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Genetic Glass Ceilings

, 488 pages

10 halftones, 34 line drawings

February 2008



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Genetic Glass Ceilings

Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity

As the world’s population rises to an expected ten billion in the next few generations, the challenges of feeding humanity and maintaining an ecological balance will dramatically increase. Today we rely on just four crops for 80 percent of all consumed calories: wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans. Indeed, reliance on these four crops may also mean we are one global plant disease outbreak away from major famine.

In this revolutionary and controversial book, Jonathan Gressel argues that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a "genetic glass ceiling": no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their agricultural value. Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by advocating transgenics—a technique where genes from one species are transferred to another. He maintains that with simple safeguards the technique is a safe solution to the genetic glass ceiling conundrum. Analyzing alternative crops—including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat, tef, and sorghum—Gressel demonstrates how gene manipulation could enhance their potential for widespread domestication and reduce our dependency on the Big Four. He also describes a number of ecological benefits that could be derived with the aid of transgenics.

A compelling synthesis of ideas from agronomy, medicine, breeding, physiology, population genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology, Genetic Glass Ceilings presents transgenics as an inevitable and desperately necessary approach to securing and diversifying the world's food supply.

Jonathan Gressel is professor emeritus of plant sciences at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

"At last, a proactive roadmap for the future deployment of plant genetic engineering! Jonathan Gressel has crafted a deeply thoughtful and creative program for the mindful use of crop biotechnology to fulfill its promise."

"I urge you to read Jonny Gressel's book, Genetic Glass Ceilings. I have read the first nine chapters, to the point where he begins his discussion of specific case studies (papaya, tef buckwheat, and others). I have learned so much from Jonny's book. Jonny asks challenging questions and then discusses realistic, clear-eyed solutions to the questions—all about the genetic glass ceilings faced by plant breeders."

"Offers refreshing hope of successfully feeding the world's population... Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals."

"Everyone who wants to learn and understand more about plant breeding and agricultural biotechnology should read Jonathan Gressel’s book. Its wealth of erudition and wisdom makes it worthy of recognition as a modern classic."

"A compelling synthesis of ideas."

"This book would serve as a good basis for a serious course in agronomy departments around the world."

"The book is indeed an eye-opener... Well worth the effort."

"Professor Jonathan Gressel has written a thought-provoking book that contains something for everyone with an interest in the application of modern genetics to crop-based agriculture. I hope it will be read by both enthusiasts and skeptics about the application of genetic engineering to crop genetic improvement."

"This book provides an erudite documentation of the limited biodiversity in agricultural systems and the concomitant poor quality of the human diet."

"A valuable reference for all interested in the role of TGVs [transgenetic crops] in the future of food and agriculture."

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