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European scientists review genetics for conventional plant breeding | 18.03.03

Leading European scientists have launched a study into how recent rapid advances in decoding the genetic information for crops can be applied to conventional plant breeding, it was announced today (18 March 2003).

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which includes representatives from 16 national science academies, has set up a working group to look ahead at the potential impact of genetics in producing new varieties of crops, improving crop husbandry and post-harvest technologies. The study will not cover GM plants.

Professor Gian Tommaso Scarascia-Mugnozza, chair of the working group and President of the National Academy of Sciences in Rome, said: The complete genetic sequence of a very important crop, rice, is now available, and extensive sequencing is in progress for several other major plant species, such as maize, barley, poplar, alfalfa and sugar beet. This information could drive huge improvements in conventional plant breeding strategies. We now have the scientific and technical tools to understand the genetic and molecular bases for making crop plants more resistant to diseases and pests, or better adapted to a wider range of farm environments, with positive effects on the quantity and quality of crop production.

The European Union relies heavily on crop production to maintain the health and prosperity of its population, and its farmers need to keep up with their international competitors by promptly applying advances in plant genetics and molecular biology. It is important that policies in the Member States are based upon the most up to date and reliable scientific information on crop genetics.

Prof Scarascia-Mugnozza added: While the modification of individual genes offers interesting possibilities for the future, there is some concern among scientists that the controversy over GM crops could hold back advances in other areas of plant genetics, including applications that could improve conventional breeding. We hope this study will highlight the most promising areas, and help policy-makers to identify priorities for research funding. We will consult widely through the call for evidence issued today and we will seek the views of scientists, farmers and environmentalists.
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2/ EUROPEAN SCIENTISTS REVIEW GENETICS FOR CONVENTIONAL PLANT BREEDING

The working group will produce a report later in 2003 aimed at policy-makers in the European Commission, European Council of Ministers, European Parliament, European Member States and other institutions.

The working group includes scientists from 8 EU countries. Its members are:

Professor Gian Tommaso Scarascia-Mugnozza (Chair)

National Academy of Sciences, Rome

Professor Friedrich Graf

Institute of Systematic Theology, University of Munich

Professor Regine Kahmann

Max-Planck-Institut for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg

Dr Tony Kavanagh

Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin

Professor Chris Lamb

John Innes Centre, Norwich

Dr Marjori Ann Matzke

Institute of Molecular Biology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Salzburg

Professor Marc van Montagu

Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, University of Ghent

Professor Enrico Porceddu

Department of Agrobiology and Agrochemistry, University of Tuscia, Viterbo

Professor Lars Rask

Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University

Professor Francesco Salamini

Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Köln

Professor Willem Stiekema

Centre for BioSystems Genomics, Wageningen University.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) was established in 2001 to provide a means for the national academies of Europe to work together to inject high quality science into European Union policy-making. Its task is building science into policy at EU level by providing independent, expert, credible advice about the scientific aspects of public policy issues to those who make or influence policy for the EU. EASAC is designed to combine ease and speed of operation, with the unrivalled prestige and authority of the national academies of science and with the opportunities that come from ready access to the networks of members and colleagues that constitute academies.

    For further information about this news release, contact:

    Bob Ward on 020-7451 2516 or 07811-320346.

Crop plant genomics: Call for evidence

  1. EASAC has launched a study on crop plant genomics . The focus of the study is how scientific investigation of the genomes of the major crop plants can contribute to conventional plant breeding - the generation of new cultivars with particular characteristics, crop husbandry, and post-harvest technologies. It is not concerned with the applications of genomics research to the genetic modification of plants through manipulation of individual genes.
  2. The objective is to highlight how the new science of genomics may revolutionise traditional plant breeding, crop husbandry and post-harvest conservation and processing. The study will cover both food and non-food crops. The terms of reference for the Working Group are:

    (i) To summarise the current state of genomics research related to the major crop plants in the EU, and the potential applications of this research to conventional plant breeding, crop husbandry and post-harvest conservation and processing.

    (ii) To make recommendations about future research priorities and research requirements, particularly in the public sector, and to identify the key elements of an EU strategy for crop plant genomics over the next 15 years.

    (iii) To review the competitive position of the EU in the science of crop plant genomics and in its applications, and to make recommendations as necessary for strengthening EU capability in this area.

    It is expected that the study will be published before the end of 2003.
  3. The membership of the Working Group is as follows:

    Professor Gian Tommaso Scarascia-Mugnozza (Chair) - National Academy of Sciences, Rome

    Professor Friedrich Graf - Institute of Systematic Theology, University of Munich

    Professor Regine Kahmann - Max-Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg

    Dr Tony Kavanagh - Department of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin

    Professor Chris Lamb - John Innes Centre, Norwich

    Dr Marjori Ann Matzke - Institute of Molecular Biology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Salzburg

    Professor Marc van Montagu - Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, University of Ghent

    Professor Enrico Porceddu - Department of Agrobiology and Agrochemistry, University of Tuscia, Viterbo

    Professor Lars Rask - Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University

    Professor Francesco Salamini - Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne

    Professor Willem Stiekema - Centre for BioSystems Genomics, Wageningen University

    Further scholars have been invited to participate in the research project but they have not yet formally accepted.

  4. The Working Group is keen to receive evidence from all interested individuals and organisations related to its terms of reference. In particular, we would welcome your input on the following questions:

1. State of the art

1.1 Major research projects in CPG mounted and carried out or in progress in your country; crops and traits under investigation; institutions, human and financial resources involved; level national or multilateral of those projects; platforms established for them or resulting from project activities; strategies envisaged for their institution and operation

1.2 Strategies envisaged for delivering results; assessment in comparison with programs and activities in other countries; project(s) relevance in comparison to other projects in life sciences, in other fields

1.3 Multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary approaches adopted; disciplines involved; links with conventional breeding and more broadly with plant sciences and agro-industry

2. Options for the future

2.1 Key issues for the future, and in particular the next five years

2.2 Potential for crop sciences, conventional plant breeding, crop husbandry, post harvest technology

2.3 Crops and agricultural systems on which CPG is likely to have heaviest impact

2.4 Research priorities: genes and/or metabolic pathways (e.g. quality, yield, adaptation, resistance, etc); agricultural systems and crops with highest priority; CPG impact on biodiversity; technologies and platforms (phenotypic analysis, genotyping, sequencing, metabolic screenings, proteomics, bioinformatics, etc.) needed

3. Competitive position of EU

3.1 Competitive position of EU as a whole, and of individual member states, as compared with non-European countries

3.2 Factors impeding CPG research and applications in the EU

3.3 Recommendations for improving the competitive position of EU and its member states at present

3.4 Possible impact of enlargement

4. Social and economic issues

4.1 Consumer confidence in CPG and its outputs

4.2 Role of CPG in developing countries, their crops and agricultural systems

4.3 Academe / industry interactions

4.4 Existing human and institutional resources and need for their enhancement; possibilities and constraints for integrating national CPG projects into a single EU programme; possible rules for delivering results; possible new jobs

Please send all evidence to Professor Enrico Porceddu at: porceddu@unitus.it, with copies to mze@lincei.it and peter.collins@royalsoc.ac.uk. We will not be publishing evidence received, but may cite particular pieces of evidence in our report and will list all those who submit evidence. All evidence should be received by 5 May 2003.