Several scenarios of rapid population increase in developing countries are indicating that the world population would reach 8 billion in 2025 and 10 billion in 2050. To feed this ever-increasing population, existing agricultural land is likely to be subjected to a higher intensity of cultivation in populous areas, and farmland development will be extended to areas only marginally suited for agriculture. These practices will further accelerate farmland degradation and desertification on a global scale. In order to overcome the global scale problems, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was established in 1971. The mission of the CGIAR is to contribute through its research to promoting sustainable agriculture for food security in developing countries. Japanese Government has established of The Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) in 1993 in order to contribute to the global food security through agricultural research and technology. The mission and activities of CGIAR and JIRCAS are described.
Plant genetic resources (PGR) have been contributed to the daily life of the people in the world through the domestication of and civilization with them. PGR should be regarded as the essential subjects, the same as water, air, and soil which are the important components of the global environment. Thus, PGR can be deteriorated or lost easily unless we pay an extra-caution to live with them. In an old time, more numbers of plant species have been used for food, feed, fiber, remedy, energy, construction, manufacturing and/or environmental protection compared with the limited number of species used at present. PGR have been supported the development of the traditional knowledge and culture, in contrast which is now diminishing very rapidly with PGR. With the modern agriculture supported by the plant breeding, many of crop species have been further modified for the needs of human beings. On the other hand, an extensive use of particular species and cultivars have been caused the decrease in the diversity of the plant species for use and for conservation in nature. While science and technology are further being developed, there is constant increase in possibility to enhance the potential capability of crop species for synchronizing sustainability and productivity. On the other hand, without the contribution of PGR as the platform for the application on such science and technology, there would not be much future on the outcome of the applications of the modern science and technology. Learning from the past, the rejuvenation of traditional knowledge and cultural information, and the exploitation of the under-utilized PGR from elsewhere, should alleviate the diverse spectra of pitfalls confronting the needs of human beings.
Ecological devastation is becoming a serious problem locally to globally, inproportion as people seek affluent living circumstances. Environmental devastation originated mainly from nature exploitation and construction of cities and industrial institutions with non-biological materials. Humans have ignored the rules of nature, biodiversity and coexistence. One of the best measures we can take anywhere, in order to restore ecosystems indigenous to each region and to maintain global environments, including disaster prevention and CO2 absorption, is to restore native, multi-stratal forests following an ecological method. I would like to refer to the experimental reforestation projects based on ecological studies and their results at about 550 locations throughout Japan and in Southeast Asia, South America, and China. We have proved that it is possible to restore quasi-natural multi-stratal forest ecosystems in 20 to 30 years if we take the ecological method.
Plants are the basis for the human food supply, either consumed directly or fed to animal intermediaries. In prehistory, in various parts of the world, our forbears brought into cultivation a few hundred species from the hundreds of thousands available and in the process of domestication transformed them to crop plants through genetic alteration by conscious and unconscious selection. Through a long sequence of trial and error, relatively few plant species have become the mainstay of present day agriculture. The 30 most important crops consumed directly by humans (in order of production by weight of agricultural product) include sugarcane, rice, wheat, maize, potato, sugar beet, cassava, barley, sweet potato, soybean, banana/plantain, tomato, cottonseed, orange, grape, sorghum, apple, coconut, cabbage, watermelon, onion, rape, yam, oat, peanut, millet, sunflower, rye, mango, and bean. Our sustenance as a species is now based on the production of these species. There are three options available for increasing future crop resources: (1) emphasize genetic improvement and more efficient production of the major crops; (2) reinvestigate little known and underutilized crops; or (3) explore plant biodiversity to discover completely new crops. The first option continues to receive the most attention because of political support from vested interests such as growers and processors so that traditional crops have received the bulk of research support by the public sector and practically all of the private sector support, while their agricultural production has been reinforced by expensive subsidies or tax advantages. Furthermore, new advances in biotechnology have focused on the concept of altering major crops rather than minor ones becasue it offers the best way to increase returns on investment. Present experience indicates that improvement of major crop yields per unit or area of the major crops continues although the research cost per unit of yield increase has also risen. The consequence of this emphasis on major crops results in a continuing erosion of agricultural biodiversity. The expansion of underutilized or completely new crops offers many potential benefits including production diversification providing a hedge for financial and biological risks, national economic advantages by increasing exports and decreasing imports, improvement of human and livestock diets, creation of new industries based on renewable agricultural resources and substitutions for petroleum-based products, and the spur of economic development in rural areas by creating local, rural-based industries. Although interest in underutilized crops has increased as a result of increasing world globalization because new immigrants continue to prefer their traditional foods, there is no world strategic plan for new crop research, which is presently curtailed by lack of long term support. Similarly, the investigation of completely new crops is virtually ignored and is confined at present to the ornamental and pharmaceutical industries. The long term nature and high risk of exploring, developing, and commercializing completely new crops make it unlikely that the private sector can be successful so that government support and leadership is essential. An optimum strategy for expansion of future food resources will require a balance of effort between the three options described above.
