June 7, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Agricultural biotechnology is a growing science that is drawing much national and international attention from industries and consumers alike . With so much, sometimes contradictory, information coming from so many sources, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture saw a need to present science-based information regarding discoveries and applications in agricultural biotechnology.

The announcement of a major new initiative to address this need was made at the June 5 groundbreaking for UK's new Plant Sciences Research Building in Lexington.

"The College recently established the Kentucky Biotechnology Research and Education Initiative," Associate Dean for Research at the UK College of Agriculture, Scott Smith, said. "Their charge is to assess the impact of biotechnology on Kentucky agriculture and to provide the public with much-needed and unbiased information about crop and agricultural biotechnology."

BREI actually started planning its work in January 2000. The team is made up of research, extension and teaching professionals from several fields who will address the challenges of biotechnology.

"Biotechnology is not new to the college of agriculture," Ric Bessin, BREI committee member and Extension entomology specialist, said. "In fact, our college has been a leader in research and instruction in biotechnology and plant sciences. At the same time, biotechnology is not new to Kentucky farmers either; farmers are embracing this technology."

"When we surveyed Kentucky consumers last year, we found their number one concern was food safety and the pesticides used on foods," Bessin said.

BREI will develop information sources and educational programs needed by the public to make rational choices about GMO and biotech products.

Biotechnology has many positive examples of success. For one, it can help clean up problematic weedy fields. Corn growers in a late planting season are likely to see yield loss from late-season insect pests, but now they have BT corn to prevent that. Vegetable growers now have access to virus-resistant squash, which allows them to be competitive in markets year-round.

Bessin said the bottom line is that Kentucky farmers are adopting biotechnology for two reasons.

"First, biotechnology works; it does what it's supposed to do," he said. "Second, it's economical. It's reducing input costs and preventing yield losses from pests."

While improved pest resistance is the most common application of crop biotechnology at this time, UK scientists see broader benefits. The Tobacco Health and Research Institute and the UK College of Agriculture are using biotechnology to develop new uses for tobacco and other plants. In these molecular farming systems, tobacco or other crops would produce enzymes, pharmaceuticals, polymers and other materials. Upon completion, the new Plant Sciences Building on the UK campus will serve, in part, as a research facility for biotechnology.

Smith said agricultural plant sciences recently was designated by UK as Tier One, making it one of a limited number of programs classified as distinguished and nationally competitive.

"The progress, in bricks and mortar, we are making here will undoubtedly allow the growth and preserve the competitive position of these outstanding programs," Smith said. "Kentucky agriculture needs innovative research, development and technology more than ever before."

A web site detailing the goals and challenges of BREI was launched this week to share information on agricultural biotechnology. The address ishttp://www.ca.uky.edu/BREI.

The BREI website will explain the initiative; answer some common questions about biotechnology and agriculture, address issues about food and farm impact; post current

research/scientific information regarding biotechnology; and provide links to reference materials.


Ric Bessin 859-257-7456