Private-Public Sector Partnership Necessary in Biotechnology Research

 


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There are very interesting developments in the field of agricultural biotechnology currently taking place in India.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) has offered to transfer the technology and basic breeding material of Bt Brinjal, a low calorie vegetable widely grown in India, to two public sector institutions; The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore (TNAU) and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UASD).

The public sector institutions will not pay any royalty as long as they don’t commercialize the genetically modified Brinjal. This is a very unusual, but highly significant gesture.

Private seed companies, especially in the field of biotechnology, are not known to freely share innovational information with public organizations. They keep such information under a lock and key for fear of patent infringement. While this is understandable, it has fueled animosity and suspicions among scientists working in public institutions, especially in developing countries.

Obviously, no company would be willing to invest billions of dollars to develop new seed varieties only for an armchair scientist to copy cat them. But the need to safeguard proprietary information shouldn’t override the desire for seed companies to partner with public institutions. Doing so will deny the anti-biotech crowd a chance to characterize biotech companies as selfish and secretive.

Mahyco has set a good example that all biotechnology seed companies should follow. Biotech companies stand to benefit if they open their doors wider to public institutions. This is especially critical in Africa where genetically modified crops are yet to make major inroads.

It can’t be gainsaid that there is already such partnership going on in Africa. In Kenya, for example, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is working closely with biotech seed companies in the development of genetically modified maize resistant to stem borers. But more such partnership is needed to accelerate the adoption of genetically modified crops in developing countries.

James uses his communication expertise to create awareness about GM food. To read more about him, go to http://www.gmoafrica.org

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