Argentina developing eagerly anticipated drought tolerant GMOs


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Sunflowers are hardy, tolerating heat and poor soils that would kill other plants. Raquel Chan, a biochemist at the National University of Litoral in Argentina, thought it would be great if other plants—particularly food crops—could do the same. So she started sifting through the sunflower’s genes, looking for the source of its strength.

Chan’s work culminated in October 2015 when Argentina approved a drought-tolerant soybean based on her research. And the path Chan’s research took from lab to field hints at a new way of understanding transgenic crops—not as corporatized invaders, but as a tool to help farmers cope with the stresses of a warming world.

Luis Herrera-Estrella, director of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, has been developing transgenic crops for decades. Herrera-Estrella’s latest work are plants that convert phosphite, a plentiful component of soil they normally can’t use, to phosphate, a chemical they require. That would mean farmers wouldn’t have to add as much phosphate fertilizer to their fields, reducing costs, runoff and competition from weeds. But due to opposition in Mexico, “we can’t do the field trials,” Herrera-Estrella says.

Herrera-Estrella wishes Mexico had started planting GM crops before the rhetoric around them became so toxic. Today, he says, the costs of doing field trials of GM crops are prohibitive. That leaves GM applications that could help poor farmers, like disease resistance and drought tolerance—in limbo. They aren’t profitable enough for multinationals; they’re too expensive for everyone else.

Meanwhile Chan’s soybean, developed in a publically-funded lab and commercialized by a national company, could be a model for getting ethical transgenic crops onto people’s plates.

Read full, original post: Argentina May Have Figured Out How to Get GMOs Right