Wetenschap - 28 november 2002

English Summary

English Summary

The Institute of Agricultural Economics (LEI) recently advised the Chinese government to commercialise its production of genetically modified (GM) rice.

According to the economic analysis of the potential effects of using biotechnology in commercial crops, which was carried out together with the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, the country can earn five billion dollars more a year by stimulating the production of GM crops than if it were not to do this. The commercial exploitation of GM crops is still under discussion internationally. The EU forbids the import of these products and China wants to increase its agricultural exports. According to the LEI report, however, producing GM rice would lead to increases in yields that would benefit small farmers and improve the domestic market, as only 0.7% of the total rice yield is exported. One possible problem though is that if China starts to export more processed agricultural products it will not be able to guarantee that they are GM-free.

The number of biotechnologists working on sponges in the world is small, but some of them are in Wageningen, including PhD student Detmer Sipkema. The Journal of Biotechnology is publishing a sponge theme number in January 2003, and Sipkema's findings will be published in it. He is working on the structure of seven sponge varieties. Nobody has yet succeeded in growing sponges in captivity, but the pharmaceutical industry is very interested in sponges because substances they contain are used in the production of a variety of medicines. When a sponge is separated into individual cells these cells rapidly form 'primmorphs' - tiny marble-like balls of cells whose function is not yet clear. Sipkema wants to try and raise sponges from primmorphs, as being less sensitive to temperature changes than sponges, they might be easier to cultivate under lab conditions. If it is not possible to grow sponges in this way, it may at least be possible to extract biomass from the primmorphs rather than from sponges.