James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

March 31, 2010

BBC on drought tolerant maize/corn

Filed under: agriculture,Feeding the world,Link Posts — Tags: , , , , — James @ 8:31 am

There’s a new episode of BBC’s Discovery: Feeling the World out this morning. It’s only 26 minutes long, and the full piece is definitely worth a listen, but if you don’t have 26 minutes, the meat of the post can be summarized in 8 minutes:

3:20-7:54: Introducing the subject, developing drought tolerant varieties of maize in Africa, and the fact that the researchers working on it as using conventional breeding, marker assisted breeding and a genetically engineered trait Monsanto. When battling starvation, you use any tool that comes to hand.

18:40-21:20: This part is almost hard to listen to. You can hear the raw emotion in the researcher’s voice as the reporter keeps trying to make genetic engineering sound, at best, like a last resort. Couldn’t they just try irrigating more crop land she suggests?

25:10-end. Conclusion. I also thought this part was very powerful.

A few complaints:

“It’s philanthropic but it can also be seen as a publicity stunt by {inset any person or organization here}” <– this statement would apply to pretty much any philanthropic act that’s not done anonymously wouldn’t it?

Marker assisted breeding is not “a kind of half-way house between breeding and genetic engineering”! Think of marker assisted breeding as GPS for plant breeders. All that changes is that plant breeders get more useful information faster.

I’m pretty sure the BBC reporter at one point calls ears of corn kernels, but if this is just a difference between american and british english, I’ll withdraw that complaint.

Obligatory greenpeace quote:

“We really question the use of say molecular markers and gm in the same plant together … And what would concern us, that is, that it would be undoing all the good effects of conventional breeding by then also crossing it with a GM crop.”

I talked about another BBC story that addressed the lack of acceptance of genetically engineered crops in europe back in December.

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