)
by boxed on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:42:55 AM EST

Using Monsanto as an example to show that GM is evil is just as rational as using Hitler as an example to show that Europeans are evil.

Monsanto is evil, not because of what technology they use, but for what they use it for.

[ Parent ]

Divorcing advances from their uses brought nukes (none / 0) (#4)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:53:56 AM EST

Look, it's not rational to divorce a huge scientific advance from it's potential harm throughout society, and thus claim it's wonderful while the world suffers. Monsanto is one of the primary developers of Genetically Modified agribusiness. THEY are who benefits from these advances, not you or I. Until that changes, I argue we citizens need to lobby our respective congressional and parlimentory legislators to enact strong regulatory control over agribusiness. These companies are fucking with the world's food supply. The FOOD SUPPLY! This is nothing to triffle over, nor is it a cause for political ideology. If nuclear power showed us anything, it is that we must tread very carefully with revolutionary technological advances.

--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

Comparable how? (2.33 / 3) (#9)
by meeth on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:54:36 AM EST

Yes, a farmer being sued by a biotech company is certainly comparable to the threat of extinction posed by nuclear weapons. Silly me to not have seen it immediately.

[ Parent ]
Interesting Parallel - Different Concept (4.33 / 3) (#10)
by Mad Hughagi on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:16:19 AM EST

Nuclear power was developed with the main intent of being used as a weapon. The governments of the various world powers pushed successful scientists into working on developing it as a weapon over fear that the enemy would achieve the end goal first. Most of the key players that helped do the research deeply regretted it afterwords - not because they had unlocked a new source for vast amounts of energy, but because it was applied in the worst way possible.

Now take a look at these genetic corporations - they lure scientists into their organizations with money and the surface level outlook of "hey, we're going to help improve the world, and make money at the same time". These scientists do very good work (partly because these corporations can afford to have the best equipment while the general scientific community is at a disadvantage - government funding for science? Nah, we need more tax breaks). So the scientists make a couple breakthroughs, and instead of it being openly dealt with like most matters in the scientific community the company hides the research away to protect it's financial investment. This is where the problem lies. The corporations aren't going to explore all the different aspects of their modifications as rigorously as the the general community since they aren't in it for the advancements - they're in it for the money!!!

Maybe in 10 years we'll hear about Dr. Regret that feels terrible about how his modified gene was the one that caused an ecological disaster, but who's going to pay for the damages then?

In the end I'd like to critique your opening sentence, not in the effort to downplay what you have said in your post, as it is very valid, but simply to make a fine distinction as to the role of scientific advancement.

It is rational to exclude scientific advances from their ethical or moral implications simply because science doesn't have anything to do with the way in which it is applied - it is simply a means for describing our reality. The application of science, however, is very closely tied in to ethics. Application of research and the act of doing research are two very different things. This is where I think most environmentalists fail to see the distinction. I myself am very environmentally concerned, however I believe it has a lot more to do with our society at the cultural and social levels as opposed to what areas of research we study. If the motive of any organization is money or power then science will be applied without taking a neutral, well thought out course of action simply because money and power are self-serving and aren't optimized by being "fair".


HUGHAGI INDUSTRIES

We don't make the products you like, we make you like the products we make.
[ Parent ]

Just so we're clear (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:56:28 AM EST

I have not once suggested in these posts or otherwise that we abolish scientific experimentation or prevent research simply because the *science* is wrong. If you read my posts you'll note that I encourage strong regulation of agribusiness because of the serious potential for environmetnal and social disaster should this technology be misused, as well as because agribusiness is already showing that they do not have the ethical wherewithall to police their own ranks by sound policy. What's going on right now is a travesty of justice socially, and a potential minefield environmentally, with little foresight and planning by policymakers.

--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

More an argument against GM patents (4.00 / 1) (#5)
by squigly on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:59:41 AM EST

If Monsanto had produced these through selective breeding, they might have managed to produce similar crops. Does this mean that GM is a good thing if its done for the good of humanity?

--
People who sig other people have nothing intelligent to say for themselves - anonimouse
[ Parent ]
Honest guv, it blew off the back of a truck... (4.50 / 2) (#6)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:10:57 AM EST

He claims that the contaminating seeds blew off the back of a truck. Monsanto meanwhile say that they tested his crop and found it was 90% their Roundup Ready stuff.

Anyway, if his own cross-breed seed is as great as he claims, how come he isn't rich?

Overall a less than convincing case. I'll see what the judge says.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Can you prove different? [nt] (1.00 / 1) (#17)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 12:05:21 PM EST

. ..

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]
The Terminator Gene (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:20:42 AM EST

Another little inconsistency in the anti-GM case: the Greens claim that "genetic pollution" from GM crops is both inevitable and bad, but when the GM companies include a "terminator gene" which makes the crops infertile they are accused of an evil plot to stop farmers keeping their own seed.

So are terminator genes good or bad?

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

GM crop one farm over pollinate your crop: yes! (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:43:27 AM EST

While the terminator gene may prevent reproduction one or two reproductive cycles away, it does NOT prevent cross pollination from one farm to the next. So, you're saying that it's perfectly OK to cross pollinate your neighbor's crop with terminator genes (or other genetic modifications) without the neighbor's consent; which could even destroy HIS business. And Monsanto is claiming that if this happens they have the right to sue over intellectual property law issues, because said genetic modifications will be illegally grown without a license. In the end the only loser is the local farmer attempting to grow his own seed on his own land.

