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Third generation transgenic plants and the politics of plant biotechnology

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Paul Christou, Universitat Leida, ES

When 07 Oct, 2009 from
11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Where Auditorium
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ITQB PhD Program Seminar Series

Frontier Leaders of Today for the Scientists of Tomorrow


Title: Third generation transgenic plants and the politics of plant biotechnology

Speaker: Paul Christou

Affiliation: Universitat Leida, ES

More Information: ITQB PhD Seminar Series Poster


In the developing world 840 million people are chronically undernourished. Many more people, perhaps half of the world’s population, suffer from diseases caused by dietary deficiencies and inadequate supplies of vitamins and minerals. Despite the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition, global food production has outpaced population growth over the last 40 years thanks mainly to the successes of the Green Revolution [2]. Today's food insecurity is caused not by insufficient food production, but by poverty, with nearly 1.3 billion people living on less than $US1 per day and another 2 billion only marginally better off. These, the world's most deprived and impoverished people, do not have secure access to food. Most of the poor are rural farmers in developing countries, depending entirely on small-scale agriculture for their own subsistence and to make their livings. Food security depends not only on the quantity of food available but also its nutritional quality. Unfortunately, the poorest people in the world are faced with a limited choice, and generally rely on a single staple food crop for their calorific intake. Most plants are deficient in some essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals but a balanced diet provides adequate quantities of all. Problems arise when the diet is restricted to a single protein source, which is often the case for both humans and domestic animals in developing countries. Milled cereal grains for example are deficient in several vitamins and minerals.

The use of transgenic plants offers great promise for rapid integration of improved varieties into traditional cropping systems because improved plant lines can be generated quickly and with relative precision once suitable genes for transfer have been identified. Biotechnology is not a magic wand that can free the world from poverty, hunger and malnutrition, but the use of transgenic plants as one component of a wider strategy including conventional breeding and other forms of agricultural and socioeconomic research, can contribute in a substantial manner towards the achievement of food security now and in the future.
This applies globally with the exception of most of the European continent which for purely political reasons is reluctant to embrace transgenic technology.

Our discussion will focus on the status quo of experiments in our laboratory directed towards the creation of “super-nutritious” corn and rice grains accumulating four key _vitamins_, A, C, E and folate and four essential minerals (Fe, Zn, Se and Ca). These plants will also express insect resistance and herbicide tolerance specifically tailored to needs of subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America and Asia. We will also discuss the status of molecular pharming programs in our laboratory with emphasis on the use of corn as an expression platform for the production of cost-effective microbicides for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

We will outline current constraints, particularly in an attempt to highlight rate limiting factors that need to be overcome to bring this technology and resulting products to fruition. The discussion will focus not only on the science but also on socioeconomic and political elements, specifically associated with the deployment and use of transgenic plants and the divergent attitudes and perceptions in the EU versus the rest of the world. During our discussion we will focus on the fallacy and misuse of the Cartagena protocol on Biodiversity in the context of how transgenic plants are regulated and issues pertaining to protectionism, biosafety and environmental safety of transgenic plants.

We will discuss the role of the media and pseudo-environmental groups in misguiding public opinion in an attempt to further their own agendas.


NAME:    Paul Christou

DATE OF BIRTH:  July 5, 1954


DEGREES:   BSc. 1st Class Honours (1977), University of London, UK

                   PhD (1980), University of London, University College,UK


2004-present   ICREA Professor, Universitat de Lleida, Spain

2006    Appointed member of ad hoc panel on GMOs for European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

2001-2004   Fraunhofer Institute of Molecular Biotechnology and Applied Ecology Schmallenberg-Aachen, Germany - Full Professor

1998 - 2001   John Innes Centre, UK - Head, Molecular Biotechnology Unit

1994 - 1998   John Innes Centre, UK - Head, Laboratory of Transgenic Technology & Band 4, Rank of Associate Professor

1997 - present   Full Adjunct Professor - Mediterranean Agronomic Institute Chania, Crete, Greece

1994 - 1995   European Commission. Chairman of Biotechnology Bridge Programme evaluation panel.

1993 - 1997   ABSP Technical Advisory Board Panel Member - Michigan State University, USA

1988 - 1994   Agracetus Inc. USA  Senior Scientist

1982 - 1987   Agracetus.  Scientist; Project Leader

1980 - 1982   University College London - Research Fellow - Junior Lecturer


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