When you open a bag of seed corn with a Bt or other GMO trait this spring, it's easy to take for granted that it can do what the company says it can do, and not give a thought to how miraculous it is that the trait is there. A trip through Dow AgroSciences for Farm Progress editors recently made it clear that the science that develops a trait starting with DNA from bacteria and putting it into a corn plant is involved, tedious and expensive.
Once researchers have corn cells that contain new genetic material, including a trait that will give the plant a special characteristic, such as the ability to fend off corn borers or corn rootworms, then the cells must be carefully grown on Petri dishes. The first step, spokespersons for Dow AgroSciences says, is to avoid contamination, Then once the cells begin the process of becoming plants, it's a long road from the Petri dish to a plant in the greenhouse.
The young plants are very tender when they first develop, and must be treated gently, spokespersons say. While fragile might be a strong word, the spokespersons insist that they definitely leave tender, loving care in the early stages.
It can be four months before plants started on Petri dishes are ready to go to the greenhouse to be grown out, Dow AgroSciennces spokespersons say. For cotton, the process takes even longer. Cotton and development of biotech traits for cotton, a key crop for Dow AgroSciences, is also under study at the Biotechnology center in Indianapolis.
PhytoGen is the brand name for cotton seed developed and sold by Dow AgroSciences in the South. Duane Canfield of PhytoGen notes that excellent performance in new varieties has been helping PhytoGen gain market share in the cotton seed business. These new varieties carry the latest in agronomic traits that allow cotton to resist pests.
Cotton is getting a new look from southern growers because of current high prices for cotton, nearly four times what they were at low points just a decade ago. However, sources from the south say not all farmers there are going with cotton, even at these prices. Some are opting for corn or soybeans, which are also at historical highs.
How long cotton prices will remain strong is open for debate, sources say. Some wonder if the current price position is a bubble that won't last long.