Archive | June 2014

Is Transformation Really that Different from Backcrossing?

GUEST POST: Benjamin Edge

Benjamin Edge (@edgeben) is a former wheat breeder for Pioneer Hi-Bred, International, a DuPont Company, and for Clemson University. He has released 10 PVP protected wheat varieties and is a co-inventor of record for 5 wheat variety patents. He has taught classes in plant breeding, biology, and computer technology.

Transformation, the insertion of genes into an organism through the use of a ‘gene gun’ or a bacterial vector, is a tool used by plant breeders to introduce new traits to a crop when there is not enough readily useful variation present in the crop they are trying to improve. Transformation results in what we commonly refer to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While some consider this a risky technology,  transformation is actually very similar in effect to what conventional breeders do when they find a gene of interest in a wild relative, and use backcrossing to incorporate that gene into an adapted variety.

Backcrossing is a VERY effective tool of conventional plant breeders (Briggs and Knowles, 1977). Once you find a trait you are interested in, you can move that trait from a wild relative (closely related species) or from any member of the species you are working with into an adapted variety with great repeatability (reproduced or repeated easily). Backcrossing is used when you have a well adapted variety, say plant A, with high yield, large seeds, and strong stems, but with some weakness, such as susceptibility to a disease. If you find a plant, say plant B, with disease resistance, but poor yield, small seeds, and weak stems, you can use backcrossing to incorporate that disease resistance trait into plant A, what we call introgression of the trait.

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Slow Talkin’ Mo.

As painful as it is to encourage people to listen to me speak, I think my first radio interview on food politics (remind me to tell you about the time I was interviewed for Australian public radio about Elvis’ eating habits) went pretty well. It was a good warm up for a talk I’ll be doing this Sunday in Olympia, WA. The interview was with me and Max DeJarnatt from the Center for Environmental Modernism, one of the organizers of Sunday’s event. John Ford at KAOS is friendly, sharp, and skilled radio interviewer. He did a great job making this amateur get through 45 minutes without too much dead air.

The FB link to the talk can be found here.

The Center for Environmental Modernism
Moving the Food Movement Forward
How Good Science, Smart Policies, and Community Organizing Can Change the American Food System
A Presentation by Marc Brazeau
Date Sunday, June 29, 2014 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Location Traditions Café and World Folk Art
300 5th Avenue SW, Olympia, WA 98501
Despite the rapid growth in the food movement in recent years, the major problems facing America’s food system—confusing nutrition information, exploitation of workers, environmental degradation, food security, to name just a few—have yet to see any real shift. Activism has surged, but changes in policy and politics have lagged. Marc Brazeau, blogger and editor for the website, attempts to explain why this is the case by critiquing the food movement’s major priorities, and by offering a new progressive agenda for America’s agricultural future.

Back from the road

Blogging resumes tomorrow morning. Lots to talk about.