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Enhancement Mc Lean, Garvin

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Enhancement Mc Lean, Garvin

  1. 1. Concept of Enhancement<br />By Rob McLean and Heidi Garvin<br />Some sorghum and millet grown by INTSORMIL has something in common with Captain Kirk’s nemesis, Khan. The grains, like the Star Trek villain, are enhanced when scientists select the best paternal genetics.<br />Scientists enhance sorghum and pearl millet when they increase certain desirable characteristics. Researchers can find the traits they want by following each plant’s pedigree carefully—then by breeding that plant with another that has complementary traits.<br />While eugenics enhanced Khan with super intellect and physical strength, sorghum and millet enhancement promotes better nutrition and resistance to drought, pests and diseases.<br />Dr. Gary Peterson, an INTSORMIL scientist who breeds sorghum at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, used “head smut” as an example.<br />According to the website of Integrated Pest Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, head smut is a disease that can cause a plant to “have weakened root systems and commonly exhibit more severe stalk and root rots than smut-free plants.”<br /> To enhance sorghum resistance to head smut, a scientist would find a sorghum plant that shows signs of that trait and breed it with a sorghum plant susceptible to head smut. That produces an “F1” seed generation.<br />Seeds in this generation do not segregate traits—that happens in the “F2” generation. Sorghum creates the “F2” generation by pollinating itself, Peterson said in an e-mail.<br />Plants segregate traits after the parent plants breed. For instance, if a red tail sorghum plant and a white tail sorghum plant breed, their offspring will be either red or white, Peterson said in an e-mail.<br />The “F2” generation also self-pollinates, creating an “F3” generation, which produces the enhanced seeds.<br /> Scientists then plant those seeds in an area known for head smut and wait to see if the new plants have resistance.<br />“Enhancement” is a more elegant term for genetic improvement, Peterson said. But don’t confuse enhancement with genetic modification. According to Peterson, there is “all the difference in the world” between the two.<br />Scientists using genetic modification take a trait from one species and implant it in another, Peterson said. Scientists using enhancement find a desired trait in one plant and retain it in that plant’s next generation.<br />

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