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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2000

Manfred Kern, Aventis CropScience, Frankfurt, Germany

Biography

Manfred Kern studied zoology, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology and genetics at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. He graduated on the subject "Brain aging in insects" in Mainz. After a follow-up at the Southern Methodist University Dallas/Texas, USA in 1982 he joined the biological research center of the Hoechst AG/Frankfurt in 1984 where he was responsible for insect resistance management, selectivity, and integrated crop management. When AgrEvo GmbH was formed, he changed to the biological research department to focus on applied insect physiology/pharmacology, product support, integrated crop production and genetically modified plants. He assumed the leadership of the project in 1995 for a comprehensive study; Safeguarding of world food supply "Vision 2025/2050".

From 1998 to 1999 he was in charge of the group Scientific Communication and Integrated Crop Management with AgrEvo. Since the beginning of 2000 Dr. Kern has headed Global Technology Communication within the unit of Technology Strategy & Resources of Aventis CropScience in Frankfurt. Research trips have led him to Brazil, Thailand, China, Ukraine, Israel, Hong Kong, Chile, Argentina, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, USA, Turkey, Dominican Republic, India, Russia, Australia, and other EC-countries. He has produced more than ninety publications.

Abstract

Biotechnology at the beginning of the third millennium: Facts and global trends

Sustainable agriculture and sustainable intensification of agricultural systems are the challenges of the future. Sustainable agriculture is defined as the production of food to meet the needs of today without hindering the ability of future generations to meet their needs while maintaining a sustainable healthy environment.

World food supplies will have to more than double by 2025 to ensure sufficient quantity and quality, not only to meet increases in population, but also as a result of greater urbanization and spending power. In the past, world agriculture was in a position to produce enough healthy food for the growing population by gradually introducing yield-increasing technologies such as high-yield seeds, crop protection products, fertilizers, and improved irrigation systems and introducing more land to agriculture. Despite this, about 800 million people throughout the world are still undernourished. Full utilization of all technologies in crop production, including modern biotechnology, will play a decisive role in increasing yield to maintain sustainable global self-sufficiency in food.

In 1999 over 70 genetically modified (transgenic) varieties of crops were registered for commercial cultivation worldwide. These include varieties of cotton, chicory, potato, pumpkin, corn, soybean, rape, papaya, tobacco, tomato and clove. More than 15,000 field trials have been undertaken globally. New genetic modifications of more than 100 plant species are growing in laboratories, greenhouses, or in the field of experimental purposes.

The first wave of biotechnology crops is being grown commercially in the field, providing farmers with new agronomic traits, particularly herbicide tolerance and pest resistance that enable them to grow these crops more easily and more profitable. In 1999 the global area under genetically improved crops was a 40 million hectares, mainly of corn (maize), soybean, cotton, canola (rape-seed) and potatoes. Eighty five per cent was grown in the USA, Canada, Australia, France and Spain and approximately 15 percent of the area was in developing countries, notably Argentina, China, Mexico and South Africa. The private sector accounts for more than 80 percent of international biotechnology research. During 1997-99 transactions by the biosciences companies in the seeds industry have reached about US$ 18 billion. These investments were made to have access to the different crops and markets.

The second generation of genetically improved crops coming to commercialization over the next five years will include both other commodity and specialty crops, and also the introduction of new traits to improve the quality and nutritional value of the crops. There is also increasing interest in using crops to produce medically and/or industrially important compounds, such as vaccines in potatoes and biodegradable plastics in corn.