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(home) Unnatural Laboratories | Bioremediation (to Puzzle)

Engineering Our Crops
Genetic engineering has sparked heated debate in science and the public since the 1980s. Some have warned of the dangers of playing with something we don't completely understand, and others forecast a future free of disease and hunger. In reality, we already benefit from genetic engineering. Some of our crops are more resistant to disease and drought. Most industrialized countries are slowly accepting genetic engineering, but only with strict controls.

However, genetic engineering may be most beneficial to the least technologically advanced countries. Outside of the industrial world, most people are still dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Many rely on only a few crops, increasing the risk of failure. One solution is to diversify the crops, and another solution is to make the crop more resistant to disease.

African Cassava Mosaic Virus affects cassava, a very important crop to several African countries. Cassava is eaten everyday by 500 million people in Africa and around the world. Most westerners know of cassava only as the primary ingredient of tapioca, but it is the main source of food for many people in Africa.

The virus doesn't directly kill the cassava plant, but it impairs its growth. Farmers growing infected cassava plants harvest a fraction of the amount harvested from healthy plants.

Dr. Victor Masona, a Zimbabwean plant biologist, wants to help the farmers by developing a hardier crop. Masona was awarded a grant to develop a genetically altered cassava plant at the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB) in La Jolla, California. Using a microbe host, Agrobacterium, a bacterium that infects plants, as a gene vector, Masona introduced a natural defense into the genetic code of cassava. He genetically engineered the crop to be more resistant to the Mosaic virus.

Genetic engineering is a new and sometimes frightening technology. Many people fee some angst about its use because we don't completely understand genetics and what our changes could produce, unintentionally or intentionally.

The government of Zimbabwe has not allowed Masona to test his resistant plants in that country. Masona's cassava plants are waiting in a lab in California. He hopes he will eventually be allowed to test his plants in Zimbabwe and potentially help improve the nourishment of millions.

(home) Unnatural Laboratories | Bioremediation (to Puzzle)



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