Is the bio-economy for Northwestern Ontario?

Have you grown plants from slips, used “eyes” to grow potatoes, or cuttings to plant trees?
If so, you were cloning.
Cloning is making a copy of an original. Genetic engineering is different. It’s transferring genes to make a new original.
Here’s why both are important to you and me.
Cloning and genetic engineering are at the core of a revolution in the production of food, drugs and replacement organs. Here are examples:
oOn a farm in Kelowna, B.C., extraordinary canola seeds have been harvested. They provide hirudin, a blood thinner.
Maurice Maloney, Calgary microbiologist, put blood-thinning genes from leech saliva into canola. Using dairy farming instead of factory methods, he extracted the blood thinner from the canola oil.
Hirudin is cheaper, less polluting and can be widely grown.
oGenzyme Transgenics Corp. is using cloning to produce animal organs that can be used in human transplants.
oGenzyme’s genetically-altered cows will produce milk with drugs for treating human diseases.
oThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is developing gene transfers to get low-fat, disease-resistant animals.
oIn South Asia, 10 million hectares of farmland are flood-prone. Filipinos are fitting genes from a low-yield floating rice species into farmer’s high-yield plants.
oIn Tibet, an Antarctic fish’s anti-freeze producing gene has been inserted into beet plants. Now beets grow at minus-six C.
oIndonesian scientists use genetics and robotic nurseries to produce trees that are straighter, taller, stronger, and take 50 percent of the time to mature.
China has 23 percent of the world’s population but just seven percent of the food-producing land. In the last 10 years, Chinese biotechnologists have field-tested 13 crops of high-quality, high-yield potatoes, tomatoes, rice, maize, wheat, peanuts, sweet peppers, canola and cotton.
Next year they will be in the market. And by 2010, more than 50 percent of China’s crops will be genetically engineered.
China can’t afford North America’s high-cost, factory-produced medicines so it has targeted low-cost, high-quality bio-medicines. Already it produces 44 genetically engineered remedies.
Imagine what would happen in Northwestern Ontario if:
oElite trees in our commercial forests were genetically engineered to grow taller, stronger, straighter, disease-resistant in half the time.
Shortage of fibre? Nope. Arguments about parks? Nope.
oDairy farms became suppliers of nutritious milk customized with different drugs. Diabetics might drink their insulin with their morning cereal.
oPonds and lakes were seeded with fish that grew at 10 times the current rate.
oThe Thunder Bay Regional Hospital used a farm to grow organ replacements and medicines.
oMunicipal sewage, oil spills, and other wastes were converted to biodegradable plastics that have commercial value.
But don’t break out the champagne just yet. For instance, the animal organ may carry a virus that would cross the human/animal barrier.
Or an animal virus may combine with a human virus to produce a new disease. Allergies may spread faster.
There also may be unforeseen nutritional losses in genetically altered foods.
Aside from the perils, all this raises a big question for you and me: will our children be also-rans in the emerging bio-economy?
As far as I know, relatively little is happening in Canada’s public and private sector to position us well in the bio-economy. If you know anything different, please let me know at 1-807-929-1106 (fax) or cmcintos@atikokan.lakeheadu.ca.
Incidentally, if you want to learn more about the world of cloning and genetics, look at http://www.gene.com or www.infigen.com.

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