August 7, 2001

August 7, 2001

Salinization. Salinization is what happens when through irrigation salt deposits are left behind, making cropland increasingly less productive. If you are from the Midwest, you may ask, "Is that a real problem?" The answer is, "It is huge in many dry countries and regions where heavy irrigation is needed to grow crops."

It is a serious drag on crop production in California but also in India, China, Mexico and Pakistan and many other countries. Researchers estimate that 25% of irrigated land producing 40% of the world's food is threatened by salt. Farmers for years have been breeding plants to develop varieties more resistant to salt without much success.

But like magic -- along comes genetic engineering and we have a salt tolerant tomato. The tomato plant sucks up the water as if it were an ordinary tomato. You might expect it to kill or stunt the plant. But... NO! The salt is stored in the leaves allowing the plant to continue to thrive. The only suggestion I would have is this: Could we get the plant to put the salt into the tomato itself? Then you wouldn't ever need a saltshaker.

All of this miraculous transformation is made possible by transferring a gene from a cabbage. Now don't ask me why the cabbage gene can do this. Itjust does. And what can be done for tomatoes, probably can be done for rice and potatoes and on and on. Biotechnology to the rescue!

Take that Green Peace!! With hungry people in this world, how selfish can you be?

Until next week, I am John Block reporting from Washington.