Linkages Between Biotechnology And Plant Genetic Diversity

Advances in biotechnology will have a significant impact on both the demand for, and supply of, plant genetic diversity conservation, and several chapters in the book address this issue. In this discussion clear definitions are critical: Within both biodiversity and biotechnology, there is a range of meanings, and the relationship between the two depends on which specific aspect is being considered.

Improving information about the nature, source, and value of biodiversity is one critical function biotechnologies offer to the improvement of genetic diversity conservation. As raised in several points throughout the book, lack of information is a serious problem hampering effective agricultural biodiversity conservation efforts. In Chapter 8, Virchow suggests that the value of genetic collections is reduced by the uncertainty regarding the properties and impacts of genetic materials stored in specific seed varieties. The existing and emerging tools of biotechnology will expand the capacity to utilize the information stored within in situ and ex situ collections, allowing analyses of the genetic content and potential of stored seeds. Emerging techniques of molecular and cell biology, and in particular the tools of computational genomics, allow for rigorous classification and documentation of genetic materials and, thus, a reduction in the cost of accessing and utilizing genetic materials stored in various collections (Chapters 8 and 12). This improves the ability of researchers to identify promising genetic materials for incorporation into breeding products, which is likely to increase their marginal value and demand for conservation.

The production and dissemination of GMOs are another aspect of biotechnology development likely to have significant impacts on agricultural biodiversity in general, and plant genetic diversity specifically. The introduction of GMOs may affect the number as well as genetic content of new varieties available for adoption in developing countries. Adoption patterns will affect both spatial and temporal patterns of diversity through two processes: The replacement of one type of germplasm for another, and the integration of new genetic materials into existing gene pools through gene flows. The first is a human-driven process, dependent on the supply of and demand for GMOs. The second is governed by the natural process of gene flow and integration. Ultimately, the impact on genetic diversity depends on (1) a series of forces which drive supply and demand patterns,

(2) the baseline situation with regard to crop genetic diversity,

(3) vulnerability of the crop to geneflow (reproductive characteristics, presence of weedy relatives), and (4) the way in which diversity is defined.

Chapter 16 looks at factors that determine the supply of GMOs in developing countries. They argue that the capacity to adapt biotechnologies to local materials is a critical determinant of the potential benefits of GMOs in agricultural development as well as impacts on crop genetic diversity. The strength of intellectual property rights (IPRs) over plant genetic resources and their enforcement within a country, together with the level of competence in the plant-breeding sector and the level of transactions costs associated with accessing biotechnologies, are identified as the key determinants of the numbers and genetic content of GMO varieties likely to be supplied in developing countries. Countries with strong EPRs, advanced breeding capacity, and relatively low transactions costs are most likely to develop a wider range of GMOs for any one crop, as the marginal costs of adding a transgenic trait to an increasing number of varieties of a sexually propagated species is smaller than the marginal benefits. In addition, the degree of local materials incorporated and thus conserved into GMO varieties is likely to be higher under these conditions. The authors argue that GMO development under these conditions can lead to an increase in crop genetic diversity, as incentives exist to modify local materials with improved traits and generate several varieties, resulting in a higher number of improved varieties, with a higher content of local materials preserved. The impacts on diversity also depend on what the GMO varieties are replacing; the implications are quite different if they are replacing a few conventionally bred modern varieties versus landrace populations.

The introduction of GMO varieties may also affect diversity through gene flows from transgenics to other planted varieties (Chapter 12). Managing undesired gene flows is an important aspect of biosafety regulation, but the degree to which gene flows pose a risk to biodiversity conservation and the degree to which regulations will be effective in managing such risks are still unknown.

Apart from the technology and products of biotechnology per se, several authors raised concerns about the impacts of the institutional changes accompanying biotechnology on diversity conservation. Chapter 3 argues that biotechnology-induced changes in IPR regimes increase the privatization of knowledge and could increase the costs of accessing breeding materials. Therefore, stringent IPR regimes may well reduce the capacity of breeders in developing countries and the CGLAR centers to access new materials and technologies. They also note that the absence of transparent and well-functioning biosafety regulations are likely to restrict access, as suppliers of the technology may be unwilling to enter such markets. Public sector access to genetic materials is a critical concern since it is this sector that will be focused on crops of most importance to the poor, which in many cases are not commercially attractive. IPRs have also been associated with increases in the number of new varieties developed. Chapter 15 argues that IPRs were a crucial stimulant to the development of private sector research and development in canola, leading to an explosion in the number of new varieties developed. However, Graff and Zilberman describe the current situation with IPRs in agricultural biotechnology as an anti-commons climate, restricting both public and private sector access to technologies and thus development of new varieties. Chapter 2 discusses the implications of changing IPRs under impetus from the TRIPS agreement of the World Trade Organization on agricultural biodiversity, finding the potential for both positive and negative impacts. These chapters indicate that the numbers, genetic content, and accessibility of improved varieties are changing in response to institutional changes associated with biotechnology; however, assessing the impacts on plant genetic diversity conservation is again a function of how diversity is defined.

Overall, the analyses in this book indicate that agricultural biodiversity and biotechnology are co-evolving, with a number of different points of intersection. The adoption of transgenic products may harm or enhance crop biodiversity. The new tools of biotechnology improve our capacity to interpret and utilize agricultural biodiversity. Improvements in the conservation of plant genetic diversity are likely to increase the productivity and value of agricultural biotechnology. The analyses in this book suggest that recognition of the interdependency between biotechnology and biodiversity is critical to the achievement of sound policy design for the management of agricultural biotechnology and biodiversity in the context of economic development.

0 0

Post a comment