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2-Plants: Genetic engineering saved Hawaii's papaya industry

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

TITLE:  Genetic engineering saved Hawaii's papaya industry --
        so why aren't other countries following suit?
SOURCE: Cornell University, USA, by Sarah Davidson
DATE:   19 Feb 2006

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Genetic engineering saved Hawaii's papaya industry -- so why aren't other
countries following suit?

ST. LOUIS -- Genetically engineered papaya that resists the devastating
papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) has saved Hawaii's papaya industry. But
efforts to grow PRSV-resistant papaya in developing countries are
stalled, and researchers aren't sure why, according to a retired Cornell
University plant virologist.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association of the
Advancement of Science today (Feb. 19), Dennis Gonsalves, now director of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research
Center in Hilo, Hawaii, and professor emeritus of plant pathology at
Cornell, reviewed how the transgenic papaya was successfully developed,
deregulated and commercialized in Hawaii.

"But despite our efforts to produce and implement PRSV-resistant papaya
in such developing countries as Venezuela, Thailand, Brazil, Jamaica and
Bangladesh, deploying the crop in these countries has been nearly aborted
or delayed," said Gonsalves.

His presentation, "Transgenic papaya for developing countries," was part
of a symposium on "Agricultural Biotechnology in the Public Sector:
Overcoming Challenges to Reach Developing Country Markets."

"The technology works beyond a doubt," said Gonsalves. "It is safe, but
it has not been transferred to a point where it's available to the
people. Our challenge now is figuring out why and to determine how we get
it to the end user in a timely manner."

The papaya industry in the Puna district of Hawaii, where 95 percent of
the state's papaya is grown, would not be in existence today, Gonsalves
said, without genetically engineered PRSV-resistant papaya. "The
situation was devastating," he said.

Gonsalves said that studying Hawaii's experience in saving its papaya
industry with genetically engineered PRSV-resistant papaya hopefully will
shed light on why developing countries aren't following suit.

"It is a case worthy of study to see if more universities or governmental
agencies can do this kind of work," Gonsalves commented. "If you want to
look for an ideal case, it's tough to beat the papaya. Big corporations
are not involved -- we're just small university or government scientists
doing the work, and the growers control it in the case of Hawaii. It's a
great model, so why is progress being delayed?"

The papaya in Hawaii, he said, also can serve as a test case for
genetically engineered food crops developed in the United States for
other countries, such as Japan.

"With the papaya, people will be choosing a product that they will
consume fresh, unlike nearly all of the currently genetically engineered
corn and soybean," he said.

Sarah Davidson is a student writer intern at the Cornell News Service.


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