By KEVIN WALKER
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University has released its AgBio Research annual report for 2012, a 52-page overview of ag research at MSU.
In a prefatory note, AgBio Research Director Steven Pueppke asks the reader to ponder what he calls mega-questions, including whether today’s methods of producing food for the world are going to be adequate, going forward.
Wonderful things are happening in many places, he said, but disturbing things are happening, too. In Brazil, for example, Pueppke said he witnessed workers at fruit and vegetables stalls “flinging” produce to their customers. He said much of the produce seems to have come from the United States. The picture given is one of abundance.
“Those workers pile the fruits and vegetables onto handcarts and sort them into small lots for retailers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in the southern hemisphere,” Pueppke writes. “Every day, more than 20 million people miraculously get fruits and vegetables.”
At the same time, he writes he’s seen fruit and vegetable sellers in India struggle to get buyers for their products, and if they aren’t sold by the end of the day, the seller just dumps the produce out.
“So here’s the mega-question,” he writes. “Are these systems – the way we now grow and the ways that we now distribute food – going to be adequate into the future as urban areas become denser? Or are we going to confront changes that will both challenge and provide opportunities for the current agricultural system, including our own here in Michigan?”
The report singles out a number of researchers at MSU for their accomplishments. For example, Amy Iezzoni, a professor of horticulture at MSU, has distinguished herself as a researcher, plant breeder, teacher and mentor, the report states. She’s devoted herself to the improvement of cherries and is “recognized internationally as the leading authority in cherry genetics and genomics.”
Pueppke said Iezzoni discovered a gene in cherries that confers resistance to leaf spot disease, which is a serious problem for cherry growers in Michigan and elsewhere. Iezzoni is also project director of the RosBreed project, a multi-university effort to use marker-assisted breeding to advance the Rosaceae family of fruits.
Pueppke explained RosBreed is a “great example of cooperation. We’ve been very successful at getting competitive funding, and it’s research that’s very relevant to the agriculture industry. The potential that you could just plant a variety of cherries and control this pest is just wonderful.”
He said the newly discovered gene is naturally occurring in wild cherries and crosses naturally with the cultivated cherry. He said the problem with leaf spot disease is an example of how “you just have to hunker down and be persistent” with research efforts over the long term.
Although Iezzoni’s gene discovery has nothing to do with genetically modified organisms (GMO), Pueppke said GMOs are an excellent example of a mega-question, or mega-issue. Although public resistance to GMO products is not that prevalent in the United States, he said it’s much greater in Europe and other places around the world.
Much of that resistance is really a cultural phenomenon more than a question of science, he said, but it’s still important. Especially when one considers that Golden Rice, a GMO product, could help solve problems related to vitamin A deficiency in parts of the world that rely on rice as a staple, he added.
To see the entire 2012 annual report, and to see reports from previous years, go online at http://agbioresearch.msu.edu/ publications/annualreport