‘Cross-bred crops get fit faster,’ says an important new article published in the journal, Nature. Within its wizened lines is advice on how to breed better corn without resorting to growing GMO.
Natasha Gilbert explains in the article how genetic engineering simply doesn’t stack up in comparison to conventional breeding efforts to create drought-resistant corn for countries like Africa that are water-scarce. She notes:
“Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.”
The key example she uses for making this claim is based on the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, launched in 2006 with a $33 million investment. The project has developed 153 new varieties of corn to improve yields in 13 different countries. This has all been accomplished without using GM seed.
In field trials, these varieties matched or exceeded the yields from commercial seeds under good rainfall conditions, and yielded up to 30% more under drought conditions.
“Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes. Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it.”
Gilbert attests that the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City as well as six other research organizations are developing GM varieties of drought-resistant maize in collaboration with Monsanto, but these will likely not compare to the conventional non-GM methods proven in this recent pilot in Africa. These GM varieties also won’t be ready for African farmers to use until at least 2016, and they need drought-resistant crops now.