SAN FRANCISCO - Depending on your point of view, the great promise or peril of modern agriculture has germinated on millions of acres of North American cropland as the genetically modified organism -- or GMO -- has taken center stage.
But as science begins to accumulate and explore plant and animal genomes - the entire set of genetic instructions for a particular organism - a new revolution is in the offing and, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison biologist Robert Goodman, promises a long-lasting and favorable impact on agriculture worldwide.
Addressing scientists here today, Feb. 18, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Goodman forecasts a world of change as scientists use the maps of the genomes of key plants and animals, giving them unprecedented access to the genetic instructions that govern life. The new knowledge, he says, could significantly enhance the traditional and far-less controversial practices of crop and livestock improvement through breeding.
"From a scientific perspective, the public argument about genetically-modified organisms, I think, will soon be a thing of the past," Goodman says. "The science has moved on and we're now in the genomics era."
Instead of slipping one or two genes in or out of an organism to confer or promote a desirable trait in a plant or animal, as is the case in GMO technology, the advent of genomics portends an even more powerful tool as scientists can now rapidly comb the thousands of genes in a genome to see which genes are at work.
"The key is you can detect function." says Goodman. "You can see genes at work and you can focus on lots of genes all at once. This is what breeders have done for more than a century, but with new knowledge and modern tools of the trade, breeders can make more rapid progress on many more traits than in the past."
The potential of genomics to do good, especially in developing countries, is enormous, Goodman argu
Contact: Robert Goodman
University of Wisconsin-Madison