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2-plant: New corn hybrid should resist (GE) contamination by other corn pollen

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  New corn is a breed apart
SOURCE: Star Tribune, USA, by Joy Powell
DATE:   29 Jun 2005

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New corn is a breed apart

Since most Minnesota corn farmers have turned to biotech seeds, others
who want to grow non-biotech corn sometimes encounter a costly problem:
The biotech pollen can drift from neighboring fields.

The resulting "contamination" has been a bane for farmers who want to
grow non-biotech corn for export as well as for niche domestic markets
that would pay a premium, from organic food companies to baby-food makers.

Now, a small Nebraska firm called Hoegemeyer Hybrids has patented a breed
of non-biotech corn that the company says is resistant to such contamination.

That's of interest to many Minnesota farmers, where 63 percent of the $2
billion corn crop last year was of biotech varieties -- the second-
highest use of biotech corn seeds nationwide, behind South Dakota.

Raised through conventional breeding, the new hybrid corn, called
PuraMaize, rejects pollen from all other strains of corn except its own
-- meaning that any biotech pollen that happened to drift by could not
contaminate it, said inventor Tom Hoegemeyer, a nationally known corn breeder.

His company intends to complete licensing arrangements and have the
commercial hybrid seed available for the 2006 growing season in Minnesota
and other parts of the Corn Belt. They'll sell it through their own
company to farmers, as well as through major seed companies.

"That's pretty cool, if it works," said Mark Hamerlinck, a spokesman for
the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Hoegemeyer said his "completely natural system" will allow biotech and
non-biotech cornfields to grow side by side -- while also ensuring that
corn grown for specialty starches, corn flakes, tacos and other corn-
based products stays free of contamination by genetically modified
organisms (GMOs).

"It looks like something promising for the future," especially as more
biotech varieties hit the market, said Craig Williams of Stauffer Seeds,
which is based in Carroll, Iowa, and sells seed in southwest and south-
central Minnesota.

The PuraMaize system will enable U.S. corn growers and processors to
export their corn to markets where consumers have shied away from what's
been dubbed "frankenfood," such as Japan and the European Union, without
the expensive isolation of their non-GMO fields, Hoegemeyer said.
Hoegemeyer is chief technology officer of his regional seed
distributorship in Nebraska and past president of the American Seed
Association's corn and sorghum division.

This week, demand for corn from Japanese importers remained weak, in part
because of high prices but also because of the discovery in Japan last
week of a third U.S. cargo tainted with an unapproved biotech strain.

Japanese buyers have been spooked since March, when Syngenta AG said that
some of its corn seeds in the United States had been contaminated between
2001 and 2004 with its insect-resistant strain called Bt-10. That strain,
which produces a toxin that kills the corn borer, has not been approved
for distribution by regulators.

Hoegemeyer said he sees the value of GMO traits that improve corn yields
by providing resistance to insects and certain herbicides. But for years,
he also has recognized the reluctance of some consumers, particularly in
Europe, Japan and Australia, to consume biotech foods.

That led him to use an "exotic" variety of corn to develop PuraMaize,
which blocks pollination from external pollen sources, he said. In field
tests using both purple-seeded corn and commercial biotech varieties, the
contamination was either eliminated or reduced to an extremely low level
that meet thresholds for non-GMO classification, he said.

"It could be a boon for export," said agronomy professor Rex Bernardo of
the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at the
University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul.

Like others, he's still learning about the science behind the new
process, but Bernardo cautions that it's not a complete solution. Much of
the contamination of non-biotech corn with biotech corn comes from
mechanical equipment, from combines to grain bins to local elevators,
said Bernardo, who specializes in corn breeding and genetics.

Hoegemeyer also cautions that to ensure a crop's purity, careful
identity-preservation techniques still must be used as the corn is
harvested, stored and shipped.

The ability to carefully trace the origin of its raw materials is
critical for companies such as National Starch, a New Jersey-based food
ingredient company that does not use genetically modified corn. Joseph
Emling, manager of grain quality and traceability for National Starch,
said he has been watching the development of PuraMaize technology.

"It'll become increasingly complex to procure non-GM corn in the future
because GM adoption by farmers around the country is increasing quite
quickly," Emling said. "So any kind of technology such as PuraMaize that
would make it easier and less complex to procure non-GM corn for our
system would certainly be something we'd be interested in."

Nationwide, the amount of biotech corn planted is expected to jump 55
percent in 2005 compared with 48 percent in 2004, said Tom Gahm,
spokesman for Golden Valley-based Syngenta Seeds Inc., one of Minnesota's
largest seed sellers.

Hoegemeyer, who separately conducts corn research for Syngenta, said his
PuraMaize process will bring conveniences and cost savings not only to
farmers but to foodmakers.

"If you are a food manufacturing company and you're needing an emulsifier
starch to make baby food, for instance, you probably don't want to make
separate lots of baby food for export versus domestic production,"
Hoegemeyer said. "It's just a lot easier to adopt something in your
process that would work all over."

The PuraMaize variety, which could be planted alongside biotech crops,
could be for either human food or animal feed. "We believe that there's
no impact at all on taste or functional properties such as starch content
or protein or those sorts of things," Hoegemeyer said.

He developed the idea after seeing the skepticism around the globe toward
biotech crops in the mid-1990s. Hoegemeyer researched races of exotic
corn used hundreds and thousands of years ago and, after obtaining the
gene materials he needed, began tests in 2000, along with developmental
breeding and research.

"This has largely been a traditional breeding process," Hoegemeyer said.
"Genes exist and have been known about since the '30s that have impact on
the pollination process. It was a matter of going out and getting the
right materials working together."


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