GENTECH archive


Mutation Breeding

	This weekend, after spending some time last week answering questions
on mutation breeding,  I did some Internet searching for information on the
topic.  Now while I know quite a bit about the topic, I did the search to
determine if anything new had occurred in this area of research and
technology since I last studied it intensively, in graduate school during
the 1970's.  I even checked out PubMed.   In my current research I do not
keep up with the literature in this discipline.
	To my surprise, in a scant hour, I identified thousands of sites and
literature hits that describe the genetics and biochemistry of mutation, the
population genetics of mutation, specific protocols for induction of
mutation using a variety of mutagens, detailed descriptions of breeding
programs and selection strategies for introgressing mutants into adapted
varieties, etc. 
For example, the UN/FAO sponsors a Plant Breeding and Genetics Program.  The
description of the goals of the program includes, at 

 "...Our sub-Programme assists national plant breeding programmes to use
mutation techniques and modern biotechnologies for developing better
varieties of major and under-exploited food and industrial crops. The
overall aim is to increase food security and sustainable crop production by
improving yields and quality for domestic use and export markets, and by
enhancing crop diversification and biodiversity.
The main emphasis is on: 
-Improving agronomically important characters for major crops with emphasis
on marginal and stress prone areas 
-Improving local, often "neglected" crop species 
-Improvement and domestication of plant species with potential value as food
and export products 
-Speeding up breeding of new crop varieties by increasing the efficiency of
mutation induction and effectiveness of mutant selection using molecular
markers. ...."

	Based on documents from the UN and the FAO, both organizations
positively acknowledge mutation breeding technology, and provide numerous
reports and documents which detail the success of induce mutations to plant
and animal breeding ( do a search for mutation).   They have a series of
publications that outline the use and success of mutation breeding titled
"Plant Mutation Breeding for Crop Improvement, Vol. 1 & 2"  at    The
description of this text includes "...In 1865, Gregor Mendel proved that the
elements of
 heredity called "genes" are transmitted intact from generation to
generation. About
 30 years later, ionizing radiations were discovered. However, it took
another 30
 years to provide convincing evidence that such ionizing radiations can
 mutations, altering genes thought to be stable. Since then, mutagenesis has
 undergone rapid development. It has opened up a new era for genetic
 laying the foundation for modern molecular genetics. X-rays, gamma rays,
 neutrons and other ionizing radiations used as mutagens were soon
 complemented by mutagenic chemicals. It took rather a long time before it
 shown that the genetic changes brought about by mutagens could actually be
 useful for the genetic improvement of crop plants. ..."

	The FAO writes "...The high efficiency of mutation techniques to
generate variation in crop plants has been widely proven and documented in
many original and review papers.  In the approximately 70 year-old history
of induced mutations, there are many examples on the development of new and
valuable alteration in plant characters significantly contributing to
increased yield potential of specific crops..." ( this is a large PDF file
so it loads slowly, authored by)
	In an FAO Annual Review, the organization writes  "...Using
irradiation and chemicals, plant breeders are able to induce inheritable
changes in the genetic background of a plant and then select offspring with
the characteristics they are looking for. Known as "mutation breeding", this
technique has allowed FAO and IAEA scientists to achieve positive results in
a project to improve oilseed crops. ...The researchers achieved remarkable
breakthroughs with sesame: increasing the length of the fruiting zone on the
stem, the number of capsule or fruits, the uniformity of ripening and the
plants' tolerance to important diseases. The success in improving yield and
quality was manifested in the official release of 19 mutant varieties over
the period covered by the programme. In Korea alone, 17 mutant varieties
were released. Additionally, a total of 30 promising sesame mutant lines
were obtained in Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Sri Lanka... " ( 

	Here is one of probably several UN/FAO sponsored symposia on
mutation breeding titled "FAO/IAEA Seminar on Mutation Techniques and
Molecular Genetics for Tropical and Subtropical Plant Improvement in Asia
and the Pacific Region" Unfortunately, it is over.  Maybe some of you should
get the abstracts from this meeting and read a bit at

	The FAO also manages a website for breeders that identifies all the
mutations submitted to the FAO for potential introgression into adapted
germplasm, the MVD, or Mutant Variety Database ( ) The information here was
briefly reviewed by  
...This approach is strongly supported by the historical safety record of
induced plant mutations. Over 1548 new, officially registered varieties of
crop plants have been developed through the use of induced mutations over
the past 40 years. One thousand and nineteen of these are seed-bearing
plants and represent 80 different species (Maluszynski et al., 1991). As far
as anyone has been able to learn, none of these genetic modifications have
been harmful to the environment or the food chain...."

