GE - Genetic Engineering of Maize:A Report on Work in Progress
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[This is old but still very interesting information on GE maize.
This is the crop in question down in the Totnes site,
though the particlar maize there type T25 is not discussed below.
I have instead included the details of that particular crop for those
interested. Also bear in mind that they intend to plant again this year at
several sites around the UK. The reference number to look out for is 96/R13/6.
T-25, is a variety of herbicide-resistant maize developed by Sharpes. It is
designed to be resistant to glufosinate ammonium herbicide, aka Liberty or
Basta and is produced by AgrEvo. T25 also uses the cauliflower mosaic virus as
a promotor. -GEN]
>From RAFI website: http://www.rafi.ca/
Genetic Engineering of Maize:
A Report on Work in Progress
"Now we know for sure that it is possible to genetically engineer corn."
how biotech analysts reacted when Monsanto and Dekalb Plant Genetics presented
documented evidence last year on the breakthrough that everyone was waiting
for: successful transformation of maize cells with a foreign gene and
regeneration into complete plants that pass the new genes on to succeeding
generations through the seed.(1) Transgenic maize plants are heralded as a
major breakthrough because important cereal crops like maize and wheat have
proven much more difficult to genetically engineer than broad-leaved crops
soya beans, tobacco and tomatoes. This issue of RAFI Communique takes a
current R & D in genetic transformation of maize--the financial stakes and
major players, goals of transformation, and prospects for commercialization.
RAFI concludes that the current frenzy over genetic engineering of maize
in stark contrast to the languishing efforts to conserve and utilize maize
genetic resources worldwide.
Zea mays L. (maize or corn) is the third most important crop afterrice and
wheat, supplying 20% of the world's total grain production.The widest range of
genetic diversity of maize can be found in LatinAmerica, where the crop
Despite the importance of maize genetic resources for the future ofplant
breeding and biotechnology efforts in both industrializednations and the
developing world, it is estimated that only 5 percentof the over 260 races of
maize accessions in germplasm banks havebeen tapped thus far for use in
improvement programs. Withthe advent of genetic engineering, the value of
exotic germplasm isexpected to increase. Recent reports on the status of the
mostimportant collections of maize germplasm, however, suggest that
theseinvaluable genetic resources are disappearing at an alarming rate.(see
box, "Disappearing Maize Genetic Resources," page 4.)
Maize, the single-most important commercial seed species, isconsidered the
Holy Grail" of crop genetic engineering becauseit offers potential for
financial rewards to the global seedindustry.
In eight countries comprising the largest market for commercial seedsales,
91.5% of all maize seed was commercially supplied.2 Seedindustry consultants
estimate that the worldwide value of the maizeseed market totalled (US) $2.5
billion in 1988, accounting for 24% ofthe entire commercial seed industry.
Between 1988 and 1993, industryanalysts predict that maize is projected to
to 26.1% of allcommercially-supplied seed--an estimated value of (US) $3.1
Given the potential financial rewards, it is not surprising that alarge number
of companies are researching new transformationtechnologies, with the ultimate
goal of moving novel genes intocommercially valuable inbred maize lines. Major
players include bothlarge transnational corporations and small biotech
companies:Agracetus (Wisconsin, USA), Biotechnica International (Kansas,
USA),Cargill (Minnesota, USA), Ciba-Geigy (Basel, Switzerland), DekalbPlant
Genetics (Illinois, USA), Monsanto (Missouri, USA), PioneerHi-bred Intl.(Iowa,
USA), Plant Genetic Systems (Ghent, Belgium),Upjohn (Michigan, USA) and Sandoz
(Basel, Switzerland). For moreinformation, see "Company Profiles,", p. 4.
Goals of Transformation
Despite the hype and hubris surrounding genetic transformation ofmaize, the
production of commercial hybrid seeds is a long-term,painstaking process. New
commercial varieties with novel agronomictraits are still 5-15 years away. In
the U.S., Ciba-Geigy, Monsanto,Biotechnica, Pioneer, Dekalb Plant Genetics,
Garst Seed (ICI),Holden's Foundation Seeds, Inc. and Upjohn have already
applied toand/or received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture
toconduct field tests of transgenic maize. Ciba-Geigy also conductedone field
test of transgenic maize in France. Long and short-termgoals of transgenic
maize plants include:
1) Herbicide tolerance -- The development of maize plants
to withstand spraying of chemical weedkillers is an earlygoal of maize
transformation. Dekalb plans field tests of maizecontaining a gene to resist
the herbicide bialaphos (an herbicidemarketed by Hoechst under the name
Both Monsanto and Pioneerare developing maize with resistance to
and Upjohn andHolden's Seed are developing maize with tolerance for the
herbicideglufosinate. In addition to the companies mentioned, others
havetransgenic, herbicide-tolerant maize varieties in the
pipeline.Biotechnology analysts estimate that the U.S. market
seed varieties is approximately $150 millionannually.
