Rice grows in paddy fields like theseWhat's so special about 'open source?

The idea of 'open source' is well known in the computer world. The Linux operating system and Wikipedia are two famous examples. These are created by enthusiastic people for all other people to use for free. The users can help by adding their own improvements. This is the very opposite of patenting in which 'intellectual property' is owned and jealously guarded and can only be used by others after licencing — paying some money to the owner. Genetic engineering also uses discoveries and inventions — again, intellectual property. The companies patent this information to stop others gaining from their own research and development' Open source GE comes about when the information discovered by researchers is not patented so that anyone anywhere can use it. It is said to be 'in the public domain'.

'Flood' rice could feed millions
Pamela Ronald
, a professor at the University of California, Davis, has worked with the IRRI to engineer a new flood-resistant rice variety. She and her team of scientists have succeeded where 50 years of conventional breeding has failed. They have placed the information about the technique in the public domain — open source — so that anyone can use it. This single gene, called Sub1, comes from another rice variety and the engineering technique is called 'cisgenic' rather than 'transgenic'. Flooding of rice crops causes losses of up to 4 million tons each year in India and Bangladesh. That's enough food for 30 million people!

In the poorer countries, there is a real demand for crops that can resist difficult conditions like drought, flooding, poor soils not to mention diseases. These are conditions which are worsening as climate change begins to bite. Genetically modified crops and even trees could be important for farmers in Africa, for example, if the seeds and knowhow are made available to them at low cost. This is beginning to happen as big funding organisations work ever more closely with local governments and people, helping them to produce what they need. Public domain GE is already providing disease resistance and better nutrition. Perhaps anti-GM Greens should get to grips with the many good things GE can offer instead of concentrating on the bad. What do you think?