The UN Commission on Sustainable Agriculture writes in a document titled
COOPERATION AND CAPACITY-BUILDING", "...The Plant Breeding and Genetics
Section of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, International Atomic Energy Agency,
supports the use of biotechnology for plant improvement by promoting tissue
and cell culture and molecular techniques through Technical Cooperation
Projects (TC) and Coordinated Research Programmes (CRP) on mutation
induction.  Micropropagation for rapid multiplication of selected mutants as
disease-free plants is an important component of several TC/CRP programmes.
Anther and microspore culture techniques, to obtain homozygous diploid
mutants following irradiation, are frequently used in several
mutation-breeding projects supported by the Agency.
The development of protocols of in vitro selection of mutants for disease
resistance and stress tolerance is a key element in the promotion of
sustainable agriculture, and is also supported by the Joint Division.  Plant
and tissue culture technologies are being used to propagate in vitro
irradiated plants of banana, plantain, cassava, and so forth...."  

	Although Wytze speculated that the original post could be a hoax, I
did find a press release from the FAO that addressed the use and value of
mutation breeding at   as a response to some claims in the press.......

International Atomic
Energy Agency
In response to possibly misleading media reports recently on
mutations in grain varieties and other crops, in which reference was made to
the IAEA, the following clarifications may be helpful:
-this technique has been extensively used for many years and has
nothing in common with genetic engineering or modification, in that it
does not seek to introduce new or different genetic material into plant
varieties, but simply to enhance their desirable qualities and diminish
weaknesses such as sensitivity to climatic conditions;
-such mutant varieties are officially released by governmental authorities
after review;
-it does not involve any systematic irradiation of food items to be sold to
consumers (such as pasta);
-it does not adversely impact human health;
-the evolution of plants is a constant, natural phenomenon associated
with spontaneous mutations (e.g. may be brought about by cosmic or
ultra-violet rays) but can also be encouraged or accelerated
scientifically where there are sound reasons for doing so;

Please use these links for more information about the technique and
IAEA involvement and lists of officially released mutant varieties;
further information can be obtained from the Public Information Division
of the IAEA.

	In the BATS document (Biosafety Research and Assessment of
Technology Impacts of the Swiss Priority Program Biotechnology) Bats Report
3-98 The Deliberate Release of Transgenic Plants - Biology, Hazards and
Safety  at  states
"...  Prior to the use of recombinant DNA technology, varieties of crops
improved through conventional breeding were, in most cases, not considered
for safety regulation. These older techniques used in plant modification
were well accepted, as was the allocation of natural settings to the
production of useful crops....... In both traditional and mutation breeding,
the selection process efficiently eliminated the accidental, but potentially
harmful candidates..."
	I had a great belly-laugh today just musing about the irony in this
debate.  The public shops in grocery stores to purchase food, but has no
idea where that food comes from.  There's that group that will only eat
organically grown and non-GMO plants, so they THINK they know where it comes
from.  Unknowingly, they've been eating plant and animal products derived
from induced mutation breeding strategies for 50 or more years.  Based on
the garbage science reported here in the past few days, we should all be
dead by now from eating mutant plants!   But we're not, are we?  On the
contrary, we're thriving because of the advances in agriculture, which
includes new types derived from induced mutations. Rather than spending a
major portion of each day working in the fields cultivating our next meal,
many of us now have the time to make ridiculous and uninformed statements
about the technologies that feed us.  This"spare"  time ought first be spent
reading and listening, becoming educated,  before talking. In this day of
the WWW, there is an astonishing amount of information from reliable sources
available.  There is no excuse for this Dark Age ignorance of fundamental
biological concepts and processes, and the technologies derived from them,
that I see in the public and the press.