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In-situ crop diversity, wild relatives & GE pollen contamination

by moth Friday, Nov. 05, 2004 at 7:25 PM

In-situ (on site) conservation of crop biodiversity is another answer to the fallacy of genetic engineering (GMO/GE) monoculture crops promoted by biotech corporations. Wild relatives of crops like rice and maize can be intercrossed/introgressed to increase resistance to insect pests and "weed" competition. We only need to protect the wild relatives of crops like rice, potatoes and maize..


by moth Thursday, Nov. 04, 2004 at 11:15 AM

The origin of many popular food crops like maize, potatoes and rice are from still surviving wild relatives like teosinte. The wild relatives are resistant to many of the pest insects that plague the pesticide dependent monoculture crops. Here are a few articles that show the possible benefits of intercrossing the wild relatives with the food crop, and also the importance of maintaining the diversity of landraces, genetically distinct local strains of a crop that contain unique traits for that ecosystem..

Article below talks about the importance of in-situ conservation (on farms and/or protected wilderness space) of crop diversity and their wild relatives. Ex-situ conservation occurs usually in gene banks and are often claimed as "genetic property" by biotech corporations. This places the control of crop diversity in whomever owns/operates the gene bank..

"The need to conserve crop relatives

The wild relatives of crop plants include the progenitors of crops as well as species more or less closely related to them. Crop wild relatives are important both for improving agricultural production and for maintaining sustainable agroecosystems. The wise conservation and use of crop wild relatives are essential elements for increasing food security, eliminating poverty and maintaining the environment. The genes that come from crop wild relatives make a direct contribution to increased production, food quality and human wellbeing through poverty alleviation.

Crop wild relative species have already made substantial contributions to improving food production through the useful genes they contribute to new crop varieties. Genes that provide resistance to pests and diseases have been obtained from crop wild relatives and used in a wide range of crops, including rice (e.g., virus resistance from Oryza nivara), potato (e.g., potato blight), wheat (e.g., powdery mildew and rusts) and tomato (e.g. Fusarium and nematodes). Genes from crop relatives have been used to improve protein content in wheat and vitamin C content in tomato. Broccoli varieties producing high levels of anti-cancer compounds have been developed using genes obtained from wild Italian Brassica oleracea. Crop wild relatives have also been a source for genes for abiotic stress tolerance in many crops.

The natural populations of many species of crop wild relatives are increasingly at risk. They are threatened by habitat loss and by increasing destruction of natural environments. Destruction of forests is leading to the loss of many populations of important wild relatives of fruit, nut and industrial crops such as mango and rubber. Many cereal crop wild relatives, including wild wheat and millet species, occur in arid or semi-arid lands and are severely affected by over-grazing and desertification. Mountain areas, which may possess wild relatives of potato, tomato and fruit crops, are particularly vulnerable to the loss of wild relatives, as these fragile ecosystems are easily eroded as population pressure increases. Crop wild relatives are also traditionally found as natural inhabitants of agroecosystems, in and around farms; the increasing industrialization of agriculture is reducing their occurrence.

Many species of important crop wild relatives are found in centers of plant diversity and crop diversity in developing countries, which often lack resources to invest in thenecessary conservation activities. Additional resources are urgently needed in such areas of high diversity to identify species that should have conservation priority, determine the necessary conservation activities, monitor key species' status, improve the use of these valuable resources in supporting production systems less dependant on external inputs such as pesticides, and ensure that communities in these areas obtain full benefits from the use of these resources."

article continues on this site;

In-Situ Conservation of Wild Relatives;

Improving nutritional content of tomatoes by intercrossing with the wild relatives of tomatoes is very different from biotech corporations using a gene gun to fire another species' DNA/RNA into a random location of the GE test subject's cellular DNA. The wild relative is not crossing species boundaries like the inserting of fish genes into tomatoe. Wild relative intercrossing was (and is) easily done by farmers for centuries without them being dependent on biotech corporations..

Here is a study from Japan and Asia about the need to protect wild rice relatives and maintain rice landrace diversity against the continued spread of monoculture and the introduction of GE/GMO variety..

"Genetic diversity as observed in landraces of rice and its wild relatives enables the plants to evolve and differentiate into various cultivars to adapt to different environments. Recently, however, the diversity of gene pool has become depleted, mainly on account of extension of modern high-yielding varieties. Natural habitats of wild rice are also threatened by various development projects of the farmland.

    In many rice growing countries, the landraces carrying a vast amount of genetic diversity were distributed in remote villages. The number of landraces began to decline in 1970's when high-yielding varieties were introduced. Most of the old landraces are now available in certain gene banks only. not in the hands of farmers.

