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2-Plants: Public U.S. wheat breeder has to fight for funding

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SOURCE: Nature, UK, by Rex Dalton
        Edited and sent by Agnet, Canada
DATE:   June 19, 2003

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[SAN DIEGO] Stephen Jones, a plant geneticist and prominent wheat breeder at
Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman has, according to this story,
narrowly retained funding for his work, after fighting off what supporters
describe as a concerted effort by commercial seed suppliers to get it cut. The
story explains that Jones refuses to participate in industry-funded projects,
and has spoken out publicly against what he sees as corporate efforts to gain
control of wheat farming through biotechnology. Many wheat farmers use their
own seed, held over from the previous year's crop (a practice largely
dropped by farmers of other crops, including corn and soya beans). Jones uses
traditional breeding methods to produce more disease-resistant varieties of winter
wheat that can be used in this way. Several growers and officials were cited
as saying that in March, some farmers - encouraged by local seed suppliers‹
started a campaign to get Jones's core funding of some $200,000 a year cut.
They wanted money spent on projects that would involve commercial partners and
develop crops containing patented genetic mutations. If a seed contains a
patented trait it can't be legally replanted. Jones was quoted as saying, "They
didn't realize that they would be destroying the public winter-wheat
breeding programme at WSU." After weeks of political manoeuvring, the Washington
Wheat Commission, which helps to fund WSU research programmes, voted last month
to underwrite Jones's studies for the next year. The board of the Washington
Association of Wheat Growers, a 3,000-member group that strongly influences
the commission, voted six to five in favour of Jones's research.



 Hartmut Meyer       
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