President Clinton and Plant Stress

Robert Brambl brambl at graz.cbs.umn.edu
Wed Feb 1 12:25:47 EST 1995


Hello, All:

Nora Plesofsky-Vig and I had a letter published in the New York Times  
today that deals with Clinton's jibe about plant stress.  This newspaper  
shortened our letter somewhat and dropped some points we wished to make.  
The original letter follows this note.

For US readers, we suggest that a highly appropriate target now for your  
protest letters is the USDA itself, particularly the acting Secretary of  
Agriculture.  It is hard to imagine someone at the Assistant Deputy  
Secretary level continuing to support a controversial program that has  
drawn the ridicule of the boss. (Apologies to foreign readers, for whom  
this must confirm their suspicion of a basic nuttiness in the USA.)

Robert Brambl

Original letter to the NY Times follows:
_______________________________________________

January 30, 1995




Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036

To the Editor:

	In his State of the Union address (Transcript, Jan. 26) President  
Clinton promised line-item budgetary veto of pet projects whose funding  
Congress supposedly has concealed. As one example held up to ridicule, he  
cited a government-funded study of stress in plants, which he apparently  
viewed as frivolous and irrelevant.

Some context to this plant stress study is needed: What Mr. Clinton was  
referring to is a small basic research program within the USDA National  
Research Initiative program, itself a widely praised, but modestly funded  
effort to apply advanced research technologies to traditional problems in  
agriculture and to help foster innovation in agricultural research. These  
funds are awarded following intense competition and close scrutiny by  
outside reviewers and agency staff. Each year many worthwhile projects go  
unfunded.

As molecular biologists who actually study the subject of plant stress and  
whose research is funded by the program Mr. Clinton singled out, we wish  
to explain why his judgement here is uninformed and short-sighted. The  
stresses in question are those extreme environmental conditions to which  
crop and horticultural plants are exposed intermittently, but from which  
they cannot escape; they include high temperature, freezing, drought,  
salinity, and toxic metals. These extreme conditions can severely limit  
plant growth and reproduction. Scientists have learned that there are  
basic molecular mechanisms in all organisms, from bacteria to plants and  
humans, for surviving these physical and chemical stresses. Through  
increased understanding of plant resistance to these adverse conditions,  
we may be able to breed plants or modify their cultivation to increase  
plant stress tolerance and, thereby, agricultural productivity. This work  
is not trivial scientifically or in its potential usefulness to  
agriculture.

Is this an over-reaction on our part to a small jibe? This habit of mind,  
to reject and ridicule what is new, unfamiliar, or not understood, is a  
poor approach for the President and the Congress to use as they prepare to  
re-evaluate funding for scientific, artistic, and cultural activities that  
many Americans accept as normal and necessary responsibilities of their  
government. Of course, no government program is beyond scrutiny and  
re-examination, but the quality of thinking that is brought to the  
analysis should be at least equal to that behind the program's original  
design and performance.

Sincerely yours,



Nora Plesofsky-Vig



Robert Brambl

The authors are members of the Plant Biology Department of the University  
of Minnesota.




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