News / USA

Gene-Modified Corn Designed to Resist Drought

Drought-Resistant GM Corn gets Mixed Reactionsi
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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
AppleAndroid