Donald A. Holt and Marilyn L. Nash. Univ of Illinois, 170 NSRC, MC637, 1101 W. Peabody Dr, Urbana, IL 61801
We reviewed research proposals and reports and queried their authors concerning progress toward practically useful technology. The proposals were sampled from those funded by the Illinois Missouri Biotechnology Alliance, Illinois Council for Food and Agricultural Research, and the United Soybean Board. For this group of projects, the practical outcomes sought by researchers and sponsors were usually crop cultivars with improved disease resistance, composition, and/or yield. In our sample, researchers using “conventional” plant breeding approaches, which included such advances as marker-assisted selection, anticipated useful practical applications within three to five years from the end of funded projects. Researchers using “cutting edge,” basic biotechnology techniques, such as gene transfer and gene silencing, did not expect practical outcomes within ten years. While basic biotechnology techniques are powerful, the genetic modifications sought in these studies were complex. Also, what appears as a simply inherited trait in conventional plant breeding is not so simple when it is necessary to transfer not only the gene but all of its attending apparatus of promoters, modifiers, etc. When this has been accomplished, there are still years of regeneration, greenhouse tests, variety development, field comparisons, further refinement, and marketing studies, complicated at each step by regulatory concerns and anti-GM sentiment. In the projects we studied, it was evident that achieving a desired practical result, say cultivars with improved disease resistance, through advanced biotechnology approaches was likely to be slower and more costly than using conventional approaches. Of course, some of the most challenging objectives probably could not be achieved by “conventional” approaches, no matter how sophisticated they might be. Attention should be given to reducing the cost of translating basic plant biotechnology research results into desired practical outcomes.