Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is the practical implementation of molecular biology. While the scientific importance of molecular biology is beyond question, there is grave doubt concerning its immediate practical value, particularly in crop improvement. Commercial firms responsible for much of the research, and the genetic engineering in plants, have to attract venture capital. These firms inevitably tend to be somewhat over-optimistic concerning the prospects of their genetic engineering. Similar work is being conducted in universities but, here too, there is a tendency to over-optimism, because research grants have to be obtained and renewed.

The possibility of transgenic resistance has some tempting features. For example, a gene for resistance can be put into an existing, susceptible, but high quality, cultivar without significantly altering the qualities of that cultivar. This is a kind of 'instant' resistance without any difficult plant breeding. Unfortunately, this kind of resistance is almost certain to be unstable, and to be temporary resistance. Any resistance mechanism that is genetically controlled by a single gene is likely to be within the capacity for micro-evolution of the parasite (see 10.6). And any transgenic resistance that involved more than one gene would significantly alter the characteristics of the recipient cultivar. In practice, it is found that transgenic plants can be significantly altered, even spoiled, by this treatment.

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