Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times, 20 May 2004

Modified papayas protected from virus

The papaya ring spot virus decimated harvests of the fruit in Hawaii in the 1990s, shrinking yields to less than half of the normal 50,000 tonnes a year. Attempts to get rid of the disease by removing the affected plants, developing a vaccine and using traditional plant breeding systems failed.

So scientists modified the fruit's genes, inserting a small portion of the virus' genetic structure. The new fruit is resistant to ring spot, and papaya production is back to normal.

The example of how genetic modification can have tangible benefits and pose no safety problems to those who eat the genetically modified (GM) item was cited by United States State Department's senior negotiator for agricultural biotechnology, Mr Peter Chase.

In fact, the non-GM papaya plants also benefited, he added. By growing them within a ring of GM crops, this protected them from potentially fatal insect attacks. Mr Chase, whose country is the world's largest producer of GM food, said that many opponents of such technology dismiss all such produce as bad.

'Biotech products should be regulated. And that regulation should be based on science, something which is not universally the case now,' he told The Straits Times.

'There seems to be an over-emphasis on the risks rather than the benefits. My objective is keeping the door open for people to use the technology.'

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore).Copyright 2004

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