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Checkbiotech: New hope for green biotechnology in Germany
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: September 01, 2005 07:49AM ; ;

Green biotechnology has so far led a shadowy existence in Germany.
Scientists and entrepreneurs now see their chance. The German Christian
Democratic and the Liberal Parties want to change the rigid course, August
2005 by Catrin BialektTranslated by Rupert Schutz, Checkbiotech.

Among other things, this is also because last year, the Second Genetic
Engineering Act further tightened the conditions for cultivation of
genetically modified plants.

?Under laboratory conditions one can do almost everything here, but to move
to outdoor tests isn?t feasible at the moment,? states Ricardo Gent,
managing director of the German Association of Biotechnology Industries.

With a possible change of government, scientists and entrepreneurs now see a
gleam of hope. Politicians from the German Christian Democratic and the
Liberal Parties announced that they want to correct the current rigid policy
regarding green biotechnology.

For the advocates of the green biotechnology, its advantages are quite
obvious: by means of green genetic engineering, food and fodder crops can
become resistant to parasites and herbicides, they can endure extreme
temperatures such as heat or cold better and bring a higher yield

In principle, modern genetic engineering pursues the same aims as the
traditional plant breeding ? la Gregor Mendel.

It?s with the help of Mendel?s laws of inheritance, discovered around 1900,
that plant breeders try to combine as many positive characteristics of a
line as possible.

The genebank in Gatersleben plays an important role in Germany in preserving
the natural genetic diversity of the plants. It is one of the world?s
largest collections of agricultural and horticultural plants, in which
approximately 150,000 plants are archived. Every year, approximately 13,000
samples are given to plant breeders and enterprises free of charge. ?We
pursue a protective role that is rather the opposite of green
biotechnology,? states Andreas Garner, director of the gene bank.

The traditional breedering has reached its limits, a fact that agrarian
scientist Garner also knows well. For example, with the help of green
biotechnology, it is possible to purposefully bring a single gene into an
organism, as in vitamin E into rapeseed for example.

?Green biotechnology is the next logical step in plant breeding?, says
Gerhard Wenzel, president of the Society for Plant Breeding.

Garner supplemented the gene bank with a molecular-genetic analysis of these
plants. Therefore, green genetic engineering nevertheless still entered the
gene bank, if seemingly through the backdoor. At present, researchers in
Gatersleben are occupied, for instance, in decoding the genome of barley - a
genome, which by the way is far more complex than that of humans.

?We need genome research to understand the functioning of a plant,? Garner

Rice is one plant whose genome has already been decoded. This new knowledge
aided researchers in developing the so called Golden Rice variety. It is a
genetically modified rice variety with elevated vitamin A levels. In
developing countries, many individuals go blind due to a lack of vitamin A.
But the global hurdles are high - so far no approval for commercial use has
been granted for this designer rice.

In Germany, hurdles are particularly high as well, where only parasite
resistant Bt corn is cultivated - on a manageable area of about 300
hectares. Originally more than 1,000 hectares of Bt corn were announced for
this year, but due to protests and damages, farmers have reset their
projects as the coordinating federation Innoplanta in Gartersleben informed.

Opponents of genetic engineering, such as Greenpeace, are concerned about
the allegedly non-calculable risks of this new technology. Gent, from the
industrial union of biotechnology, cannot understand such arguments.
?Genetically modified plants pass a very strict approval process, in which
all risks are eliminated,? he said. ?This incidentally doesn?t take place
with conventional varieties.?

But hardly anyone makes it to the approval stage in Germany. In part,
because of the need for outdoor tests, which are almost impossible to carry
out in Germany due to liability regulations and low threshold values.

The consequences: scientists often continue their basic research which was
successfully begun in Germany in other countries. As a result, a while ago,
a project to produce rapeseed oil with elevated vitamin E content, shifted
from Germany to Canada. Recently, outdoor tests were performed, varieties
were registered and these plants are now marketed out of Canada.

Cultivation world-wide

Up to now, more than 90 different transgenic varieties were certified for
commercial use. The majority of cultivation come from genetically modified
varieties of soy and corn (62% and 21% respectively), followed by transgenic
cotton (12%) and rapeseed (5%).

Global cultivation of transgenic plants rose from 1.7 million hectares in
1996 to 67.7 millions of hectares in 2004. The size of the global market for
transgenic seed was of approximately USD 4.5 billion in 2003 ? a buoyant

Approximately 99 percent of the global cultivation of transgenic plants
comes from six main farming countries: USA, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China
and South Africa. With its several hundred of hectares, Germany lies far


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