Research Trends Crops And Traits

In January 2003, FAO launched an online database (FAO-BioDeC, 2003) to monitor the trends in the status of development, adoption, and application of crop biotechnologies, including GM crops in developing countries. The database encompassed data collected and kindly provided by ISNAR Biotechnology Service (IBS), part of the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR). Both FAO-BioDec (2003) and IBS/ISNAR's Next HarvestĀ® Databases (Cohen et al., 2003) show that not only a diverse range of crops important for resource-poor farmers, including food security crops (e.g., rice and corn), are being studied, but also traits important to resource-poor farmers in developing countries (e.g., tolerance to abiotic stresses and quality traits). The number of transformation events was recorded. A transformation event is a unique insertion of the gene into the plant genome. Each transformation event may contain a unique gene, gene promoter, gene marker, and gene location within the plant genome. Cohen et al. (2003) compiled distributions by crop groups showing that the percentages of transformation events are 35% for cereals, 15% for vegetables, 12% for fruits, 10% for roots and tubers, 7% for fibers, 9% for oil crops, and 12% for others. The most researched crops are: corn (21% of all projects), rice (16%), potato (9%), cotton (7%), soybean (6%), tomato (6%), other fruits (7%), other vegetables (11%), and other crops (22%). Rice is the most common research subject in Asia while potatoes and corn are most common in Africa. In Latin America, potatoes, corn, soybean, and sugarcane are most common (Fig. 13-3 and Cohen et al., 2003).

The FAOBioDec (Fig. 13-4) and Cohen et al. (2003) show 15 and 8 commercial events, i.e., transformation events that have gone through all required regulatory tests and released for commercialization, respectively, in developing countries. As the ISNAR work focused exclusively on 16 selected countries, there are differences between its data and that of FAO. Even with minor differences in numbers of events in commercial, field, and experimental phases, the trends are clear that in all phases, Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest number of activities in GM crop research, followed by Asia, whereas Africa ranks third. European countries in transition have high numbers in experimental phase and fewer in field trials, whereas the reverse is for the Near East, with high field trials and low numbers of GM crops in experimental phases. The last two groups, i.e., countries in transition in Europe and countries in the Near East, have no commercial GM crops (Fig. 13-4).

Both databases are consistent in showing that in spite of the "molecular divide" (Fresco, 2003), public sector researchers in technologically advanced developing countries are forging ahead to develop a diverse range of GM crops for traits important for their own needs (Fig. 13-4; FAO-BioDec, 2003; Cohen et al., 2003). Furthermore, the so-called "molecular divide" appears to exist even among developing regions: The development of GM crops in Asia and Latin America are running neck to neck, with 181 and 199 GM crops, respectively, while Africa has 33, and the Near East and Eastern Europe with 15 and 16, respectively (Fig. 13-5). In developing countries, disease resistance (bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases) GM research is highest at 147, with insect resistance (IR) at 91, product quality (PQ) traits at 77, herbicide resistance (HR) at 72, tolerance to abiotic stresses at 36, and multiple traits at 21 (Table 13-1). While GM research on herbicide resistance is

Table 13-1. General trend of GM research in developing countries_


Number of events

Disease resistance (bacterial, fungal, viral diseases)

Insect resistance

Product quality

Herbicide resistance

Abiotic stress tolerance

Multiple traits_

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