plant sex in silico
March 8, 2014 1:34 PM Subscribe
Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie - "The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren't genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia. That doesn't mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark's division is drawing on Monsanto's accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor."
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.also btw...
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.
They had more toys too. In 2006, Monsanto developed a machine called a seed chipper that quickly sorts and shaves off widely varying samples of soybean germplasm from seeds. The seed chipper lets researchers scan tiny genetic variations, just a single nucleotide, to figure out if they'll result in plants with the traits they want—without having to take the time to let a seed grow into a plant. Monsanto computer models can actually predict inheritance patterns, meaning they can tell which desired traits will successfully be passed on. It's breeding without breeding, plant sex in silico. In the real world, the odds of stacking 20 different characteristics into a single plant are one in 2 trillion. In nature, it can take a millennium. Monsanto can do it in just a few years.
- Why Does Everyone Hate Monsanto? - "Nathanael Johnson concludes an impressively exhaustive series on GMOs, by suggesting that the fight is really more existential. He writes: 'Beneath all this is a fundamental disagreement about technology. At one end you have the... position, which suggests our innovations are hurting more then helping us. At the other end are the technological utopians who see restraints on innovation as intolerably prolonging the suffering that would end in a more perfect future.' The discussion is important, writes Johnson, but very abstract. We need to have something concrete to attach it to, so we attach it to the debate about GMOs. And GMOs being abstract, still, we attach the debate to Monsanto." (via)
- Monsanto at centre of intensifying debate on food - "Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive, is acutely aware of the dichotomy. Hardly the mould of a Bond villain, the down-to-earth Scot from Larkhall, southeast of Glasgow, acknowledges that the company should have engaged with a wider audience in the past."
- Big data is taking over farming - "Monsanto, DuPont and others are revving up sales of crop-boosting 'prescriptive planting' technology, but some farmers fear letting go of data about their fields."
- Tech Center Speeds Plant Growth - "Sugar cane, switch grass and sorghum provide green-energy alternatives to polluting fossil fuels. The recently unveiled Danforth Science Center in the U.S. Midwest hopes to make these plants grow faster."
- Denmark is an agricultural superpower - "In 2011 farm products made up 20% of its goods exports. The value of food exports grew from €4 billion ($5.5 billion) in 2001 to €16.1 billion in 2011. The government expects it to rise by a further €6.7 billion by 2020. Why, in a post-industrial economy, is the food industry still thriving? Much of the answer lies in a cluster in the central region of the country. Policymakers everywhere are obsessed by creating their own Silicon Valleys. But Denmark's example suggests that the logic of clustering can be applied as well to ancient industries as to new ones. In central Denmark just as in California, innovation is in the air, improving productivity is a way of life, and the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. Entrepreneurs see the future in meat and milk."
- Man-made meat will nourish the body and soul - "Humanity needs a synthetic diet for reasons of both health and conscience, says Anjana Ahuja."
By 2000, Monsanto's last Roundup patent had expired, and as chief operating officer, Mr Grant turned the company's focus more firmly toward seeds... Last year, the company stepped up its efforts into so-called "precision agriculture" – the application of advanced GPS, data analytics and remote sensing to farming – with the near $1bn acquisition of Climate Corporation, a San Francisco-based data company. Mr Grant becomes more animated when describing the new areas Monsanto is moving into, noting that its investments in research in enzymes and genetic information transmissions, as well as data analytics will help its core aim of increasing yields... Having seen the mistakes of the pharmaceutical industry, holding back drugs from the developing world, Monsanto is offering its innovations to regions such as Africa. It has formed partnerships with the likes of the charitable foundations of Bill Gates and Howard Buffett – the son of Warren Buffett – the UN's World Food Programme as well as US Agency for International Development.
Some farmers have discussed aggregating data on their own so they could decide what information to sell and at what price. Other farmers are joining forces with smaller technology companies that are trying to keep agricultural giants from dominating the prescriptive-planting business. The owner of one small company, Steve Cubbage of Prime Meridian LLC, says his Nevada, Mo., company's independence from the seed, machinery and chemical industry "adds credibility," giving farmers an alternative with "their overall best interests in mind." About 100 farmers use Prime Meridian's precision-seeding service, and Mr. Cubbage expects the number to "increase dramatically over the next few years." The company is developing a system to store farm-by-farm information on a cloud-computing service that could give access to seed dealers, financial advisers and other outsiders approved by farmers. The Farm Bureau has held internal talks about whether the trade group should set up its own computer servers as a data storehouse, says Mace Thornton, a spokesman for the trade group.
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