Non-GM biotech research to continue

30 Jun, 2004 10:00 PM
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GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) and GM crops are just a small part of the entire biotechnology toolbox.

In the wake of the ban on the release of any new commercial GM crops in WA, biotech research will continue.

According to Agriculture Department manager biotechnology Sue Sutherland, the majority of the tools at the disposal of a biotechnology researcher are non-GM ‹ among them, cell tissue selection, cloning, colchicine, embryo rescue, genomics, grafting, plant regeneration, protoplast fusion, random mutagenesis and tissue and anther culture hybridization.

Ms Sutherland believed that the GM debate should focus on the outcome, not the technology.

Ms Sutherland hosted a biotechnology forum at the Agriculture Department on April 27, where researchers could update other staff members on their progress in different areas of biotechnology work in WA. The range of these projects is shown in the box.

She said researchers were not trying to simply use the tools in the biotechnology toolkit, but to work at overcoming agricultural problems. The solution to many of these problems, Ms Sutherland believes, may lie in biotechnology research.

Like many people affected by the biotechnology and GM debates, Ms Sutherland believed reasoned progress with a better informed community was essential.

The regulatory checks and balances that were in place to control biotechnology research, were already comprehensive, and erred on the side of caution, she believed.

GM research not easy

GM researchers must jump through hoops to get their work approved - consider this example.

A crop in one farming area is devastated by a pest.

A biotechnology researcher identifies a gene from a naturally occurring ground bacteria that serves to combat this pest.

This bacteria might even be used, knowingly, by traditional or organic farmers as a natural controlling agency for the pest.

Through inter-genus transfer of genetic material (so now we¹re talking GMO), the researcher manages to infuse trial plants with this bacteria. It¹s now within their make-up, and contributing to the crops¹ own pest resistance.

But to have the new GM plants approved, the researcher must apply to have them registered as a pesticide themselves ­ as well as going through all the challenges of trialling and registering a new GM crop.

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