Dr. Elmo M. Beyer
Vice President, Global Technology DuPont Agricultural Division
Dr. Elmo Beyer is Vice President, Strategic R&D Planning within DuPont’s Life Sciences businesses. He has responsibility for the strategic development of technology platforms in chemistry and genetics to support and expand DuPont’s Agriculture and Nutrition businesses. Dr. Beyer serves on DuPont’s Corporate Technology Council and the Life Sciences Strategic Steering Team. His leadership in science and technology at DuPont has helped elevate DuPont to a global leader in agricultural biotechnology and chemistry. Dr. Beyer joined DuPont in 1970 after receiving a Ph.D. in Plant Biochemistry from Texas A&M University. He has served in many R&D roles within the company. Dr. Beyer has published over 50 papers and reviews. He has participated in numerous international conferences and workshops in the agricultural sciences and biotechnology, has been actively involved on many different research advisory boards and has served on government and university steering committees. Dr. Beyer grew up on a farm in Texas, is married and has two children.
Biotechnology can be defined as the logical use of biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof to make or modify products or processes for specific uses. This broad definition would include such historic procedures as hybrid corn, cheese production and brewing (Fig. 1).
A more current definition, related to genetically modified organisms (GMO) involves the use of DNA techniques, molecular biology and cell culture permitting the addition, deletion, or modification of genes in living organisms for useful purposes.
Genes are sequences of DNA – the units of heredity. We consume them every day. For example, every cell of a kernel of corn contains about 80,000 genes.
Genes effect changes in an organism by forming or controlling enzymes which in turn control how and where to make a change in the structure or composition of the parent organism. Various insects attack cotton plants. A soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis produces a crystalline protein toxic to the larvae of several insects.
By transferring the gene controlling the production of this protein to cotton, the cotton plants are protected against many insect pests, eliminating the need for multiple applications of chemical protectants. By transferring a gene from another soil bacterium, soybeans have been provided with the capacity to breakdown the herbicide Roundup very quickly, enabling the plants to survive while adjacent weeds are destroyed.
About 400,000 children are blind this year due to vitamin A deficient diet. A Swiss group is working to increase the level of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in rice, the main item of diet in those parts of the world where this blindness occurs.
Some of the results of GMO include increasing the stability of soybean oil in frying applications, leading to better flavor. This was done by using “genetic switches” to reduce the polyunsaturates and increase the oleic acid content. The levels of methionine and lysine in soybean meal have been doubled, reducing the need for supplementation in animal feeds. The carbohydrate fraction of soybean meal has been modified to make phosphorus absorption more efficient, thus reducing the levels of that element in animal waste, in turn reducing the pollution problem.
Among the objectives of GMO research are the production of spider silk and other polymers, flavors and fragrances, vitamins, natural rubber and new polyesters, all from renewable resources (Fig. 2).
The world population is expected to level off at about 8.5 billion in about 40 years, requiring a doubling of the use of feed grains, without any significant increase in crop production area. Part of this increase will be due to a greater demand for meat, milk and eggs as China and other developing countries become more affluent (Fig. 3).
Food and environmental safety factors are monitored by three U.S. Regulatory Agencies. USDA monitors all genetically engineered crops to ensure safety in the environment and during transportation. EPA acts when there is any evidence of plants having pesticidal properties. FDA gets involved in all GMO foodstuffs for consumer protection. Over the last decade, more than fifty products of GMO crops have moved through the system. As and when new information becomes available, these agencies can, and have pulled registrations as circumstances required. Responsible stewardship from companies distributing GMO products has also been demonstrated when needed (Fig. 4).
Benefits from GMO will accrue to scientific organizations, farmers, distributors, and ultimately consumers only when the consumers themselves become fully aware of the nature of GMO and the safety precautions applied thereto (Fig. 5).
Using GMO to increase sustainable food and fiber quantity and quality in the absence of new agricultural land will help provide the world’s needs in the critical years to come.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.