2) Insect resistance -- Several companies are experimenting with
theintroduction of insecticidal protein genes into maize. These includeboth
Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) and the cowpea trypsin inhibitorgene (CpTI). One
target is the European corn borer. Farmers in theU.S. and Western Europe spend
$350 million annually on conventionalchemicals that are only 50% effective
against this caterpillar.Ecogen (Pennsylvania, USA) recently licensed some of
its B.t.insecticidal genes to Pioneer Hi-bred. Pioneer also has agreementswith
Agricultural Genetics (Cambridge, UK) to obtain theirproprietary CpTI gene.
world's largest maize breeder, Pioneercontrols 34% of the $1.33 billion U.S.
hybrid maize seed market.(3)Monsanto is also inserting B.t. genes into maize.
There is concernthat widespread use of B.t. in genetically-engineered maize
couldlead to rapid pest adaptation and eventual loss of these genes
biological controls. Just as with chemicals, heavy use of asingle pesticide
encourages the rapid emergence of resistant species.Will companies like
and Monsanto take steps to insurelong-term conservation of insect resistant
3)Male sterility -- Although hybrid maize has been available since the1930s,
Plant Genetic Systems has developed a new, proprietarytechnique which prevents
self-pollination in plants. If the trait formale sterility can be
maize, it could save seedproducers $75 million a year in labor costs for
detasseling (removalof male flowers from maize plants by hand).(4)
4)Corn oil improvement -- Genetic engineers also seek to manipulate thefatty
acid content of vegetable oils to improve their nutritionalqualities (see RAFI
Communique, July, 1991). While maize oil is asmall vegetable oil market in
comparison to soya and palm oil,analysts predict that the value of the maize
oil market couldincrease in value by 10% in the U.S. alone. (The U.S. market
isvalued at approximately $280 million annually.)(5)
5)Improving protein quality for animal feed -- In the U.S.,approximately 5
billion bushels of maize, worth approximately $10billion annually, is used to
feed livestock.(6) Several companies areattempting to modify the proteins
in maize. If they can improvethe nutritional quality of maize used for
livestock feed, it wouldreduce the need for feed supplements (mostly soya bean
meal) whichcost approximately $5 billion annually. Biotechnica
Internationalrecently field tested transgenic maize plants containing a gene
foran amino acid that improves nutritional quality. Biotechnica believesthis a
$2 billion market opportunity.(7)
When to Expect Commercialization?
Scientists predict that transgenic maize with qualities such asinsecticide
resistance, herbicide tolerance or male sterility,manipulations involving the
movement of just one or two genes, couldbe commercialized as early as 1995.(8)
But the expression of mostagronomically important traits are governed by more
than one gene.Isolation, manipulation and expression of these multigenic
areexponentially more difficult and will take a lot longer.9 Consider,for
example, that the corn genome contains about 20,000 genes. Atleast 30 genes,
which have yet to be identified, influence yield. Ina very real sense, maize
transformation is still in its infancy. Dr.Michael Fromm, a molecular
with Monsanto Co., toldAgBiotechnology News:
"A lot of the ideal things that everyone would like are simply too complicated
at this point. Disease resistance, drought resistance, yield enhancement,
better quality of starch and amino acids, those are all very complicated
traits. There are a lot of the single gene traits that we think we can do. The
others are going to take awhile." (10)
Conclusion The development of transgenic maizeplants must be viewed in a
geo-political context, taking intoaccount the continuing trend of global
consolidation within the seedindustry, where fewer, larger companies dominate
the worldwide marketfor hybrid maize. In the next five years, transnational
seedcompanies expect growth potential in Eastern Europe and elsewherefollowing
fundamental structural changes in agriculture and theopening of new markets.
Seed industry consultants predict that thevalue of the hybrid maize seed
will increase 25% between 1988and 1993.(11) The unquestionably good business
opportunity for theseed industry, however, may not translate into big advances
forfarmers--especially in the developing world.
A recent study by Carliene Brenner of the OECD Development Centrelooks at the
potential of new biotechnologies to increase both thesupply and quality of
maize as an essential food and/or feed crop inthe Third World. She concludes
that there are major obstacles to bothdomestic development of new maize
biotechnologies as well as transferof technology from abroad. According to
"The lessons from maize illustrate that, in the short term at least...many
developing countries will be unable to develop new plant biotechnologies
domestically to any significant degree. Quite simply, they lack national
financial, scientific and technological resources, public and private. This
could have serious consequences for food self-sufficiency or
Despite the breakthroughs in genetic transformation technology, itwill be a
long time before commercial, transgenic maize seed isdeveloped which brings
superior varieties with important agronomicqualities. At present, maize
transformation research and developmentis dominated by large corporations,
research goals determined byprivate interests. The push for protection of
intellectual property,and the built-in protection offered by hybrids, gives
seedindustry an even tighter grip on control of the world's hybrid
Ironically, the end result will likely be fewer options andgreater
vulnerability for farmers.
