Discovery of Rice Genome by Monsanto Company Essay

Summary

This is a four-page paper on biotechnology. Taking Monsanto Company as a case study, the paper discusses the recent discovery of rice genome.

The 21st century provides immense opportunities for an unparallel growth in the field of biotechnology and life sciences. By using the discipline of biology, ever-new ways to produce food, fiber and other valuable consumer products are being developed. The consumer products vary in range from pharmaceuticals, to plastics developed from renewable and environmentally sustainable sources. In the field of agriculture, biotechnology is being used for crop hybridization, mechanization, commercial fertilizers and pesticides that are not only safe, but they benefit agricultural technology. In combination with traditional seed and plant protection technologies, biotechnology is aiding the filed of Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Crop Management.

Though all these products and disciplines are the fruits from the developments in biotechnology, determination of their safety or potential risks to human safety, plant and animal health require a close regulation and monitoring from institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The following paper will however contain its discussion to the developmental aspect of biotechnology, and take the Monsanto Company as a case study. (Crop Life, 2003)

Monsanto Company

Established in 1901 by John F. Queeny, Monsanto today employs more than 14,000 employees across the world. One of the original producers of the artificial sweetener saccharin, Monsanto in collaboration with other companies, through its branch offices, liaison companies boasts of producing and manufacturing a complex variety of products, ranging from pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, herbicides, and other agricultural products. In the field of biotechnology, Monsanto has two GM forestry projects, both of which focus on the development of various types of trees to give higher growth rate and a more uniform fiber quality.

The use of eucalyptus, poplar, and pine for the paper industry, and teak, acacia and eucalyptus for both the pulp and paper industry are good examples in this regard. In the discipline of Gramineae family, (maize and wheat), Monsanto has two joint ventures, one with the Rosetta Inpharmatics for an exchange of gene expression information. The second is with India’s Tata Energy Research Institute to develop golden mustard that would enhance the protein Vitamin A content in the cooking oils. Other products developed and successfully marketed by Monsanto or its subsidiaries include various varieties of maize, oilseed rape, cotton, tomato, potato, and soybean all of which have been genetically enhanced to give higher yield and make them sterile, eliminating the provision of saving them. (The Monsanto Company, 2002)

However, it is the rice cereal, one of the widely consumed foods around the world that has been the focus of studies by researchers and companies around the world, including Monsanto. The International Rice Research Institute in its recent study reported that by the year 2025, farmers across the world have to produce 40 to 50 per cent more rice, just to meet the global demand. Giving the example of Asia, where rice is used as a staple food, it is estimated that some 500 million rice consumers will be in need of rice for every decade during the period of next 50 years. In their continuous struggle to come up with improved varieties of food grain, Monsanto made a breakthrough by the discovery of the genetic module of rice. (Hindu Business Line, 2000)

A Breakthrough in the field of biotechnology

Monsanto made headlines around the world, by its scientific breakthrough in genetic make-up of rice, a fete accomplished for the first time that described genome sequence of any crop in such technical detail. Though the breakthrough is yet limited to the working draft, it nevertheless provides an extensive understanding of all the 12 chromosomes of rice discovered to date. With the free sharing of the data with researchers around the world, the genome information will enable the development of the an improved types of fine cereals giving a enhanced nutritional value, greater yields, and an increased sustainability to withstand different agro-climate conditions.

According to the researches into the genome of rice cereal, it was found that it consists of approximately half a billion chemical “letters”, the exact order of which is still being under investigation. Nevertheless, this information alone provides us the key on the different ways and means of increasing rice production, and enhancing its nutritionist value. The finding of the rice genome has revealed that it contains some 40,000 genes, that hold the key of the rice plant, and this key can now be easily and in a shorter time frame enable researchers round the world to complete mapping of the rice genome. (Hindu Business Line, 2000)

The discovery of the rice genome, even if it is limited to the working draft of the genetic module, has not only provided hope for the millions for the consumers across the globe. As a research model, rice has given researchers detailed information that will likely be utilized to advance global efforts in bringing an improvement in other major crops, as well as increase global food security.

The Implications/Importance

The developments in the field of biotechnology, with particular reference to discoveries made in the varieties of grain have given considerable ray of hope as they continuously face the shortages of food. Regions such as Asia, Africa and the South Americas, where majority of the population uses rice, as a staple food is noteworthy. The continuation of hunger accompanied with extreme poverty in the said regions of the world make these development in biotechnology all the more important, as it tends to bring in rapid advances in food production using this technology. Biotechnology’s use for the production of genetically produced rice also brings promises that not only generate their own pesticides to create disease-free products, but they also nurture plants with genes that provide an improved nutritional value. From the marketing perspective, this allows these products to be kept for longer periods, without the fear of rotting or being spoilt. (Wegner, 1999)

Yet, another benefit of the Monsanto discovery of the gene map of rice is that its direct relation to the genetic map of corn, wheat and barley has given commercial opportunities for improving all these cereals. Furthermore, it is now possible to come with higher quality of rice strains by pinpointing targets on the rice genome. Thus, traits such as disease resistance, drought resistance and crop quality can be adequately enhanced. For example a cold wet spring may as well destroy numerous seedlings, but the presence of a small group of genes would allow for a few of these seeds to survive. (MSN Health, 2003)

References

Unknown author, Crop Life America, accessed 01.08.03

http://www.croplifeamerica.org/public/issues/biotech/gen/plantbiot1.html

Unknown author, The Monsanto Company, accessed on 01.08.03

http://www.genewatch.org/GeneSrch/Companies/Monsanto.htm

Hindu Business Line, ‘Monsanto Breakthrough In Rice Genome Research’, 2000

http://www.monsantoindia.com/news/showliba5cc.html?uid=3154

Cameron, Dr. Nigel M. De, ‘Biotech’s Non-profit Future’, Council for Biotechnology Policy Policy, 2003

http://www.biotechpolicy.com/BiotechPolicy/ChannelRoot/Features/Articles/Biotechs+Nonprofit+Future.htm

Wegner, Harold C., The Bio-Patent Revolution: Encouraging Creation of Living Inventions, US Embassy in Thailand, 1999

http://www.usa.or.th/services/irc/gmo21.htm

MSN Genetics, Scientists see a rice revolution, accessed on 01.08.03

Available at http://www.msnbc.com/news/734180.asp