Re: BIOTECH: micronutrient rice

Brian D Williams (
Mon, 23 Aug 1999 13:45:22 -0700 (PDT)

From: "Robert J. Bradbury" <>

>> I couldn't agree more. I'm not interested in biotech crops whose
>> purpose is to be able to successfully douse the fields with
>> "Roundup", in fact I oppose such bioengineering.

>Careful... There are a couple of problems here -- At least
>in my Biology class when they went through plant biology they
>indicated that Roundup *only* affects plants, doesn't impact
>animals at all because we don't have those biochemical pathways.
>So if you were saying that you didn't like herbicides because
>of health effects, you are stepping on the wrong beast with Round
>Up. If you were saying that you didn't l2ike engineering crops
>so some would resist Round Up, I suppose that depends on
>what other methods of weed control you can cost effectively do
>and how much you don't like companies making money off of their

I'm concerned with runoff. How much does Roundup effect the plant life in my local trout stream? How about other local flora? I guess I'm wondering too how well its been tested against soil microbes, and fungi. Plasmids are so sneaky....

>> I have a hunch this will backfire anyway as plasmid transfer
>> renders the weeds immune as well.

>But science doesn't stand still. You can probably keep
>engineering genes that render the crop plants "immune" to
>whatever toxin you want to dump onto the weeds. We just
>aren't at the point where we can do it in such a way that
>it is a multi-gene system, in multiple places in the genome
>so it doesn't transfer easily. Ideally you would like to
>be able to run through the field, vaccinate all the crop
>plants and dump a lethal virus on the weeds all in one

I'm all for good science, even good biotech. "Roundup Corn" seems only designed to benefit it's manufacturers.

>> I'll take a Brandywine tomato over a "flavrsavr" anyday...
>If you are saying home-grown vs. industrially farmed, I
>would agree.

A Brandywine is probably the best of the homegrown varieties.... Yum!!!!

>> I suspect such crops would do poorly in the field, you can make
>>a good case that we have evolved (except in Kansas) the abilty
>>to deal with these "natural" toxins.

>This is true, but it all has to do with dose-response. Our
>responses may be able to deal with a "typical" dose, in that the
>accumulated lifetime risk only causes cancer in someone at an
>average age of 80. Natural selection could not vary our
>detoxification levels to allow us to get to 120 because before we
>never got to 80. There is actually a fairly large amount of
>genetic variation in humans in these areas. The general rule is
>that if a gene didn't impact your reproductive fitness before
>probably age 30, then nature has probably let lots of variations
>creep into it. We never got high doses of toxins historically
>because we learned (either genetically or from our tribe) what the
>really bad ones were. Our genome breeding efforts to reduce toxin
>levels is way behind our plant breeding efforts to increase

I agree completely, especially the genetics part.

>What you really want to do is engineer the plants with something
>like a Bt-toxin that is highly specific for whatever insect pests
>bother a specific crop type. You want it to be highly insect
>specific and completely nontoxic to humans. Fortunately there is
>enough difference between insects and humans genetically that I
>would hold out some hope for this.

Don't forget some mechanical possibilities, i.e. large sticky hairs on leaves and stems to thwart pests.. Plus the lesson from organic farming is that truly healthy soil has few pest problems.

>> I don't know how much lab work we really need. New companies
>>like SOC not only save and reproduce heirloom seeds, but breed
>>new varieties. Millions of backyard experimenters sound's like
>>a better way to go.....

>This sounds like the self-evolving AI approach (bottom-up).
>I favor the top-down approach when you know exactly what the genes
>(or gene-produced chemicals) do. I would agree that preserving
>native genomes is a very useful thing to do because they all
>have some interesting and special features that we may one
>day want to make use of. Saving the old ones is much easier
>than inventing new ones.

I favor top-down when we know exactly what effects (total) the changes will have. The bottoms-up has the advantage of "grassroots" (heh,heh) support.

Here in Northern Illinois a number of farms that went under have been purchased to produce organic specialty crops for the white hot restaurant business here. Many have exclusive contracts with a specific restaurant. Very profitable.....


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