Wednesday, 20 June 2007

It's in the genes

Genetically modified crops, we are told, have a huge potential for aiding humanity, by enabling us to tailor plants to grow in areas where they otherwise might not, and to produce more dependable harvests. It's an obviously attractive idea, and I've always been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that those of us who live in a world of no shortages should too readily turn our backs on technologies which might do real good for some of the poorest people in the world.

Nevertheless, I am still doubtful about the long term impact of mixing genes from widely separated species. I remain unconvinced that anyone really knows enough to be able to predict the effect on the environment as a whole of doing that. Not yet, anyway.

On the other hand, mankind has been manipulating genes for centuries, even before genes were discsovered, by carefully cross-breeding and selecting in order to obtain the best results, whether that be for cows, pigs or wheat. At Aberystwyth, Wales has a world-leading institute doing just that, with plants, and doing it very successfully too.

At present, one of the big issues for them is developing plants which can withstand climate change, and continue to grow healthily in different conditions.

According to a story today, they've managed to isolate a 'stay-green' gene, which will prevent grass from turning yellow. Now that could be a useful gene if transplanted into the right places. Wonder if they've got them in other colours as well?

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