Gene Scene

INDIAN scientists have successfully cloned a salt-tolerant gene from a wild rice variety that grows in the Sundarban mangrove delta. The salt-tolerant gene is responsible for producing an enzyme that catalyses a reaction to trigger the production of a compound, Inositol, one of several chemicals that contribute to salt tolerance in mangroves. The gene, which has been submitted to the International Gene Bank, is currently undergoing a patent process.

CHINESE farmers are steadily increasing their plantings of Bt cotton. From less than 10,000 hectares in 1998, the acreage of this cotton type has grown to almost 1 million hectares in 2000, or from 2.2 per cent of the country's total cotton fields to 28 per cent. Researchers with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture say that the two most important factors in the success of the variety are lower labour costs and reduced expenditure on pesticides.

THE GENOME sequence for Agrobacterium tumeiaciens, a bacterium used to stably insert genes into plant cells, has been released by scientists at Monsanto, working in conjunction with researchers at the University of Richmond in the United States. Monsanto says that the availability of the genomic sequence will help improve the process of producing new crop varieties by enabling scientists to increase their understanding of how this bacterium interacts with plants.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded that genetically modified Starlink corn probably didn't trigger allergic reactions reported by dozens of Americans after the corn got into their food. The CDC tested the blood of 17 people who reported health problems but found no antibodies against the gene Cry9C. Starlink contains the pesticide protein Cry9C, which was approved only for animal feed. It was subsequently discovered in the US last September in taco shells.

A BELGIAN scientist has dismissed concerns expressed by Greenpeace over the discovery of foreign DNA in Roundup Ready soybeans. Marc de loose from Belgium's Centre for Agricultural Research says that his research shows that there are no scientific data to support the claim that this genetic sequence could lead to unknown or unpredictable results. He said that the sequence was checked in different generations that were on the market and no differences were found. This means that the sequence is stable and, as such, all data concerning its safety are still valid.

RESEARCH undertaken by GlaxoSmithKline has undermined the claims of researchers that their analysis of the human genome found 113 bacterial genes that had "jumped" into the genomes of vertebrates. Computer tests by Glaxo researchers on 28 of the genes found no evidence of bacterial genes suddenly crossing into humans. Instead, they found evidence that invertebrates such as flies and worms had similar genes, demonstrating that all animals inherited them from a common ancestor. Glaxo says that their findings should calm fears that genes from genetically engineered foods or bacteria could easily jump into humans.