Friday, March 14, 2014

Monsanto going organic?

seems to be high tech organic Monsanto going organic in a quest for the perfect veggie (via Steven Hsu at Information Processing): "Furthermore, genetically modifying consumer crops proved to be inefficient and expensive. Stark estimates that adding a new gene takes roughly 10 years and $100 million to go from a product concept to regulatory approval. And inserting genes one at a time doesn’t necessarily produce the kinds of traits that rely on the inter­actions of several genes. Well before their veggie business went kaput, Monsanto knew it couldn’t just genetically modify its way to better produce; it had to breed great vegetables to begin with. As Stark phrases a company mantra: “The best gene in the world doesn’t fix dogshit germplasm.”
What does? Crossbreeding. Stark had an advantage here: In the process of learning how to engineer chemical and pest resistance into corn, researchers at Monsanto had learned to read and understand plant genomes—to tell the difference between the dogshit germplasm and the gold. And they had some nifty technology that allowed them to predict whether a given cross would yield the traits they wanted.
The key was a technique called genetic marking. It maps the parts of a genome that might be associated with a given trait, even if that trait arises from multiple genes working in concert. Researchers identify and cross plants with traits they like and then run millions of samples from the hybrid—just bits of leaf, really—through a machine that can read more than 200,000 samples per week and map all the genes in a particular region of the plant’s chromosomes."
"Make fruit taste better and people will eat more of it. “That’s good for society and, let’s face it, good for business,” Stark says.
Monsanto is still Monsanto. The company enforces stringent contracts for farmers who buy its produce seeds. Just as with Roundup Ready soybeans, Monsanto prohibits regrowing seeds from the new crops. The company maintains exclusion clauses with growers if harvests don’t meet the standards of firmness, sweetness, or scent—pending strict quality-assurance checks."

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