Can you help Biofortified?

In the interests of making science-based information about biotechnology easily available to everyone, we’re working on a few resource pages that you can find in the header under “Resources”. One such page is a list of traits that have been developed with biotechnology. It’s incomplete at the moment, but I’d like to ask your help with creating this resource. I hope you’ll visit the page and post in the Forum if you have links for any of the traits listed or for additional traits. Thanks in advance!

Anastasia Bodnar

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar serves as the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. She is a science communicator and multidisciplinary risk analyst with a career in federal service. She has a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University.

14 comments

  1. Anastasia,
    The most comprehensive database of biotech traits can be found at
    http://www.isb.vt.edu/cfdocs/fieldtests1.cfm
    Peruse that database at your leisure, and you will find that real information is impossible to find, due to Confidential Business Information.
    You’ll never surpass what’s available at Information Systems for Biotechnology, which is slim pickings. There are glimmers of powerful crop improvements, but glimmers nonetheless.

  2. Eric – one issue with the database of comprehensive traits is that it includes traits which have not yet been developed, aswell as already developed traits – I’d guess that the 5000+ approved for release but not dergulated traits on the list for corn there fall under yield genes, nitrogen use efficiency genes, and water use efficiency genes (on top of HT and IR improvements)- at least nominally – as many either won’t do anything much, or won’t work etc etc – once a trait actually does something, and has been proven to do so, the information will be out there like a shot (phase advancements in a product pipeline do great things for share prices – and if you’re advancing a product you can almost bet there’ll be IP protection around it)
    Checking your list I notice a bunch of commercially available traits arent listed, either traits on the list in different crops(RR alfalfa, sugar beet, corn), or a couple traits not listed (vistive soybeans (low-mid linoleic, smartstax (although this falls under RR, Bt, and whatever the other IR HT traits in there are)(guessing you’re aware of these and it’s just a matter of having time to update etc…)

  3. Yep, you hit the nail on the head. Time is limited so I was hoping to crowd-source the traits with links to the papers they appear in as well as a short description. Even from a brief search, it’s apparent that Bt and RR are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s been done, even though many have not been commercialized. I’ll check out the link that Eric posted, hopefully the info won’t require too much wrangling to be posted here.

  4. Ewan,
    That database is complete. All US field trials of biotech crops.
    The reason you’re not seeing what you’re looking for is the ad-hoc nature of descriptions given for traits. Thus, Vistive would be called something like ‘oil profile enhanced’, etc. The reason for this is that the companies involved don’t want to signal to the competition exactly what they’re up to.
    Look at the list of traits and you’re looking at a long list of euphemisms, and that’s the best you’re going to get.
    That’s because the companies are entitled to designate information as ‘Confidential Business Information’, or CBI. Trawling the database, you will find many traits are CBI. Same for ‘donor organisms’. In an number of instances, the identity of the company itself is held confidential.
    In spite of these shortcomings, it’s the most complete database you will find anywhere.
    You can do some quick datamining on the database by running a search of your choice and pulling stuff out of the source code for the results page. But the search page itself will yield a list of all traits it indexes on if you look at the page source.
    It’s interesting that mis-spells are indexed as unique!

  5. Why didn’t I think of this before?
    If you are content to have *only* commercialized GM crops, and insist on complete information, your one-stop shopping is
    http://www.cera-gmc.org/?action=gm_crop_database&
    I note that there’s a 2010 update. It’s an astounding resource.
    Fly in the ointment: the database also includes crops with novel traits developed through mutagenesis, conventional breeding, etc., because Canada regulates them in the same way as ‘GM’ crops.

  6. Why limit to the US? Was that a requirement?
    That reminds me I need to look up that New Zealand grass….

  7. Eric – I was suggesting that its completeness is perhaps what causes issues – in terms of traits being developed commercially it isn’t particularly useful (imo) to have a big list of stuff being tested, as 95%+ of stuff that is being tested is probably never going to see the light of day
    Although looking through the list of phenotypes is pretty interesting – shame that not only mispells but also the same thing worded differently are all indexed as unique (I looked up yield initially and got 1 result, because it appears yield is listed in many different ways) – once things do approach commercialization however there will be more disclosure (as per the WUE trait slated to come out shortly) which I think is what Anastasia is more looking for – traits developed (a minor handful), rather than traits in development (literally hundreds per year per company, of which I’d guess only a small percentage will see a second year of testing (or a third))

  8. Amusingly I searched Maize, monsanto, US and got zero results… then realized there were multiple monsanto entries, which is just bizarre – very cool resource though

  9. Mary M,
    It’s pointless to look at what New Zealand does. Its biotech research efforts are almost completely canceled by the efforts of its anti-biotech militant vandals, but feel free to waste your time.

  10. Actually, we certainly would want to include whatever New Zealand is doing *because* of their problems with vandals.
    People who don’t know much about biotech often claim that the only traits made possible by genetic engineering are traits for large American corporate farms – traits that encourage the use of herbicides. (of course, they’re ignoring Bt, but that’s not the point here)
    What I’d like to do with such a list is show what traits are possible, what’s being done in countries around the world. To show, definitively, that it’s not just Monsanto, that it’s not just corporate science for corporate farms, that it’s not just in the US. The traits are out there – we just have to collect them!

  11. Interestingly, New Zealand has a program for eucalyptus modified to withstand colder temperatures — but, due to vandalism, etc. the field trials are being conducted in the US.
    Activists are protesting this move, claiming that sending GM trees to the US ‘will destroy New Zealand’s ‘clean and green’ reputation’.

  12. Anastasia,
    By that measure, you will also want to include in the database traits that are under development in France and recently destroyed.
    See, e.g., Vandalismes de laboratoires publics, http://www.marcel-kuntz-ogm.fr/article-vandalisme-labo-public-52897421.html
    Partial (machine) translation:
    “On the night of 22 to 23 June 2010, the Laboratory of Plant Genome and Development at the University s Perpignan, CNRS and the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) has been vandalized: tag “No to GMO” were inscribed on the growing rooms where the plants have been largely destroyed; freezer storage at -80 ° C have been disconnected and emptied. Several researchers have lost several months of experimentation and unique biological material.”
    You may note the lack of information about the plants and traits involved.
    Paranoia in this realm of science is so pervasive that good, solid work — and solid progress — is kept under wraps. Private-sector paranoia is largely driven by concerns over competitors, but literally *all* research in the field is threatened by vandals.
    In fact, the ‘high value’ targets for anti-biotech vandals would be the trials which might boast of the greatest achievements.
    Accordingly, the most successful experiments are those most likely to be hit by anti-biotech vandals. Conversely, the best advances will be those most aggressively hidden. Why? The most notable success with agro biotechnology is the most notable blow to the vandals’ Public Relations narrative.
    Between the lines, this means that efforts to construct a database of Really Good Traits (RGTs) in the pipeline is doomed to be incomplete and distorted, for political/security concerns that cannot be quantified.
    If you continue in your efforts to construct a trait database, you’ll need to add caveats such as this for researchers who wish to make use of it.

Comments are closed.