|China wants GM rice to become the Linux "free/open-source-code" of biogenetics:|
ISIS Press Release 08/07/2004
China a major player
Meanwhile, the Chinese government, which has invested considerable public money into the sequencing of the rice genome, thereby breaking the ‘knowledge monopoly’ hitherto held by the developed countries in the West, is reported to be ramping up efforts to commercialise GM rice.
Chinese researchers have developed several GM rice varieties resistant to the country’s major rice pests and diseases, such as the lepidopteran insect stem borer, bacteria blight, rice blast fungus and rice dwarf virus (see "Promises and perils of GM rice", this series). "Significant progress" was also reported for drought- and salt-tolerance. Zhen Zhu, a leading rice scientist and deputy director of the Bureau of Life Science and Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Nature Biotechnology that "China [is] technically mature [enough] to commercialise several varieties of its GM rice".
China’s biotech budget for 2001-2005 is $1.2 billion, a 400% increase compared with 1996-2000, and about $120 million out of the current budget is devoted to GM rice programmes, Zhu estimates, and more will be allocated to field trials of GM rice. At least 10 new field trials for GM rice are expected this year, keeping the planting level comparable to 2003 of at least 53 hectares.
In the United States, USDA authorized 10 GM rice field trials over 11 hectares in 2003 and 12 trials over 45 hectares in the first quarter of 2004, 90% of which done by Monsanto.
China will be closely watched by both the developed and the developing world. China’s activities in GM rice have gone on simultaneously with extensive trials in sustainable, low input rice-growing systems that benefit small farmers (see "Fantastic rice yields fact or fallacy" and "Does SRI work?" this series).
Huanming Yang, Director of the Beijing Genomics Institute in China, the lead author of a paper on the rice genome sequence published side by side with Syngenta’s in the journal Science two years ago, told ISIS recently that he is "strongly opposed" to patenting the rice genome.
"As one of the important sequencing centres [of the rice genome], we think it should be covered by Bermuda Rules and should [be] made freely available. That is the reason that we have released the rice genome sequences," Yang said.
The ‘Bermuda Rules’ refers to guidelines for releasing human sequence data established in February 1996 at a Bermuda meeting of heads of the biggest labs in the publicly funded human genome project. The rules require the labs to share the results of sequencing "as soon as possible", releasing all stretches of DNA longer than 1 000 units, and to submit the data within 24 hours to the public database known as GenBank. The goal, as stated in a memo released at the time, was to prevent the sequencing centres from "establishing a privileged position in the exploitation and control of human sequence information."