Genetic Resources Recognition fund 1/2

Pamela C. Ronald pcronald at
Mon Sep 29 13:14:57 EST 1997


FYI, I have appended and attached a short article describing the University
of California at Davis' Genetic Resources Recognition Fund  (AgBiotech News
and Information Journal, In Press Vol. 9, January 1998).

I hope this information will be useful to you if you (or others at your
institution) would like to set up a similar fund.  Please pass it on to
others that might be interested.

Please contact me if you have any questions.


Pamela Ronald
Associate Professor
576 Hutchison Hall
Department of Plant Pathology
University of California
One Shields Avenue
Davis CA 95616

tel 916 752-1654
Fax 916 752-5674
email pcronald at

Genetic Resources Recognition Fund
Pamela C. Ronald


        Crop germplasm from developing countries provides a major source of
biological material for the development of improved crop varieties and
medicines. Biotechnologists are increasingly cloning and patenting genes
derived from these sources. Engineering and introduction of these genes
into crop plants and other organisms is likely to lead to major advances in
agriculture and medicine with potential worldwide benefits.
Commercialization of these new products also brings concerns regarding who
will benefit financially. While most recognize the importance of equitable
sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources obtained from developing
countries, few practical solutions have been implemented to achieve this
goal. In a step towards recognizing the source nations and institutes that
have contributed to making possible important scientific advances, the
University of California at Davis has set up the Genetic Resources
Recognition Fund (GRRF). Part of the royalties derived from the licensing
of academic discoveries using developing countries' materials can be used
to fund fellowships for developing nation scientists.

Biodiversity, genetic resources, and biotechnology

         Plant biodiversity provides the genetic resources that are
critical to the improvement of crops through biotechnology. Given the
increasing worldwide demand for food, biotechnology, if used appropriately,
has the potential to increase crop yields without the environmental hazards
associated with pesticide and fertilizer use. Plant biodiversity also
provides sources for new drugs such as anti-cancer medication and
antibiotics. The value derived from biological diversity far exceeds the
world investment in conservation (Brush, 1996).
        In cases where biodiversity has been consciously conserved, the
rewards have been great.  An international system of gene banks has been
established that conserves extensively collected germplasm for evaluation
and use in breeding programs. For example the International Rice Research
Institute Rice Germplasm Center preserves 83,0000 of the estimated 120,000
rice varieties (IRRI, 1990). The benefits to the world community from work
at international centers has been "enormous, with low income food consumers
in developing countries receiving the vast majority of those benefits.  The
total value of germplasm flowing through international research centers to
industrialized countries benefited industrialized countries by not less
than $3.5 billion annually while the benefits to developing countries for
wheat and rice only were approximately $67 billion annually" (Jacoby and
Weiss, 1997).  While conservation and use of plant biodiversity has clearly
benefited food production worldwide, a particular  country where a specific
crop genetic material originated may not have benefited directly.
        There is growing concern that industrialized nations, who have the
technology and resources to patent and develop commercial products, profit
from biodiversity without compensating the providers of the source
germplasm (Jacoby and Weiss, 1997). One of the difficulties in assessing
appropriate compensation is in predicting that a particular gene will lead
to a marketable product. In fact a particular genetic contribution usually
represents only "a small percentage of the total value of the eventual
product" (Jacoby and Weiss, 1997). In addition, the research and
development process required to commercialize a particular product requires
enormous technical knowledge, capital investment, financial resources,
marketing efforts, distribution capacity,  and time and is often beyond the
budget of developing countries and Western universities (Jacoby and Weiss,
        Patents are designed to reward those who make inventive and useful
contributions to society. In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in 1980 (Diamond vs. Chakrabarty; 447 U.S. 303 (1980)) that  a
genetically engineered strain of bacteria that could break down crude oil
was a proper subject matter for patent protection under the patent statute.
Patenting is likely to continue to play an important role in shaping
biotechnology as gene cloning becomes more routine. Whether the principle
of patenting genes is morally or ethically correct is a matter of intense
debate (Gladwell, 1995). On the one hand are those that see all biological
material as belonging to God and therefore cannot be owned by an individual
or company (Gladwell, 1995). On the other hand are those that see patents
as a spur to the process of discovery and development of socially
beneficial products and believe that the real ethical lapse would be "for
geneticists, having conceived of technologies with vast and immediate
therapeutic value, not to try to bring them to market  as quickly as
possible" (Gladwell, 1995)
        Meanwhile, while the debate rages on, scientists are increasingly
patenting valuable genetic discoveries and are working with private
companies to develop the invention into a commercial product. This article
focuses on a method to compensate developing countries' contributions while
at the same time encouraging commercial development of potentially valuable
crops for agriculture.