    For instance, in Japan, collection of native rice varieties was carried out by Prof. T. Nagamatsu of Kyushu University and some researchers of Ministry of Agriculture. Forestry and Fishery over the whole country, starting in 1962. and more than 1.000 varieties were collected. They are now preserved by the Institute of Genetic Resources. Kyushu University. Fukuoka. but not available in their original habitats. In Japan, there is no wild rice and the rice germplasm is relatively narrow because most of them are Japonica types introduced from China either directly or through the Ryukyu islands. Yet. the landraces carried considerable genetic variation. In Taiwan, some 100 landraces grown by the mountain tribes in different villages were collected by the Taichung Agric. Exp. Station in 1943. which were largely tropical Japonica types. Now, these are not available in the mountain villages.

    In China. Indochina and India where rice cultivars are more diverse, the landraces carry a tremendous amount of variations. For instance, rice varieties in Bangladesh are divided into three major seasonal groups: Aus. Aman and Boro. These are grown by the farmers in accordance with the water regimes for particular farming system, including mixed planting. The deepwater types like Rayada and Ashina were found to carry rare isozyme alleles (Glaszmann 1987). In recent years, these traditional varieties have been replaced by modem improved varieties associated with new cultural practices.

    Similarly, the number of local varieties has decreased in the Mekong delta. Vietnam. during the last two decades. Shift to monoculture has occurred also in Thailand. According to the observation of rice varieties grown in a village near Khon-Kaen by Miyagawa (1994). the extension of an improved glutinous variety RD6 rapidly replaced other traditional varieties, as shown in Table 1.


    Populations of the common wild rice (Oryza rufipogon) are also declining in many places. There were three small populations of wild rice in village Pate. Taoyuan. Taiwan. each of which was in natural streams about 1 km apart from one another. They became extinct around 1975 as reported by Kiang et al. (1979). The plants which naturally hybridized with cultivars could not endure competition with Leersia hexandra which invaded into the habitat after some change in the water regime. Since 1980. H. I. Oka attempted to restore the wild-rice plants in one of the original sites using the original seeds, but his trial was unsuccessful. In 1986. a strain not contaminated much by hybridization (W1623) was planted, which appeared to be more successful in the 5-year period until 1991. This suggests that the hybridization with cultivars is the major cause of deterioration of Taiwan wild rice. "

Article continues on this site;

Genetic erosion in wild and cultivated rice species

        H. Morishima and H. I. Oka   

National Institute of Genetics. Mishima. 411 Japan

Local rice growers in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley are struggling to maintain their rice's genetic integrity from biotech corporations like Ventria Bioscience, a corporation that is attempting to raise pharmaceutical grade genetically engineered rice into the valleys. Once biotech pharm rice pollen drift contaminates the local organic rice grower's crops, forget about having a market in Europe and Japan..

"Updated: Wed. Apr. 14 2004 8:55 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO — State regulators have derailed a small biotechnology company's ambitious plans to begin immediately growing commercial quantities of rice engineered with human genetic material.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture on Friday denied Ventria Bioscience's application to grow more than 120 acres of rice in Southern California because federal regulators haven't issued a permit. The Sacramento-based company said it has not yet applied for federal regulatory approval.

State officials also said the public needs more time to comment on an issue that has roiled the 0 million-a-year California rice industry.

Many rice farmers fear consumer perception will turn against their crops and cost them customers in biotechnology-adverse Europe and Japan if Ventria's permit was granted.

Now Ventria, which already has permission to grow experimentally on small plots, will have to wait at least until next year to expand production. "

Article above continued at Northeast Resistance Against Genetic Engineering;

International opposition to Ventria's biotech pharm rice;

America's Drug Producing GM Rice Should be Blocked

DR. SUMAN SAHAI / Gene Campaign (India) 3apr04

The natural flood patterns of the Sacramento River Valley make rice a well adapted crop to the region. Wild rice also grows in limited places along the Sacramento floodplain/delta. Restoring wild rice along this waterway could help the farmers by having an in-situ wild relative gene pool nearby. Also having natural wild rice wetlands would provide habitat for migratory waterfowl. Having perrenial grasses (monocots) growing alongside the rivers' floodplain would retain valuable mineral rich silt from occasional floodwaters..

Problems with monoculture agribusiness is preventing any wild species from interacting with the crops. The water diversions and levees along the Sacramento River prevent the silt content of the river from reaching the soil. True mineral silt deposition needs occasional flooding with the presence of perennial grasses like wild rice varieties to catch the silt. Also having riparian trees like cottonwood present nearby would help accumulate nutrient rich biomass available for plant uptake. Maybe we could finally hop off the petrochemical based fertilizer/pesticide treadmill..

The current barren conditions along the river floodplain are not natural. Before European colonization of the Sacramento Valley, the river floodplain supported a diversity of food plants like wild rice, tule grass (for housing/watercraft material) and other tuber/root plants with high nutritional content. Also present were Tule elk and many diverse waterfowl. Nature will restore this biodiversity if we only give her the chance..

Other info on in-situ crop diversity conservation and effect of GMO/GE transgenic pollen drift on wild relative populations;

On-farm management of crop diversity: an introductory bibliography


Bao-Rong Lu

May, 2004

Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico

Living With the Fluid Genome (Mae-Wan Ho)

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