> The issue is the presumption (some might say arrogance or even
> ignorance) that genes can be identified as having causal
> influences on some trait, such that they can be snipped out,
> zipped in, and presto-chango, no more problems with pest X or
> disease Y (or, for that matter, diabetes, overly tall or fat...
There are a lot of problems and opportunities in the world. A few can
indeed be realized by introduction of a single protein into a bacteria,
plant or animal species. The biotech industry has cherry-picked those
problems amenable to a monogenic approach. Setting aside supposed
unintended consequences (I love to argue about this, but not now), the
industry has been successful.
> The reality, which I think will become increasingly "real" as
> our friends at "M" actually try to commercialize multi-genic
> trait products, is that genes interact. I mean, "really"
> interact, and often in ways that are unintended and unpredictable.
The industry has been dealing with this for some time. It is just not
visible to the public. For example, many Bt events interact unfavorably
with genetic backgrounds. Most constructs and transformed lines never see
the light of day. It is the same situation as traditional breeding, a big
crap shoot. That is why size is such an asset.
> The very notion of an independent "snip-zip-able" gene is
> actually a product of faulty, outdated science - yet this
> notion is the foundation of commercial GE today.
You are attacking the self-promoted image of biotech, not the lab-bench
reality. Right now, the most important use for the new technology lies in
mapping the genome.
> Our pals in the life science companies (another misnomer) have
> gotten away with it so far because they are working with single
> gene traits, and often, genes which already exist in a given
I beg to differ. The industry that you so villify is really the plant
breeding industry. Our stock and trade is MAINLY complex polygenic traits.
The initial splash into genetically enhanced products was made with
transgenic technology, because these strategies are more logically
monogenic, simple, and predictable.
But the future of breeding lies in understanding the biology and developing
more efficient ways to manipulate the endogenous genetics of crop plants
than the big crap-shoot approach of traditional breeding. Even in corn,
that has been so thoroughly worked, you can bet the full value of the
species has not been realized. Corn has somewhere around 60,000 genes, and
producing a line is like dealing out a hand of 60,000 cards. If there were
only four alleles at each of these loci, that would mean that around 4 to
the 60,000 power different genetic combinations are possible (don't try this
on your calculator). Understanding the biology will allow rational design
for specific purposes (besides simply yield) rather than the shotgun
crossing-selfing-testcross approach that occupies most of our time.
> They have no way (yet) of ensuring that the transgene(s) goes
> into a particular chromosome, let alone, at a particular
> insertion point.
Oh, there are ways. They don't work very well yet, but in a few years you
will be seeing targeted insertion products.
> So, I am increasingly convinced that it is the process that is
> dysfunctional and indefensible - not just the products (the latter is
> the industry position).
You know, at a place I used to work the farm manager was a nay-sayer. We
(the faculty) would come to him with clever experimental designs and new
ways to collect data. He would always find a reason why things couldn't
work (and in his hands, they usually didn't). This guy retired and we got a
new farm manager, and he made the ideas work. That is the kind of attitude
I find at Pioneer.
This list is filled with negative people, apparently worshipping the coming
apocalypse. Yes, I am scared to death of the population explosion, and
worried about the future. But I like to work on solutions, and applied
biology is my thing (not GE per se). I think you will see a lot of good
things come from GE methods. We are at the very beginning of this
technology. It is like the transistor in 1960. I agree, GE is frightening.
But you think the "process" is flawed. I want to discuss that with you.
Could you define what you mean by "process"? Do you mean GE methods per se,
the approach of modern biologists in general, or the progressivist
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