News / USA

Gene-Modified Corn Designed to Resist Drought

Drought-Resistant GM Corn gets Mixed Reactionsi
|| 0:00:00
X
Steve Baragona
August 17, 2012 4:00 PM
Drought is parching the farm states of the American Midwest, and experts say intense droughts are becoming more likely with climate change. One company is fighting back using genetic engineering. Next season, Monsanto expects to be the first company on the market with genetically modified varieties of maize (called corn in the US) that are better able to handle the dry weather. But some critics say not to expect too much. VOA's Steve Baragona has a look from Nebraska.

Farm states of the American Midwest are parched, and experts say climate change makes intense droughts more likely.

SUTTON, Nebraska — Walking through Bruce Trautman's cornfields near drought-hit Sutton, Nebraska, you could walk right by Monsanto's genetically-modified, drought-tolerant varieties and not notice a difference.
 
With about a third less rainfall this season, the leaves are turning brown just like their conventional neighbors.
 
But Trautman peels back the husks to show ears of modified corn that look bigger, with more kernels than the others.
 
With a month or so to go before harvest, more hot, dry weather may still take its toll, but, Trautman says, "to see this much difference at this point in time is exceptional."
 
Risk of drought growing
Bruce Trautman grows conventional and genetically modified drought-tolerant corn near Sutton, Nebraska, August 2012 (S. Baragona / VOA).Bruce Trautman grows conventional and genetically modified drought-tolerant corn near Sutton, Nebraska, August 2012 (S. Baragona / VOA).
x
Bruce Trautman grows conventional and genetically modified drought-tolerant corn near Sutton, Nebraska, August 2012 (S. Baragona / VOA).
Bruce Trautman grows conventional and genetically modified drought-tolerant corn near Sutton, Nebraska, August 2012 (S. Baragona / VOA).
While other researchers and companies are using conventional techniques to improve drought tolerance, Monsanto expects to be the first company on the market with genetically-modified varieties of corn better able to handle the dry weather.

This year's drought across the corn-growing region of the United States has been the worst in decades. But experts say intense droughts are becoming more likely worldwide with climate change.
 
Trautman is one of about 250 U.S. farmers field-testing Monsanto's new corn. The main difference, according to Monsanto's Mark Edge, comes down to one gene.
 
Cellular jam resistance
 
"The gene is actually found in soil bacteria," Edge says. "It's a common soil bacteria. And what it does for the bacteria is help it survive through that stress."
 
Added to the corn plant, the gene helps it through drought by keeping its cellular machinery from jamming. The strings of chemical code that carry instructions to the cell's protein-building machines can get tangled up under stress. Adding the bacterial gene helps keep those strings untangled and the machinery running smoothly.
 
It seems to be helping Bruce Trautman's corn. But that is just one field, and the season is not over yet, so Edge is cautious.
 
"Growers are very excited about it, but we need to wait until the yields come in to get a better evaluation of that," he says.
 
A modest step forward
 
Skeptics, such as Doug Gurian-Sherman with the Union of Concerned Scientists, do not expect big improvements from the genetically-modified corn.
 
"It's a step forward, but it's very, very modest," he says. And in severe droughts, the added gene may not help much.
 
"There are more cost-effective and more reliable, at this point, ways of improving things like drought tolerance," Gurian-Sherman says, such as conventional crop breeding and better soil management. "And I think we need to put more of our effort into those areas."
 
Although he does not have any immediate safety concerns, he says testing should be more rigorous.
 
'A very powerful tool'
 
Edge says the crops have been tested and regulators have approved them, and he agrees conventional breeding and soil management are important.
 
"There isn't one thing that's going to address drought," he says. "It's a combination of things. And this is a very powerful tool."
 
Farmers will see just how powerful when the harvest comes in this fall.
 

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid