2009 was a big year for agricultural biotechnology, as top leaders and top-tier national media talked about the benefits of the technology. “We believe that biotechnology has a critical role to play in increasing agricultural productivity, particularly in light of climate change. We also believe it can help to improve the nutritional value of staple foods,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In The Economist’s “The World in 2010” issue, Matt Ridley wrote, “Genetically modified crops are proving to be an unmitigated environmental miracle… Within a decade there may be crops that are no-till, insect-resistant, omega-3-enriched, drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant and nitrogen-efficient. If they boost yields, then the 21st century will see more and more people better and better fed from less and less land.”
We turned to scientists for their opinions on the top three ag biotech stories of the year - those that stood out in terms of their significance and impact on the future of agricultural biotechnology worldwide.
1. Norman Borlaug’s Legacy: The loss of Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and father of the Green Revolution, was cited by several experts as the biggest story of 2009 because of his work to alleviate poverty and hunger.
According to Dr. Ronald Phillips of the University of Minnesota, “Norman Borlaug was one of the greatest humanitarians to ever have lived and he achieved this through hard work, impeccable ethics, a belief in training, and a vision as to what can improve the human condition.”
Reflecting on Dr. Borlaug’s legacy, Dr. Peggy G. Lemaux of the University of California, Berkeley wrote “far and away the year’s top story is Norman Borlaug. Biotech lost a strong and influential voice with his passing. One that cannot be filled by any other shoes.”
2. China Begins Approval Process for Biotech Rice: Many scientists also chose the story about China declaring two strands of genetically modified rice safe to produce and consume as one of the year’s most significant ag biotech developments.
According to Dr. Kenneth G. Cassman of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, “this announcement is a game-changer because China produces about 30% of rice in the world….Therefore, I believe this approval will create an overwhelming pressure to approve biotech crops in most developing nations.”
Dr. Chris Somerville of the University of California-Berkeley, chose China’s announcement as his top story of the year because “it is the official opening of the largest food market in the world to GMO.”
3. Mapping of the Corn Genome: Other scientists suggested that the mapping of the corn genome qualifies as the biggest ag biotech story of the year because of what can be achieved when we understand the genome sequence of this important crop.
Dr. Larry Heatherly of the University of Tennessee chose the mapping of the corn genome as the story of the year because “this achievement will lead to new/improved quality traits, enhanced genetic pest resistance, and increased production with fewer inputs resulting in lower cost of production and a more sustainable economic production system.”