Genetic markers are new plant fingerprints

Genetic markers should replace the decades-old intellectual property system for new crop and plant varieties which is no longer fit for purpose, Scottish plant scientists claim.

According to geneticists at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) the long-standing ‘Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability’ (DUS) test which was formalised in 1961 to safeguard investment and reward innovation in developing new plant varieties needs to be re-visited.

The workers claim that despite the rapid advancement in crop biology, the DUS system has changed little over the past 60 years and remains largely dependent on identifying a set of around 30 morphological traits.

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“In spring barley, for example, these traits include the “hairiness” of leaf sheaths and the number, shape, length and density of a plant’s ears,” said Professor Ian Mackay who led the research.

Commenting on the paper which was published in a recent scientific journal, Mackay said that things had moved on since the current approach had been adopted.

“Genetic markers, which use DNA sequences to identify possible weaknesses, are a far more effective way of assessing traits and introducing improved crop varieties and ultimately better yields.

“Comparing genetic markers to the DUS system is like comparing forensic evidence to a police line-up. Our study shows that, quite frankly, it’s no longer fit for purpose.”

He added that the new approach would also create a better audit trail of what went into a field, what came out of it and what went into the seed boxes sold to the farmers.