Comment from GM Free Cymru: This is a strange article, straight from the heart of corporate America. Its underlying assumption is that the biotechnology corporations should be allowed to flood the market with GM products, and to control the global food supply if that is what it wants to do, without any reference to things like environmental damage, health and safety issues, and scientific corruption. Rommens is identifying "roadblocks" to commercialization so as to help the GM industry to overcome them -- so he comes from a rather different direction than most of us who might read this note. But at least he's honest -- and quite revealing -- in some respects. The quotes below are interesting -- it's not often that you see these things in black and white from somebody so close to the industry!
He confirms that the process of GM is incredibly expensive and hit-and- miss, and that where GM crops display reasonable "fitness" in the field, in coping with stressed conditions, the fitness generally has little if anything to do with the introduced GM traits. The important characteristics were in the plants already, before they started messing about with them........
The GM miracle? All hype and no substance.........
Review article Barriers and paths to market for genetically engineered crops Caius M. Rommens* J.R. Simplot Company, Plant Sciences, Boise ID 83706, USA Plant Biotechnology Journal (2009) 7, pp. 1–11
Quote: "However, only a few of the many identified genes were tested in the field, and the results from these trials have generally been disappointing, often indicating that indoor effects are not a reliable indicator for what happens outdoors."
"Candidate genes for tolerance against drought, salt and other abiotic stresses also often failed to display field efficacy."
"Despite some promising results for modified nitrogen assimilation, to date, there are no conclusive data on enhanced yield for any transgene."
Summary Each year, billions of dollars are invested in efforts to improve crops through genetic engineering (GE). These activities have resulted in a surge of publications and patents on technologies and genes: a momentum in basic research that, unfortunately, is not sustained throughout the subsequent phases of product development. After more than two decades of intensive research, the market for transgenic crops is still dominated by applications of just a handful of methods and genes. This discrepancy between research and development reflects difficulties in understanding and overcoming seven main barriers-to-entry: (1) trait efficacy in the field, (2) critical product concepts, (3) freedom-to-operate, (4) industry support, (5) identity preservation and stewardship, (6) regulatory approval and (7) retail and consumer acceptance. In this review, I describe the various roadblocks to market for transgenic crops and also discuss methods and approaches on how to overcome these, especially in the United States.
Extract Conventional variety development programmes are often based on recurrent selection systems in the field. Agronomists score plants for important phenotypes to identify lines that display the highest levels of stress tolerance and yield across multiple sites. In contrast to this selection of plants ‘by the environment’, artificial and environment controlled laboratory assays are employed to identify genes controlling biotic and abiotic stress tolerance. The apparent success of the latter approach is exemplified by the large number of sequences, articles and patent applications that have been published by molecular biologists during the last two decennia (Vain, 2007). However, only a few of the many identified genes were tested in the field, and the results from these trials have generally been disappointing, often indicating that indoor effects are not a reliable indicator for what happens outdoors (Mittler, 2006). For example, overexpression of the Arabidopsis biotic stress tolerance gene Npr1 triggered enhanced tolerance against a broad spectrum of viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens in the laboratory (Cao et al., 1997). But subsequent field trials demonstrated that this ‘systemic acquired resistance’ (SAR) was already induced naturally by environmental stresses. Transgenic plants were hardly distinguishable from untransformed controls, and slightly reduced infection rates were completely off-set by greater susceptibility to insects (Felton and Korth, 2000; Rayapuram and Baldwin, 2007; Walters and Fountaine, 2009). Other once-promising genes in SAR, such as cpr1, cpr5 and cpr6, are now also known to trigger negative pleiotropic effects in the field (Heidel et al., 2004; Century ª 2009 J. R. Simplot Company et al., 2008). Similarly, plants carrying the Rpm1 gene, which provides resistance against Pseudomonas syringae pv pisi, exhibited a lower shoot biomass, fewer siliques, and an average decrease in seed production of 9% relative to control lines (Tian et al., 2003). Candidate genes for tolerance against drought, salt and other abiotic stresses also often failed to display field efficacy (Yamaguchi and Blumwald, 2005; Mittler, 2006). And the difficulties in studying stress tolerance are dwarfed by attempts to assess the efficacy of candidate yield genes. Despite some promising results for modified nitrogen assimilation, to date, there are no conclusive data on enhanced yield for any transgene (Ameziane et al., 2000; Jing et al., 2004; Hirel et al., 2007). The small group of effective input traits developed through GE consists mainly of insecticidal protein genes from Bacillus thuringiensis. Discovery of these genes was facilitated by the fact that strains of this soil bacterium have been used to control insect pests since the 1920s (Lemaux, 2008). Molecular biologists have also succeeded in controlling certain RNA viruses, especially potyviruses, through targeted RNA silencing (Prins et al., 2008). A more-recently developed strategy provided enhanced stress tolerance through expression of the bacterial RNA chaperone-encoding gene cspB (Castiglioni et al., 2008). Gene efficacy was demonstrated at both the vegetative and reproductive stages of various plant species. More testing is required, however, to confirm there is no fitness cost to the incorporated stress tolerance.