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May 8, 2012

Argentina - Drought Tolerant (DT) Sunflower Gene to Increase Soybean Yields

Field of sunflowers, Mendoza, Argentina
Photo: GuiaFe
Researchers in Argentina have discovered a drought tolerant sunflower gene that can be inserted into gene-modified soybeans to increase yields.  The gene HAHB4 is what enables sunflowers to grow in dry conditions. Dr. Raquel Chan and her colleagues at Argentina's Agrobiotechnology Institute at the National University of the Coast are working to insert this gene into soybeans, wheat, and corn.

Dr. Chan and her research team have signed an agreement with agricultural biotechnology company Bioceres.  This Argentine company has formed Verdeca, a joint venture with the US-based Arcadia Biosciences to invest up to US$30 million in further seed development.

This research on drought tolerance is especially relevant in Argentina, which is currently suffering from a severe drought.  Last year the dry conditions cut Argentina's soybean production by 30 percent.  Dr. Chan and her colleagues believe their work has global significance as climate conditions increasingly forecast higher temperatures and drought in other regions of the world.

Argentina is the largest exporter of soybean oil and soymeal in the world.  It is the third largest exporter of soy seeds.  Industry experts believe that drought tolerant soybeans could increase these Argentine soy exports by $10 billion in added profits each year.  

Greenpeace opposes the development of GM seeds, including drought tolerant soybeans.  They believe this technology will "promote deforestation and the expansion of soy crops into new regions such as Patagonia, as well as cause a 'significant loss' in biodiversity and force thousands of farmers and native people to relocate."  Greenpeace coordinator Hernan Giardini is especially concerned about spread of the soybeans into the native forest areas of the Gran Chaco.

According to Dr. Chan, once soy, wheat, or corn are gene-modified (GM) with HAHB4, yields have increased between 10 and 100 percent, depending on the crop's quality and local conditions.  The government of Argentina looks to license seeds gene-modified with HAHB4 by 2015.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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