My last post discussed the success of public sector scientists who discovered and developed genes in soybean, using conventional breeding, that confer resistance to the invasive soybean aphid. These insects cost US farmers billions of dollars per year.
In contrast,an article in the New York Times in late July used the dramatic example of citrus greening disease, which is threatening the citrus industry in the US, to tout the possibility of GE to remedy challenging pest problems. Whether these will eventually work is far from certain. But we should keep in mind that while such future promises catch the public’s eye, breeding continuously makes significant advances in crop improvement.
Soybean aphids, and invasive pest casing billions of dollars of damage per year. Photo by Stephen Ausmus
We also need to take claims that genes are not available to crop breeders against pests like citrus greening with a grain of salt. For example, it was claimed that resistance genes to papaya ringspot virus did not exist, while GE provided resistance to the virus in Hawaii. That has long been a favorite story of biotechnology advocates of the value of GE over breeding. But overall, the reality is very different, with breeding producing new commercially useful traits all the time, while so far new engineered traits have been scarce.