Plants receive various kinds of stresses from the environment and are obliged to reduce their productivity. These stresses are often lethal. Changing the present plants to ones resistant to these stresses is important for guaranteeing the next generation the food and the environment. One of the most severe factors that influence the productivity is the shortage of water for growth. Under water limitation, plants close the stomata and the excess light energy captured on the thylakoid membranes is directed to formation of active oxygens. Our previous efforts successfully rendered a model plant, tobacco, to be active oxygen-resistant. However, the active oxygen-resistant tobacco could not grow at all under water deficit because of closure of the stomata. The plant to be created must fix CO2 for growth even if the stomata is almost closed and the rate of the flow of CO2 from the atmosphere into the leaf is strongly reduced. Our knowledge in plant physiology tells us plants can fix CO2 even under water deficit if the active site of the C02-fixing enzyme RuBisCO strongly discreminates against dioxygen. The present plant RuBisCO fixes one molecule of dioxygen for every 3 CO2 fixations. We have found that RuBisCO from Galdieria partita, an acidic, thermophilic red alga, discreminates against dioxygen 3 times more strongly than the plant enzyme. The affinity of the Galdieria enzyme for CO2 was 2 times higher than the plant enzyme. Physiological calculations tell that the Galdieria enzyme can render tobacco to fix CO2 at the range of the CO2 concentration where the natural plants cannot if the genes are successfully introduced into tobacco.
Present world food production would provide ca. 2, 400kcal/day/person if it could be equally distributed amongst the world population. Food is, however, and will always be, unevenly distributed. Many of us are used to consume 3, 400kcal/day. However, 800 million are starving at 1, 800kcal/day, and 3.4 billion live at the minimal level of 2, 200kcal/day. Although food security to date may be mainly a poverty problem, it is increasingly becoming a production problem. The world population is growing by 90 million p.a. and will, probably, stabilise only when a total of 10-12 billion has been reached. At the same time, however, world-wide food production per capita is declining, as is the crop land and the water available for agricultural food production. The continuous increases in food productivity of the past decades are declining and two of the three major food systems—oceans and rangelands—are already exploited at their limits. The world population will continue to grow dramatically and most of this population growth will occur in Developing Countries, which will not be rich enough to compete on the world market for food surplus and which, therefore, will, have to increase their harvests from agricultural land dramatically. And this increase has to be achieved under sustained conditions, with reduced inputs in agrochemicals, energy, water and manpower. Yield per acre has at least to be doubled. The most direct approach to an increase in food production, without an additional increase in input of resources, would be via reduction of losses with the help of resistant crop varieties. As crop loss is still in the range of 50% for the major food security crops such as rice and cassava, the potential of such an approach is enormous. Genetic engineering could, therefore, substantially contribute to the rescue of lost harvests via production of resistant varieties. It also could contribute to a second facet of food security, the improvement of food quality with regard to vitamins, micronutrients and essential amino acids. From our work at the ETH Zürich we will present the state of the art of projects with the food-security crops rice and cassava on pest- and disease resistance, supply of provitamin A, iron and protein, and reduction of toxic compounds.
There is increasing evidence for occurrence of programmed cell death (PCD) in plant development, plant-microbe interaction and cells under a variety of stresses. Recent studies on PCD in plants indicate that various features of apoptosis in mammals are shared with plant PCD: there is evidence for DNA fragmentation, oligonucleosomal DNA laddering, morphological changes in plant cells. These studies suggest that PCD plays an important role in the life of plants as in animals. Despite the wide occurrence of PCD in plants, signaling and components of the machinery for PCD are largely unknown. We recently identified the Rac family of the small GTP-binding protein as a key regulator of PCD in plants. Also, the analysis of lesion mimic mutants of rice indicates that some mutants have biochemical alterations in early steps of signaling in disease resistance. The major challenge in the study of plant PCD in the near future is the identification of signaling molecules and components of machinery involved in plant PCD. This will enable us to better understand this important cellular process of plants.
Quantitative genetic analysis of tomato response to salt or cold stress during seed germination and vegetative growth indicated that both salt and cold tolerance were complex traits, controlled by more than one gene and highly influenced by environmental variation. Molecular marker analyses indicated that at each stage of plant development salt tolerance or cold tolerance was generally controlled by the effects of a few major QTLs (quantitative trait loci) which acted in concert with a number of smaller-effect QTLs. At the seed germination stage, two types of QTLs were identified: those which affected germination under both stress and nonstress conditions, and thus were called stress-nonspecific QTLs, and those which contributed to rapid seed germination only under specific stress conditions, and thus were called stress-specific QTLs. Generally, the stress-nonspecific QTLs exhibited larger effects than the stress-specific QTLs. Consistent with this observation, selection for either salt or cold tolerance during germination resulted in progeny with improved germination under salt and cold stress as well as nonstress conditions. Comparison of salt tolerance during germination and vegetative growth indicated that mostly different QTLs contributed to tolerance at these two developmental stages; furthermore, selection for salt tolerance during germination did not affect progeny salt tolerance during vegetative growth. Similar results were obtained when cold tolerance during germination and vegetative growth were compared. The overall results indicate that, in tomato, stress tolerance during germination is independent of stress tolerance during vegetative growth. However, simultaneous improvement of plants for stress tolerance at multiple stages of plant development should be feasible through marker-assisted selection and breeding.
