Rice biotechnology appears to have increased the demand for rice germplasm rather than reducing it. Some techniques have been particularly important in stimulating more use of rice germplasm. These include the early tissue culture and embryo rescue techniques that allowed the use of traits from wild and weedy relatives, the marker-aided selection, gene cloning and transformation. Recent work at Cornell to identify hidden alleles in rice has shown the potential of wild and weedy relatives as sources of genes to increase yields and reduce pest and disease attacks.
There appears to be no threat that the possibilities for importing genes from other plants and animals will reduce the demand for rice biodiversity. The demand of rice scientists for traits from other crops will not soon exceed the demand for rice genes, markers and traits by non-rice scientists. The use of Bt may have reduced the search for resistance to certain pests like yellow stem borer. However, there do not appear to be many more Bts on the horizon.
Thus, Evenson's arguments for the complete collection and evaluation of genetic resources are strengthened by the changes due to biotechnology, not reduced by them. IRRI seems to be making some headway in that direction with its grant to collect most of the landraces and wild and weedy relatives. IRRI and many of the national rice collections could use more money for evaluation of the collections - particularly using the new techniques of biotechnology. If Evenson's numbers on the present value of rice biodiversity are in the right ballpark, increases in spending on these activities could easily be justified also. Experiments with in situ preservation may also be justified.
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