Human capital

5.1.1 Understanding of biotechnology techniques

An understanding of recombinant techniques is, obviously, a necessary condition for genetically transforming plants. This is a very important component of the process since a successful biotechnology application requires the researcher to have a good grasp of an entire system. This knowledge is very difficult to acquire because an individual must have an extensive background in many different academic disciplines. Nonetheless, many students acquire the relevant skills and abilities in laboratories at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Thus, they are readily available for expanded Canadian agricultural biotechnology research.

5.1.2 Communication network

Participation in relationship networks with a wide range of scientists is necessary for having timely access to new information and application techniques across the spectrum of required disciplines. The GE of crops is such a small profession that "everyone knows everyone" (at least those doing work on the same species). If an individual holds a plant breeder position, then they are able to access the relevant networks. It is not very difficult for a scientist, through these networks, to acquire the knowledge, skills, and materials that are needed for a specific application. This has been called the "clone by phone" (McHughen, 2000) research method.

5.2 Tools of the trade 5.2.1 Trait-specific genes

Trait-specific genes control specific plant characteristics. Examples of some such characteristics are cold and drought tolerance, insect resistance, and herbicide tolerance. Novel genes are readily patentable and ownership of the property rights is highly concentrated. For example, from 1986-1997, approximately 270 patents related to novel Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes were granted in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (Krattiger, 1997). The five major company groups (Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta) hold about 60% of these patents (Lindner, 1999). Although the remainder of the Bt-related gene patents are widely held, this does not necessarily translate into market contestability because only a very small portion of the Bt-related gene patents are useful for any specific application. Thus, for commercialization purposes, access to specific genes that are necessary for specific applications are likely to be legally controlled by one or more of the above company groups. However, since genomics research is progressing at a rapid pace, the possibility of "inventing around" such a holdup before the patent protection expires is very good. Accessibility of high quality germplasm is also necessary in order to have material in which to insert the novel genes. In the past, germplasm was readily available through public storage and dissemination facilities but, with the advent of the patentability of whole plants in some jurisdictions, the best-quality germplasm may increasingly be held privately.

5.2.2 Other genes and parts of genes

Parts of genes or other nontrait-specific genes are also necessary for genetically engineering plants. Promotors are used to control expression of the trait-specific gene in plants. Gene silencing or regulating technologies are used to suppress or modify gene expression in plants. Virtually all known promotors are protected by patents, so commercialization of a new transgenic variety requires securing legal access to the IPRs of the relevant promoter sequence. CaMV 35S, the patent on which is held by Monsanto, is one of the most widely used promotors. It has been freely used for research purposes and has been licensed to several companies for use in the development of commercial transgenic crops. Some public institutions have, however, had difficulty in obtaining permission to use it in their transgenic crops for commercial release (Lindner, 1999).

5.2.3 Vectors for gene transfer

Currently, there are two widely used transgenic methods: the Agrobacterium tumefaciens approach and the biolistic approach. Both of these approaches to transferring genes are patent-protected intellectual property. Other methods have been developed but do not yet have a high enough success rate for commercial use. There is much concern that the lack of alternative transformation technologies is a major holdup problem in the development of new transgenic crops. The likelihood of "inventing around" this problem appears to be low and "... it may be necessary to wait the remaining years until the technology comes 'off patent'" (Lindner, 1999).

5.2.4 Identification of transformation methods

A method for identifying the plant cells that have been successfully transformed is necessary for transgenic research. Genes, called selectable markers, are used to perform this function. While there may be many options available to scientists in this category, commercialization can be held up due to the increased costs associated with not having legal access to the most efficient techniques.

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