Nematodes (Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallida) are microscopic worms that invade the roots of…

Nematodes (Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallida) are microscopic worms that invade the roots of potato plants and inject a substance that causes the plant to create a unique cell from which the nematode feeds via a specialised tube, stunting root growth and depriving the potato plant of essential nutrients. This leads to lower quality, smaller crops. Nematodes cost farmers in the UK 65 million a year in pesticides and crop losses. The cost worldwide is more like 60 billion. Nematodes are currently treated with toxic chemicals such as astelone, which do not enter the food chain, but are

Nematodes (Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallida) are microscopic worms that invade the roots of potato plants and inject a substance that causes the plant to create a unique cell from which the nematode feeds via a specialised tube, stunting root growth and depriving the potato plant of essential nutrients. This leads to lower quality, smaller crops. Nematodes cost farmers in the UK 65 million a year in pesticides and crop losses. The cost worldwide is more like 60 billion. Nematodes are currently treated with toxic chemicals such as astelone, which do not enter the food chain, but are expensive to apply and can make soil sterile, killing other living organisms within it. A team from the Leeds University Centre for Plant Science has discovered that a protein that occurs naturally in rice and maize can be added to the roots of potato plants so that when the worms eat it their digestion is affected to the extent they cant breed. GM technology also holds out the promise of increasing the nutritional value of food. Perhaps one day, for example, it will be possible to deliver the days nutrients in a single meal. We have already, for example, produced milk with a protein content 13% higher than usual. This technology would have obvious applications in the developing world. Golden rice, for example, was first produced in 1999 by means of the insertion of daffodil and bacterial genes coding for an enzyme involved in the synthesis of beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) into the rice genome. This poster child of GM foods promises to provide the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A in the daily 100200 g of rice eaten by children in countries like India, Vietnam or Bangladesh. Were golden rice to be made available in the 118 countries of the world in which there is a vitamin A deficiency, it might save up to 500,000 children each year from losing their sight. Given that half of these children die within 6 months of going blind, the use of golden rice would also save many lives. But the technology also has application in the west. In the UK, for example, 70% of the population does not eat the oily fish that would give them the recommended daily amount of omega three fatty acids needed for health. This could be remedied if crops were modified with genes from the algae that is the source of the omega three content of fish, and of animals fed on fish meal. By increasing the nutritional value of food and so reducing the amount of food needed for life and health GM technology could enable us not only to increase yields, but to make the food we produce go further. This explains why GM technology has been embraced enthusiastically in many parts of the world. By the end of 2009, for example, GM crops were grown commercially on 134 million hectares across 25 countries, involving 14 million farmers. The United States is the leading adopter of GM technology followed by Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China.

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