Control of the biotechnology involved in producing genetically modified crops is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies, in part because of the complex web of patents involved. A group at CAMBIA, the Center for the Application of Molecular Biology for International Agriculture in Australia, set out to untangle this web and make the technology more widely available by developing a work-around for a key enabling technology in plant biotechnology, Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. They found that other species of benign bacteria can be modified in a surprisingly simple way to do the same job, and the resulting gene transfer technology is to be made available on an 'open source' basis as part of the recently launched BIOS initiative (Nature 431, 494; 2004).

CAMBIA, and a couple of other places, are making genetic manipulation so much more scientifically interesting than "blast it with some DNA and see what happens" that it is a wonder the world isn't flocking to their banner. Ah well ... easier to do something brain-dead instead.

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