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Monday, November 17, 2008

Expert Says Biotech Seeds Can Win Battle Against Hunger and Poverty

A noted Filipino agriculture scientist says the country's salvation from hunger comes in the form of the lowly seed.
In an article to be published later this month, Dr. Calixto M. Protacio, a US-trained professor of agronomy at the University of the Philippines Los BaƱos, argued that "biotech crops are the ultimate products of science-based agriculture. The development of biotech crops harnessed almost every scientific discipline from the crop sciences to genetics, biochemistry and even computer science. It will be hard to conjure a more visible product of the sciences in agriculture other than the biotech crops."
Protacio adds the biotech seed is a weapon that reaches the farmer and does not need to be trained on improved technology to benefit from the crops grown through genetically improvement.
He noted that it has been the bane of many countries that improved technology seldom reaches the intended targets and that extension workers are not trained appropriately to impart the new knowledge.
"Biotechnology's potential is to bring science to the countryside even without extension workers. How? Just by giving the farmer improved seed! If we can incorporate into a seed all that science has to offer, then the fruits of science (actually a seed) would have reached the farmer. This scheme fits in the natural cycle of agriculture where a farmer will secure the best seed he can get," Protacio stressed.
Apart from these seeds, he adds that the biotech product may also be a tissue-cultured plantlet.
"But even if produced by tissue culture, especially if by somatic embryogenesis, synthetic seeds can also be produced by encapsulating the somatic embryo in a suitable gel-like medium usually along with everything that the embryo will need- just like a natural seed," he explained.
"So far the promise of biotechnology has only been realized commercially in corn, albeit partly at that. Bacillus thuringiensis corn's built-in crop protection capability has reduced the chemical-related expenses for growing the crop and the farmers seem to find it cost effective. The herbicide resistance also incorporated in corn is also relevant to our aging farmers as less labor is required to weed the extensive corn fields," Protacio said.
While there has been enormous success in propagating Bt corn in the country, commercial seeds developed by biotechnology still have to make their mark in the rice farms and coconut plantations, he lamented.
"The reason for this is that the private industry invested heavily in corn biotechnology research unlike in the two other crops. Biotech research in rice and coconut are primarily publicly funded. However, the fact that public money is spent on this crops promises that the crop eventually developed will be more relevant to the farmers and the general population," Protacio admitted.
The biotech expert bared that government has been working hard to develop Golden Rice, which have genes that carry vitamin A, to enable more and more poor communities to benefit from the nutrients.
Vitamin A is crucial in battling blindness.
Nonetheless, experts are still arguing over the practical impact of Golden Rice since vitamin A levels in the variety are still and research has to be done to boost the capability of the strain to harbor a bigger amount of the nutrient.
biolife news service

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