Environmental risk assessment of transgenic melon plants, introduced with coat protein gene of cucumber mosaic virus was carried out in a closed and a semi-closed greenhouse and in an isolated field. Risk assessment of melon such as allogamous and entomophily plants was a first trial in Japan. In this risk assessment, the following evaluation items were compared between transgenic and non-transgenic melon plants; (1) morphological characteristics of plants and fruits maturation periods, (2) reproductive characters, e. g. pollen form and fertility, longevity of the pollen, pollen dispersal by artificial wind and under natural condition, (3) possibility of harmful impact on environment due to the presence of detrimental substances i. e. volatile compounds, allelochemical substances, (4) overwintering to predict increasing of weediness, (5) residual Agrobacterium tumefaciens used as a vector for the production of the transgenic melon. In conclusion, the result of the evaluation experiments conducted indicated that the influence of transgenic melon plants on the environment was not different from that of non-transgenic melon plants.
Genetic modification can become a major achievement to plant breeding. However, genetic modification differs from traditional breeding in that totally new traits—for example from unrelated organisms—can be added to plants at a high rate, and that these traits are usually introduced many at a time as precisely designed stacks of genes with their own regulating sequences. These differences demand that plants developed by genetic modification are risk assessed. The possible risks are that transgenic phenotypes with altered fitness could change in abundance in the ecosystem, with unwanted effects on other species and on ecosystem integrity or that the ecosystems are affected indirectly by the transgenic plants. The risk analysis should provide information about the following: (1) the possibility of transfer of the transgene by spontaneous crosses between crop and weedy or wild relatives, (2) fitness of the genetically modified crop as well as fitness of the crop relatives that received the transgene by introgression and (3) other types of transgene provoked interactions between the recipient plant and the environment. As an example of a risk analysis data are presented from the model genus Brassica.
The new technologies for modifying agricultural crops through genetic engineering hold promise for creating valuable new food and feed sources, which are more affordable and environmentally friendly. With such new technologies come issues relating to the mechanisms by which such products reach the marketplace and how consumer and environmental safety can be assured. Extensive policy and infrastructure have developed in the U. S. for governing the development and release of biotechnological products. These policies have focused on not only addressing consumer and environmental safety issues but also aim to bolster public acceptance by addressing consumer concerns. Much of the unrest relating to the new foods derives from the fact that the majority of the population does not understand how food is grown or processed. Without an historical understanding of how our foods were developed, it is difficult to understand how the foods of tomorrow will be similar to or different from the foods of the past and therefore assessing their safety becomes problematic. The potential for risk in genetically engineered foods can be fairly accurately assessed using current scientific information and this has formed the basis for certain aspects of regulatory policy. However, public concern, often inconsistent with the scientific measurement of risk, has also influenced regulatory policy. The basis for this concern depends on the familiarity, “friendliness” and voluntary nature of the risk. For example, compare the adverse consumer reactions to E. coli 0157: H7-contaminated hamburger in the U. S. and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-tainted beef in the EU to the willing acceptance by many of the risks of picking and eating wild mushrooms and consuming deadly puffer fish. Many consumers in the U. S. also willingly consume the new low-calorie fat substitute despite the warning label, which states that it might cause diarrhea or interfere with nutrient absorption. These examples demonstrate that different situations and products can result in different perceptions of acceptable risk and these different perceptions can affect the development and application of regulatory policy. Biotechnology is an example where public perception of risk varies widely. These misconceptions often lead to modifications in regulatory policy which are inconsistent with the scientific measurement of risk. Some consumers believe that regulatory policy should strive for “zero risk”, not realizing that developing such policy comes at an economic price that might be inconsistent with the degree of risk and might not be necessary to insure public safety.
The impacts that human beings give on the environment can be classified into two types: one is developed regions' type, as a result of affluent life, and the other is developing regions' type due to poverty. We have finally found out clearly that the capacity of the earth is limited. Unless we human beings reduce the impacts we give on the environment, the environment will be no longer capable of withstanding the damage from us, and the earth will become a place where no human beings can live. Both types of the impacts must be reduced, but first, the people living in developed regions should eliminate an unnatural, useless and uneven way, and change their lifestyle in such a way that the impacts on the environment are smaller. On the other hand, of course the elimination of poverty is the thing that whole human races desire, it is important to solve this problem as soon as possible. At the same time, however, when we eliminate poverty, the impacts on the environment will increase. Therefore, it is indispensable in developing regions to design development methods by which environmental impacts will not increase, even when poverty disappears. In this paper, how development methods should be generalized and some specific method for solving those issues is discussed.