Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Old-school meets new-school

From the Wall Street Journal ($).

Seed companies are using the latest technology in genetic engineering to speed up traditional breeding programs. Instead of inserting genes from other organisms, they are using genes from old varieties (and even wild ancestors) of modern crops.

Thanks to the decoded genetic blueprints, seed producers can know with precision which plants carry a desired trait and which genes cause it. Just as important, once they've planted seeds from such a plant, they can learn quickly through gene tests whether its offspring sprouting in a test field have inherited the trait.

The result is that breeders who used to need a decade to develop marketable new seeds by traditional selective breeding can do it in half the time. And they can bring about some crop improvements that were once thought attainable only by splicing in foreign genes to create genetically modified organisms.

The key to this, of course, is having the old varieties to go back to. That's why it is so very important to preserve the traditional varieties of crops and livestock--the past may well hold the key to the future.

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