Secrets of the trait

No GMOs

It’s not just bleeding heart lefties who oppose GMOs. The whole world is up in arms. Photo: RickSemple via Flickr

Picture this:  You’re an organic farmer in – well, pick a place.

Your neighbor also farms, but not organically. As neighbors go, he’s a pretty good one; the two of you talk about the weather at the feed store, and he’s been interested in your agro-forestry sideline.

By the same token, Monsanto’s visited your county multiple times, and your gut tells you he’s one of their hot prospects. Hoping to avert catastrophe, you’ve been straightforward with him, asking that he advise you should he decide to use genetically-modified seeds. He’s promised he will, and is fully aware of how Monsanto has dealt with cross-pollination problems in the past.

You trust him, but are fearful about the potential incompatibility of your two farming methods.  It’s a tense, unhappy situation, at least for you.

All it takes is money

Now let’s suppose you’re an activist at the opposite end of the GMO pipeline.

Proposition 37  was recently defeated in California, which means foods containing GMO’s won’t be labeled as such.

This is a point of enormous dissatisfaction as far as you and your fellow locavores are concerned. After months of handing out informational literature outside your town’s grocery stores, soliciting contributions for advertising on the local radio station, and answering what seemed like thousands of questions at meeting after meeting, Big Ag swooped in with a gazillion dollars and misinformed the masses.

No one had thought winning this contest would be easy, but neither you nor your colleagues were prepared for the breathtaking unfairness. Now everyone needs to take a break, and then it will be time to rethink this issue, from the bottom up.

Meanwhile, the rest of us shake our heads and wonder:  who authorized the launching of Frankenfood into the unsuspecting marketplace without adequate testing?  One minute we were being sold a bill of goods  (there was no down side to Big Ag’s latest whiz-bang gizmo!), and then we found out what that really meant:  there was no down side for Monsanto.  The fact that we weren’t deemed smart enough to tell the difference simply added insult to injury.

Problem?  What problem?

As we all know, there are BIG differences between seeds that are genetically modified, and seeds that aren’t. The fact that farmers in India are forbidden to save GM seed from one year to the next has bankrupted thousands of them, in many instances leading family farmers  to commit suicide.

The fact that farmers everywhere who grow GM seeds are using more pesticides (not less, as promised), and have been ever since the first year or two of GMO use, is an enormous problem, with terrible consequences.

The fact that GM crops remain untested can only elicit the question, What are they afraid of?

Monsanto’s nefarious misreading of the law, and the resulting lawsuits, has been so underhanded, so disingenuous, and so intentionally harmful, that the compounding of damage seems almost limitless.

This is a problem looking for a solution — and it appears one has been found. If you’ve never heard of the Israeli company Morflora, prepare to be amazed.

Morflora  has developed a “trait delivery platform,” which enables them to confer any genetic trait on any seed.

Think about that for a minute.

A farmer who wants to grow pumpkins, but can’t because they take up too much room, will be able to order seeds for pumpkins that grow on short vines. How about a rancher who wants to be able to grow hay in drought conditions?  That, too, will be possible.

It only gets better.

Whatever the sought-after trait is, it will not transform the DNA of the treated seed, i.e., the newly-acquired trait cannot be inherited by the next generation of plants. It exists only in the plant that grows from the treated seed. The crop which results from the treated seed is genetically intact, and seeds derived from it will be genetically unchanged.  Food grown from the treated seeds is entirely “normal.”

Trait secrets

Talk about food for thought!

Morflora’s delivery platform, called TraitUP, can transfer desirable plant characteristics to any plant.

One such characteristic might be a plant’s ability to protect itself against insect infestation. Where would this trait come from? It would be found in a plant that has survived insect infestation.

Seed developers are constantly on the hunt for plants that can endure in even the most stressful growing conditions. For instance,  Morflora’s CEO, Dotan Peleg, recently visited Nebraska. As a result of the drought in America’s midsection, the cornfields he saw were badly underdeveloped. Soybeans, however, seemed not to feel the effects of the drought nearly so much.

