They have devoted considerable sums of money to biotechnology research (Gottweis 1998), taken significant strides to deregulate the industry (Wright 1994), and sought to promote the spread of U. S.-style intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization. The U. S. government in particular has also promoted the dissemination of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries through the U. S. Agency for International Development.
With so much economic and political muscle propelling them, it is not surprising that GE crops hit the ground running when they came onto the scene in the mid-1990s. But what is surprising is that the rapid growth in GE crop deployment has been matched by an equally remarkable (and perhaps historically unprecedented) proliferation of citizens' voices challenging the biotechnology industry on economic, environmental, cultural, and moral grounds. Indeed, long before transgenic crops made their way to the market, individuals and groups concerned about the dissemination of these new technologies were already questioning their safety, utility, and necessity.
Advances in genetics have reached a stage where breeding schemes can now be augmented with the use of a number of technologies. Commercial breeding programs have and will continue to evaluate and invest in research that considers the prospects to either change or refine the in situ gene-to-phenotype system. From the 1990s, transgenic methods have been applied to key traits. Commercial transgenic hybrids have been developed for traits where there is a simple gene-to-phenotype relationship. At this early stage of technology development it is tempting to conclude that transgenic solutions will only be applicable for trait targets under simple genetic control. However, this view is not accurate. Conventional genetic improvement of resistance to insect pests was viewed as a traditional complex trait problem before the widespread use of trans-gene sources of resistance to insect pests.
Organization of Genomics Efforts
Only over the last decade has the scientific community developed and had access to the range of molecular tools that provide the technological foundation that will be necessary to understand (i) the genetic architecture of the trait combinations we seek to manipulate, (ii) the nature of the genetic changes that were brought about by phenotypic selection, (iii) the power that can be attained in a breeding strategy (molecular and conventional) to achieve directed genetic changes that manipulate the trait phenotypes we seek to improve, and (iv) the limits that will ultimately be faced in using genetic technologies to make robust changes to plant phenotypes that improve the sustainability of agricultural systems.
Much of the genomic technological advancements used in plants were developed to meet the needs of the human genome effort. In most cases the application of these DNA-, RNA-, and protein-based technologies to study plant genomes has been straightforward. To take advantage of the opportunities that these genomic technologies provide to plant breeding, plant genomics efforts over the last decade have been heavily focused on plant specific gene discovery, gene function knowledge creation, and organization of the heterogeneous data sources that have emerged across the scientific community.
Creating a Molecular Breeding Focus
Today the concept of