The Xa21 gene
        Rice is the most important staple food in the developing world and
improvements in rice yield  have a significant impact on global food
production. It is estimated that 50% of the potential yield of the world
rice crop is lost to diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. One of
the most serious bacterial diseases of rice in Africa and Asia is bacterial
blight caused by Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo). Bacterial blight is
one of the oldest recorded rice diseases and has been problematic for over
a century. The discovery and cloning of the rice Xa21 disease resistance
gene which confers resistance to diverse Xoo isolates, provided a test case
to develop a strategy for  collaborative innovation and commercialization
of new rice varieties as well as to develop a strategy for compensation.
        In 1977, Dr. S. Devadath, of the Central Rice Research Institute in
Cuttack, India, identified an individual of the wild species of rice, O.
longistaminata, that was highly resistant to all tested isolates of the
bacterial blight pathogen, Xoo, in India. O, longistaminata is an African
perennial rice that is found as a weedy associate of cultivated rice in
many areas. (Richards, 1996).  The resistant O. longistaminata individual,
which originated in Mali, was brought to the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines for breeding studies in 1978 (Khush et
al , 1991). Dr. G. Khush, Dr. R. Ikeda and coworkers at IRRI introduced the
resistance into cultivated varieties using traditional plant breeding
techniques (Khush et al., 1991). They found that the resistance was due to
a single locus, called Xa21. Using material obtained from IRRI, P. Ronald
mapped  the locus in  1990, at Cornell University in the laboratory of S.
Tanksley (Ronald et al., 1992). Dr. Tanksley's group had recently completed
construction of a rice genetic map with support from The Rockefeller
Foundation which had facilitated mapping efforts worldwide (McCouch et al.,
1988). From 1992-1995 high resolution mapping, DNA library construction,
cloning and sequencing was carried out at UC Davis leading to the isolation
of a few candidate clones carrying Xa21. This work was supported by the
USDA, NIH, and The Rockefeller Foundation.
        A collaboration with Lili Chen at the International Laboratory for
Tropical Agricultural Biology (ILTAB) in La Jolla, CA, co-directed by C.
Fauquet and R. Beachy, was formed to transform a susceptible rice variety,
Taipei 309 with the candidate Xa21-carrying clones. The resulting  plants
were assayed at UC Davis for bacterial blight resistance. One of the
candidate clones conferred high levels of resistance to bacterial blight in
transgenic plants. The coding region was located on the transformed piece
of DNA and named Xa21 (Song et al, 1995). A patent application covering the
Xa21 sequence was filed in 1995.
        Once cloned, there was tremendous international and commercial
interest in using this gene to develop modern crop varieties. Species of
Xanthomonas infect virtually all crop plants. Thus, in addition to
improving crop production in rice, Xa21 may be useful to develop new means
of disease control in other crops such as the commercially important wheat,
maize and barley. It is likely that without a patent application on file
there would be less commercial interest and therefore less overall
investment in developing the gene for use in these other crops. Ultimately,
deployment of such engineered varieties could reduce the application of
pesticides to the environment. Thus, the scientists were confronted with

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