California Agriculture Online
California Agriculture Home  >   Volume 52   >   Number 6  >   Viewing Expanded Abstract

peer-reviewed research article

Public germplasm development at a crossroads: Biotechnology and intellectual property

authors

Brian Wright, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Berkeley

publication information

California Agriculture 52(6):8-13. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v052n06p8. November-December 1998.

abstract

This year, U.S. growers planted 45 million acres of genetically engineered crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes (Pollan 1998). These transgenic “smart crops” can produce their own insecticides, or withstand broad-spectrum herbicides such as Roundup or Liberty. Some say these developments signal the coming of age of the most profound technological revolution since the advent of computer technology.

But while transgenic crops promise new options for California farmers, they raise questions as well. For instance, a series of laws, legal judgments and Patent Office decisions during the last two decades have transformed property rights and incentives in the seed industry. Today genetic materials ranging from DNA sequences to whole plants, as well as essential biotechnology tools and techniques, are being patented by private and public research entitles. At the same time, a series of mergers and acquisitions in the agrochemical and seed industries have led to increasing dominance by a small number of transnational corporations in these fields. Such industrywide changes signal a profound shift in the ownership of life forms and the recombinant DNA tools needed to manipulate them. How will the existing options for assigning “ownership” change the way in which germplasm development will occur? How will those changes affect farmers?

author affiliations

B.D. Wright is Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.

author notes

The author thanks Marlon Brandon, Director of the Rice Experiment Station, Biggs, CA and Alan Bennett, Associate Dean of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, for their critical comments on the manuscript and the sharing of their stories.

References

Barton JH, Siebeck WE. Material Transfer Agreements in Genetic Resource Exchange: The Case of the International Agricultural Research Centers. 1994. Issues in Genetic Resources, No. 1, International Plant Genetic Rescues Institute, Rome, Italy.

Enriquez J. Genomics and the world's economy. Science. 1998. 281(5379):6. DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5379.925 [CrossRef]

Fowler C. Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics, and Plant Evolution.. International Studies in Global Change, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, Yverdon, Switzerland 1994.

Juma C. The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds.. African Center for Technology Studies Research Series, No.1 1989. Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press.

Koo B. The Economics of Plant Genetic Resources: The Effects of Alternative Intellectual Property Protection Systems and Advances in Biotechnology. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley 1998.

Lappé M, Bailey B. Against the Grain.. 1998. Monroe, ME:Common Courage Press. 163p.

Miller JP. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int'l Faces Long Legal Fight. Dow Jones Newswires 1998. Oct. 29, 1998

Pollan M. Playing God in the Garden. NY Times Mag. 1998. Oct. 25, 1998

Powledge F. "Who owns rice and beans?. Patents on plant germplasm." BioScience,. 1995. 45(7):5.

Robinson D. Personal communication. Nov. 20, 1998

Wright B. "Operation of Public Agricultural Research and Extension in a World of Proprietary Science and Technology.". 1998. Paper presented at conference Knowledge Generation and Transfer: Implications for Agriculture in the 21st Century. July 1998, Berkeley, CA.