Might this be an opportunity for trait transference?  Peleg will discuss this possibility with seed developers.

What further advantages might TraitUP offer?

By applying traits directly to seeds, a plant’s breeding cycle can be by-passed, making seed available for shipment shortly after the desired traits have been transferred. (This is no mean accomplishment; companies wishing to actually change plants genetically have to rely on breeding methods that can take anywhere from three to seven years before a trait is “expressed.”)

The customized seeds can be rushed to market, an especially important characteristic if global food shortages become a problem. Don’t let the words “rushed to market” make you nervous, however.  Morflora has tested TraitUP in Israel, and has invited testing by international seed developers. All in all, 40 plant species of 14 botanical families have been tested by Morflora, international seed developers, and leading research institutions in Israel and abroad. Plants tested thus far include soy, wheat, corn, tomatoes, sweet pepper, citrus, and grapes.

Field testing has also revealed that TraitUP does not deleteriously affect the soil.

And that’s not all!

In the future, Morflora looks to expand their biotechnology’s application to include the forestry and orchard agricultural sectors. Trait delivery will enable protection from fungi, insects, and bacteria, all of which can seriously impede tree growth. For farmers interested in growing heritage seeds, trait delivery can allow for the temporary acquisition of more modern plant characteristics, while at the same time allowing the resulting plant to retain its heritage appearance.

Perhaps most astonishingly, TraitUP can introduce large or multiple DNA sequences simultaneously. The stuff of science fiction, yet TraitUP will be on the market in 2013.

Small wonder that  Morflora’s breakthrough has been short-listed for Best Novel Agricultural Biotechnology in the 2012 international AGROW awards,  and that it recently won a Red Herring business award in the Top 100 Europe category.

Change for the better

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that TraitUP’s positive impacts are not limited to food production.  Because genetic traits can be transferred so swiftly, genomic experimentation can now be conducted at an accelerated rate.

Dotan Peleg says proudly, “[TraitUP] is a paradigm shift.”  Genetic traits can now be temporarily changed almost as easily as people change clothes!  The concept of ephemeral genetic solutions will necessitate a whole new way of thinking.  It is no mere cliché to assert that the possibilities are endless.

Makes GMO’s look kind of clunky, doesn’t it?

–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice

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Comments

  1. Leslee Waggener says

    Genetically altered, but not? A little confusing…will have to look into this further. Am I to understand these type of seeds would give all the so-called benefits that GMO’s claim, but none of the disadvantages?

  2. says

    Hi Leslee –

    I agree – it’s confusing. The best analogy I’m able to come up with is to compare trait delivery to the job of an actor. For roughly two hours, a good actor should be able to convince an audience that he is the character he’s portraying. Afterward, of course, he can go home, put his feet up and have a beer, even if the character he was playing was an aristocrat. That’s what trait delivery does. After the seed germinates, and a plant is growing, that plant will exhibit the desirable traits given to it by humans. However, it’s only acting; it does not have any new genetic material incorporated into its DNA. When it’s time to go to seed, only its own genetic material will be expressed.

    As for GMO claims, I am unaware of any claims regarding reduced pesticide use or increased production, two of the biggies where genetic modification is concerned (and they are only claims). It is vital that you be aware that no transgenic alteration is taking place, e.g., fish genes are not being incorporated into the DNA of a tomato. This is plant-to-plant, though it can certainly be different plant-to-different plant. You should also be aware that, as of this writing, there is no research indicating health problems caused by consumption of trait-delivered crops. This is most emphatically not the case with GMO foods.

    The way I see it, the primary benefit of trait delivery is the ability to grow crops in “bad years” – years when the weather doesn’t cooperate. There will be more and more of those, even if we do finally take vigorous action against climate change. While I still have serious doubts about feeding 9 billion people, trait delivery could be a very valuable tool.

    I hope this helps!
    Best,
    Vicki

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