Genomics has potential to revolutionise food science

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture

More efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors
is vital if genomic technology is to truly have an impact in
alleviating food insecurity and food shortages around the world.

This issue will be highlighted at the ESRC Innogen Centre's Annual Conference, which begins tomorrow.

Many scientists believe that genomic technology has the potential to alleviate food insecurity and food shortages around the world.

Biotechnology for example has the potential to improve the nutritional content of food crops and, crucially, resistance to insects and disease, leading to improved yields of food crops.

Researchers are also working on 'molecular farming'.

However, these technologies are only likely to impact on world hunger, say scientists, if there is an effective and efficient exchange of knowledge and experience through partnerships.

Dr Simon Best, chairman of the board of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid tropics (ICRISAT) plans to highlight the need for greater and more efficient collaboration between the public and private sectors involved in this research.

Similarly, the director of development partnerships for the International Potato Centre (CIP), Dr Roger Cortbaoui, will argue that there is a need to construct what he calls "useful partnerships and networks including with the private sector"​ in an industry where basic research is dominated by public funded research centres.

Others argue that even greater private-public interactions are not sufficient. Dr Andy Hall, from the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology, believes members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) such as ICRISAT and CIP, are "struggling to deal with its limitations".

Dr Hall argues for a strengthening of interactions with communities and society in general. In addition, Prof. Paul Richards of Wageningen University, says that not enough attention is being placed on involving the poor in decisions and research on the role of genomic technologies in dealing with food insecurity.

The scientific world is slowly opening up to the possibilities afforded by genomics. A group of international scientists recently sequenced the complete rice genome, providing new tools to improve the quality and size of future crops.

Six years of research work conducted by The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, which includes The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), has found that the completed sequence for the genome consists of around 400 million DNA bases holding 37,544 genes on rice's 12 chromosomes.

The newly discovered sequence should provide a roadmap for agricultural researchers using both biotechnology and conventional farming methods to develop hardier, more resistant strains of rice.

The ESRC Innogen Centre's annual conference, entitled 'Genomics for Development: The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction',​ will be held at Regent's College, London on 5 and 6 September 2006.

Related topics: Science

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