In my Spanish class recently we learned the future tense. In an attempt to keep things interesting, the topics covered by the future tense chapter were space travel and genetic engineering. We discussed the consequences of creating babies “a la carte”, and for our final assignment we had to write an essay about the topic of our choice in regards to space travel or genetic engineering.
While the rest of the class talked about how genetic engineering for animals or humans can lead to a slippery slope of limited biodiversity, I found myself writing about how genetically engineering plants saves money, provides food for the poor and makes agriculture a much more efficient system. I wish I had read the article we are going to talk about before my essay, since it speaks directly of genetic research ailing efficiency in choosing crops.
Grapes are one of the most lucrative crops. However, it takes at least three years for a seed to mature into a fruit-bearing plant. Providing land, fertilizers, and water for three years is expensive. Imagine spending three years growing something and then realizing they are not the type of grapes you thought they were! This can lead to poor yield, and a heavy monetary loss.
With this in mind, a group of scientists lead by Gan-Yuan Zhong from the ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit in Geneva, New York, conducted a study to identify genetic markers for grape cultivars quickly and inexpensively. These genetic markers are supposed to indicate the desired phenotypes (visible traits we would like to have) in crops that can be used for selection.
The researchers began by looking for large scale polymorphisms that are similar across different breeds of grapes. They discovered a lot of single nucleotide polymorphisms, also known as SNPs that can be used to differentiate between the pinot noir and wild types, for example, or even distinguish between different wild type grapes.
Scientists expect this study will pave the way for developing methods to select other crops as well, allowing for lower cost crops and higher yields.
Discussion Question: What are single nucleotide polymorphisms?
News Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100323105954.htm
Research Article: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008219
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