Disappearing Maize GeneticResources
Maize breeders warn that Latin America's most important collectionsof maize
germplasm in storage are "only marginally viable." In arecent article
in Diversity magazine, maize breeders Dr.Major M. Goodman and Juan M.
conclude that the status ofmaize genetic resources has deteriorated over the
past 9 years, dueto lack of funding for regeneration, evaluation and
utilization ofmaize seed in storage. In 1983, of approximately 250 races of
LatinAmerican maize, eight races in storage became extinct, and 30additional
races were considered endangered. Today, 4 of the 30endangered races have been
replenished, but all 80 races fromBolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have now
become endangered. Goodmanand Hernandez conclude that, "Without suitable
regenerationfacilities, without reliable funding, and with, at best,
inconsistentinterest in germplasm resources from the International
AgriculturalResources Centers (IARCs), much responsibility for
germplasmmaintenance falls upon poorly-funded national (often Third
Leading Companies Involved in Genetically EngineeredMaize
Agracetus-- (Wisconsin, USA) Agracetus has used particle gun to
The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of W.R. Grace (NewYork, USA). With
1990 annual sales of (US) $6.8 billion, W.R. Graceranks #202 on Fortune
magazine's list of the largest U.S. industrialcorporations.
BiotechnicaInternational -- (Kansas, USA) Recently field
testedgenetically-engineered maize in four midwestern U.S. states.
Plantscontain a gene to improve lysine content, an essential amino acidthat
occurs at a relatively low level in corn. Biotechnica is arelatively small
plant biotechnology company, but it has purchased 5North American seed
companies since 1987.
Cargill(Minnesota, USA) -- Cargill is one of the largest, privately
heldcorporations in the world. The company is a major buyer and seller
and one of the top seed companies in the world (ranked # 5 in1989).
Ciba-Geigy(Basel, Switzerland) -- With annual sales of US $14 billion in
1990,Ciba-Geigy ranks # 80 on Fortune's list of the world's largestindustrial
corporations. According to an unconfirmed source,Ciba-Geigy's seed division is
spending 80% of its R& D budget onmaize transformation.
DekalbGenetics Corp. (Illinois, USA) -- The company controls anestimated 9% of
the U.S. maize seed market. Dekalb used a particlegun to insert
herbicide-tolerance gene into maize cells. Field-testedin U.S.
Hoechst(Germany) - A leading agrichemical corporation, with 1990 sales of$28
billion. Little details are known about their work on maizetransformation in
U.S. and Europe.
Monsanto(Missouri, USA) -- With 1990 annual sales of US $9 billion, thecompany
ranks #146 on Fortune's list of world's largest industrialcorporations. In
1989, Monsanto was ranked the leading plantbiotechnology company, based on
PioneerHi-bred, Intl. (Iowa, USA) -- The world's largest seedcompany, Pioneer
controls 34% of the $1.33 billion U.S. hybrid maizeseed market. Pioneer had
1990 seed revenues of $944 ml.
PlantGenetic Systems (Ghent, Belgium) Has developed a proprietarytechnique for
transforming plants with a gene for male sterility. In1989, the company ranked
13th among world's top plant biotechcompanies, based on research expenditures.
Sandoz(Basel, Switzerland) -- 1990 annual sales of US $8.9 billion, and
4th globally, in terms of research expenditures on plantbiotechnology. o
(Michigan, USA) -- Upjohn's subsidiary,Asgrow, is ranked the 4th largest seed
company in the world. Upjohnhad 1990 annual sales of US $3.0 billion.
1. Biotechnica Intl. was the first company toannounce genetic
maize, but Monsanto and Dekalbfirst presented documented evidence at a
meeting in April,1990.
2. These and other statistics on value of maize seed market extractedfrom
"Executive Summary from the Teweles Report II," published by L.William Teweles
& Co. seed industry consultants, Milwaukee,Wisconsin, January, 1990. All
statistics are for eight largest globalseed markets, including: U.S., France,
Japan, Brazil, Italy, Germany,U.K., Spain, Canada, Mexico, Argentina,
3. Anonymous, 1991, Genetic Technology News, May, p. 10.
4. Anonymous, 1990, "Genetically Engineered Corn: Breakthrough BringsMarket
Closer," Genetic Technology News, October, p. 8.
5. Ibid., p. 11.
6. Anonymous, Bioprocessing Technology, March, 1991, p. 7. Anonymous,1991,
"Genetically Modified Proteins," in Agbiotech Stock Letter, No.38, September,
8. Cutler, Karol, 1991, "The Current State of Corn Transformation:How is the
Race Developing," AgBiotechnology News, January/February,p. 21.
9. Anonymous, 1990, "The Lowly Cowpea: A Boon to Agriculture?,"Agricultural
Genetics Report, Vol. 9, No. 2, p. 8.
10. Cutler, K., AgBiotechnology News, Jan/Feb., 1991, p. 21.
11. L. William Teweles & Co., 1990, "The World's Principal SeedMarkets:
Executive Summary," in Teweles Report II, January, p.xii.
12. Brenner, C., 1991, "Biotechnology in the Developing World:Lessons from
Maize," The OECD Observer, p. 12.
RAFI Communique is published by the Rural Advancement FoundationInternational.
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