--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

Cross pollination damage (none / 0) (#11)
by Paul Johnson on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:19:42 AM EST

So, you're saying that it's perfectly OK to cross pollinate your neighbor's crop with terminator genes [...] which could even destroy HIS business

If that could be shown to have occured then I suggest that the damaged neighbour could (or at least, should be able to) sue the person who caused the damage. Just the same as if I sprayed my field with herbicide and carelessly hit my neigbour's field, destroying large amounts of his crop. I'm not familiar with the law in such matters, but I imagine there is plenty of it.

The only situation this does not address is the Soil Association rules, which could cause an organic farm to be decertified because someone 5 miles upwind has planted a GM crop. I'm not sure how this case should be handled: on the one hand, to an organic farmer decertification is a major loss which has been directly caused by the growing of GM crops. OTOH it seems to me that the Soil Association is being unnecessarily strict in its rules, and the right thing to do is fix the certification rules.

And Monsanto is claiming that if [accidental cross-pollination] happens they have the right to sue over intellectual property law issues

AFAIK they have never claimed that. Their case is that this guy deliberately planted a crop with pirate seed and is now lying about it. Which is a very different matter.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Of course Percy claims different (none / 0) (#16)
by maynard on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 12:03:24 PM EST

I note that you seem to be showing a presumption of responsiblilty on the part of Percy, the farmer, simply because Monsanto's laywers claim it is so. The case hasn't gone to court yet, and no evidence has been placed in the public record. Percy claims that he did not willingly or desire to use Monsanto's Roundup Ready rape seed, and that they have destroyed his carefully culled seed over a lifetime of crop generations. Do you automatically assume Monsanto is right in their claims?

--Maynard

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

Genetic recombination should be banned (none / 0) (#18)
by SIGFPE on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 05:48:55 PM EST

You thought it was bad that some people are introducing single genes into organisms. That's nothing. Every day all over the world people use an uncontrolled and arbitrary method to combine *entire* genomes. Sequences from one are randomly selected and combined with random sequences from another genome. But it's worse: these organisms are allowed to roam freely and reproduce handing anything harmful onto their offsprint. But it's worse than that: this isn't just carried out in simple organisms or foodstuffs but in vertebrae and worse of all humans. Can you believe governments allow it? I think we need to call for a moratorium on sexual reproduction right now.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Genetic modification is a broad field (none / 0) (#12)
by thomasd on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:51:02 AM EST

Part of the problem in this issue is that many people (or perhaps it's really just the media which is to blame) seem determined that there should just be one debate on the whole, broad, subject of genetically modified crops.

What seems to worry people is the act of inserting new genes into plants. But that's really nothing special. The standard method of creating GM plants is to use an organism called Agrobacterium to do the dirty work for you. This little critter has been making it's living out of `genetic engineering' long before humans muscled in on the act. When the bacteria infect a plant, they insert some extra genes which (amongst other effects) make the plant cells secrete substances called opines, which the bacteria use as their main food source. What is inherantly bad about exploiting this natural mechanism to insert genes which are useful to humans?

To me, the real question has to be which genetic modifications are desirable. Are herbicide-resistant crops, which encourage spraying, a good thing? I don't know, but I'm inclined to suspect not. What about plants with engineered-in resistance to insect pests (pretty much all plants already produce at least a few molecules which discourage insects. In many cases, such as the snowdrop, the chemical arsenal can be quite amazing). So long as the insecticidal genes can be shown to be safe to humans and other animals (in the case of the current crops, which use genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, there's good evidence that they are), I think I'd be happier to eat the GM crop than face some of the things our food is sprayed with at the moment.

We're right not to fall for everything that big (agri-)business says, but the sooner we move away from the `meddling with nature' argument (so what's selective breeding?) and work out which modifications are genuinely beneficial the better.

In any case, perhaps there's no way we can compete with nature anyway. The crop we know as `normal wheat' is genetically a really strange creation, carrying complete genomes from three different types of wild grass. Try creating that in the laboratory...



Genetic modification is a broad field (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by thomasd on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:53:06 AM EST

Part of the problem in this issue is that many people (or perhaps it's really just the media which is to blame) seem determined that there should just be one debate on the whole, broad, subject of genetically modified crops.

What seems to worry people is the act of inserting new genes into plants. But that's really nothing special. The standard method of creating GM plants is to use an organism called Agrobacterium to do the dirty work for you. This little critter has been making it's living out of `genetic engineering' long before humans muscled in on the act. When the bacteria infect a plant, they insert some extra genes which (amongst other effects) make the plant cells secrete substances called opines, which the bacteria use as their main food source. What is inherantly bad about exploiting this natural mechanism to insert genes which are useful to humans?

To me, the real question has to be which genetic modifications are desirable. Are herbicide-resistant crops, which encourage spraying, a good thing? I don't know, but I'm inclined to suspect not. What about plants with engineered-in resistance to insect pests (pretty much all plants already produce at least a few molecules which discourage insects. In many cases, such as the snowdrop, the chemical arsenal can be quite amazing). So long as the insecticidal genes can be shown to be safe to humans and other animals (in the case of the current crops, which use genes from Bacillus thuringiensis, there's good evidence that they are), I think I'd be happier to eat the GM crop than face some of the things our food is sprayed with at the moment.

We're right not to fall for everything that big (agri-)business says, but the sooner we move away from the `meddling with nature' argument (so what's selective breeding?) and work out which modifications are genuinely beneficial the better.

In any case, perhaps there's no way we can compete with nature anyway. The crop we know as `normal wheat' is genetically a really strange creation, carrying complete genomes from three different types of wild grass. Try creating that in the laboratory...



Drat.... (none / 0) (#14)
by thomasd on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 11:54:14 AM EST

Sorry about the duplicate posting. Bad browser... Bad `back' button...

[ Parent ]
First whole plant genome read | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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