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Poppy News

Mildew Strategy Succeeds

GSK has devised a successful strategy for preventative control of downy mildew. Crop yields are equivalent to those achieved with more expensive fungicide treatments.
This strategy provides:

Effective Disease control at GREATLY REDUCED COST

See your GSK Field Officer for full details.

$1.5m Boost to storage area

The crop receival and storage area at Latrobe has received a boost with the construction of a new shed, and with a cover being constructed over the yard.

The new storage shed will treble the area available to store whole crop prior to processing, and will double the unloading area for trucks.

The entire yard area is being covered to contain noise and dust, and to provide a completely covered area for all crop receival and handling.

This new facility will assist in ensuring that, even on the busiest day, trucks can quickly unload and return to the field, regardless of the weather conditions at the Latrobe site.

Getting the most out of your water resources

Water is a vitally important resource, and when used effectively can provide substantial improvements in crop performance. If used poorly, it can be a waste of time, money and effort.

The timely application of water to your poppies, as required by the crop, could be one of the most cost-effective activities you could undertake. The prices being offered for high-yielding GSK crops provide a strong incentive to ensure your poppies have every opportunity to maximise yield.

Capacitance probes have been found to be effective in determining crop water use and requirements. To assist in the adoption of appropriate water monitoring, GSK has initiated a pilot monitoring program. A number of demonstrations are being conducted to advise growers of the operation and benefits of moisture monitoring.

GM - threat or opportunity?

There has been much debate in recent months concerning the use of genetically modified crops in Tasmanian agriculture.

GlaxoSmithKline has, for the past 6 years, been undertaking research into the genetic modification of poppy, with the aim of producing plants with increased alkaloid levels. The work is being undertaken in conjunction with Professor Craig Nessler at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the USA. Professor Nessler is a world-renowned expert in this field, having worked with poppy for over 20 years.

The Tasmanian poppy industry has been able to compete, and succeed, on the world market only because of its ability to supply a competitively-priced product to the market. This has been achieved through the research and application of new varieties, and techniques, which allow increased alkaloid yields per hectare.

Genetic engineering is potentially a very powerful tool to achieve further improvements and benefits for the industry.
All living cells contain DNA – the blueprint that directs the activities and development of the organism.
All DNA consists of 4 components Adenine (A) Guanine (G) Thymine (T) Cytosine (C)

The order in which these chemicals are aligned will determine the amino-acids that are gathered to form proteins. The order in which these amino-acids are aligned determines the functions that the protein will perform.

Enzymes are proteins derived by this process, and which undertake a specific conversion of one substance into another.

Much of the publicised work in genetic engineering involves the transfer of genes from one species into another, for example the transfer of a gene from a bacterium into a plant in order to confer a particular characteristic. It should be remembered that the transferred gene already existed in nature, and has not been created as a new entity in the environment.

At a different level, the work we are undertaking involves genes within the poppy plant, via the identification of genes (DNA sequences) which encode the production of an enzyme involved in the pathway of alkaloid production. If such genes can be made more active, this may cause an increase in alkaloid production.

It is of note that the final products of our process- the alkaloids morphine, codeine and thebaine - are chemicals which are extracted from the plant, and which themselves contain no DNA.

GlaxoSmithKline has so far tested a genetically modified poppy that contained a marker gene, to allow study of the degree of pollen transfer. This trial was conducted in the 1998/99 season at Sassafras. This trial was reviewed and approved by GMAC, the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee. This panel of scientific experts reviews the health and environmental risks of any planned release of a genetically modified organism, and ensures that all risks and appropriate control measures have been identified.

GMAC also approved further trials in the past season, involving two components. One was an extension of the pollination study using the marker gene, and which by necessity needs to be conducted in the open. It was proposed that this trial would be undertaken on Flinders Island, but the State Government moratorium prevented the planting of this trial.

The other component of the proposal involved the investigation of the effect of the introduction of a modification to poppy genes involved in alkaloid production. This trial was undertaken at Sassafras within a bee-proof cage. The effect of these genetic modifications on alkaloid production is currently being determined.

It is expected that a number of plants containing further modifications to the genes involved in alkaloid production will be available for evaluation next season.

This next series is expected to potentially have significant improvements in alkaloid production.

While there are many concerns within the community in regard to the issue of "genetic modification", this broad definition covers a wide range of objectives and techniques. A submission has been made to the Joint Select Committee enquiry, urging that each GMO be examined on a case-by-case basis, and that a responsible Federal authority – with appropriate expertise – be used to determine the safety issues associated with any planned GMO release.

Genetic engineering has the potential to provide our industry with many environmental and economic benefits, but it is essential that these benefits do not involve any unacceptable risks.

As a society, industry and company – we should keep an open mind; undertake research approved by a competent authority; and then ensure we make responsible and informed decisions.

With such an approach we can ensure we continue to maintain and improve the viability of our industry, while not causing any negative impact on the rest of the environment in which we operate.