A new technology has become available for plant and animal breeding companies: DNA marker technology. The companies can extract DNA from cells, produce a few standard chemical reactions and analyze the results using software and genetic mapping. Within a few days the breeder will have sufficient information to be able to determine whether a new breed has the desired characteristics. Plant breeders can significantly shorten the breeding process and will be able to cross-breed exotic breeds and varieties more efficiently. WAU Professor Stam hopes that the new technique will encourage breeders, who currently use only a small percentage of the available genetic resources, to extend their use of the gene pool.
Dutch potato farmers used to use a large amount of disinfectants on their fields in order to rid them of harmful nematodes. The use of disinfectants has been reduced, and breeders have come up with varieties that are resistant to potato root eelworm. However, other less damaging nematodes, which were also destroyed by the disinfectants, are now striking back. As a result, the farmers have started buying selective nematicides. This is unnecessary, says T.H. Been from the Institute of Phytopathological Research in Wageningen: These nematodes don't harm the potato plants too much, and the institute has now developed an early warning system. If farmers follow the advice of the institute, they don't need to use disinfectants."
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has overestimated the amount of evaporation of water from irrigation schemes. Meteorologist H.A.R. de Bruin from the WAU has used satellite information to measure the evaporation in dry regions. He concludes that the FAO estimates, based on ground stations, are thirty percent too high. They fail to take into account the presence of humid microclimates in large irrigation areas. Within these areas the temperature is lower and therefore there is less evaporation. De Bruin concludes that a lot of water is wasted and that governments do not need to build as many water reservoirs in new irrigation areas as planned.
A colourful person has left the university - Cees Veeger, chair in Biochemistry, retired last week. Apart from his impressive scientific career, Veeger often complained about the stupid or ignorant policy of the WAU. In his farewell speech, he argued that the WAU is no longer hungry for the truth, but for money. Linking science to the priorities of industry will harm the search for the truth and the fundamental knowledge of life, argued Veeger. WAU should stop applied research and revert to being a shrine of pure science.