Help: Genetically engineered plants.

Nathaniel N Horton horto006 at
Sun Oct 13 00:19:23 EST 1996

In article <Pine.A32.3.91.961010081326.28642B-100000 at>,
ANNE KNOX <aknox at> wrote:
>On 10 Oct 1996, S A Croft wrote:
>> Hi, I'm doing a project on the release of genetically engineered plants 
>> into the environment.  Can anyone recommend any references and/or 
>> addresses to write to for further information on any aspect of this 
>> subject??  Any help would be gratefully recieved.  Thanks in 
>> anticipation, Stuart Croft.
>> Email: S.A.Croft at
>As long as your at it, don't ignore the *patenting* of genetically 
>engineered food plants by large agri-chemical companies in the U.S. and 
>abroad.  Protesters of the patenting of living things are really stirring 
>things up in India and parts of Europe.  In the US, we cannot protest 
>patents, but coalitions have formed here that are pressing Congress to 
>debate this issue.  When you consider that any research done on these 
>engineered plants will result in royalties to the patent holding company, 
>it's clear that most of the future research will be done by the 
>agro-chemical companies themselves - you should consider the implications 
>when you research your project.
>- Anne
I would argue that most of the _controversial_ and potentially damaging work 
will be done by the agro-chemicial co.'s, for the motivating reason that 
they need to have a profit.  We (Dept of Horticulture, UMN) are begining 
work on a transformation project on potatoes- my part in the project will be 
simple, as I'm only rotating into this lab for the quarter- we're trying to 
insert genes for anthocyanin production into potato microtubers.  The 
hope is that we can figure out which genes are needed so we can get it to 
work.  Why?  Because having a russeted, commercially accepted 
cultivar with red skin would be well accepted by the growers and 
consumers.  It would also lead to less post-harvest loss of the potatoes, 
as russeted potatoes stand up to rough treatment much better than 
non-russeted ones.  Don't think that I'm totally pro-transgenic, though: 
it's just a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.  
Personally, I'm upset that the potato with b.t. in it is supposed to be 
planted on 10x's as much acerage next year.  Talk about dumb!  That heavy 
of a selection pressure is sure to produce a b.t. resistant potato 
beetle.  I also think that the company's strategy for keeping the 
selection pressure down is ludicrous: the idea is to keep something like 
20% of the acerage planted with suseptible potatoes, a place for the 
Colorado potato beetles to hang out and reproduce, as to not much too 
harsh a selection pressure on the beetles by replacign their usually 
abundant poatoes soley with the b.t. laden plants.  Sounds like a crock 
to me.  Supposedly any beetle that would go to the b.t. potatoes will be 
killed outright by the high concentration.  Yeah, right.  Just a few 
beetles that survived a few nips of b.t. laden potatoes and make it back 
to the breeding areas increases the frequency of a partially resistant 
gene.  What happens if this goes on for say, ten years?  rapidly 
increased resistant gene frequency = lots o' resistant beetles!  So if 
the b.t. concept does breakdown, it'll break down so fast it won't be 
believable.  Gonna ask my Population Genetics teacher what he thinks of 
the whole thing some time.  He'd know a lot more about it that I do, but 
this is all speculation- maybe I just know enough to be dangerous?

	Anyways, gene transfer is just a tool.  You can use any tool for 
good or ill.  Planes can take food to Somolia or arms to Bosnia.  It's 
all in how you use it.  In our counrty, the Gov't really can't take a 
policy stand on things like this without getting into an _enormous_ legal 
tangle.  I'd say it's hands are pretty much tied.  The only weapon to use 
against poorly-concieved transgenic ideas is wide publicity *and* *good* 
*explanation* because without explanation, it's just propaganda, no 
matter how well intended.  These are issuse that everyone is very 
emotional about, which is pretty strange when you consider how much 
information one needs to make a good descision- or maybe that's why 
opinions are so emotionally based...  And thus I see a great need for 
"greater understanding", to use a semi-PC term.  What I mean to say is 
that if you can teach some one else the info they need to make a well 
informed descision, then that is more important than just getting them to 
agree with you on a particular issue in this theme.  The next time they 
need to make a desicion, they won't need to be inundated with propaganda, 
but given a small quantity of information so they can come to their own 

	So what do you think?

	Grey N. Horton
	Grad Student
	Dept of Horticulture
	U of Minnesota

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