Goethe's theory of the living world postulates anong other things that inheritance is not a cause but a consequence of life processes. Experiments in molecular genetics strikingly support this postulate. With this project, we would like to investigate this kind of inheritance more closely. As a first step groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) will be cultivated under stress conditions that bring about clear differences in the phenotype: light and shadow, wet and dry, salt stress. From seeds of the various 'environment types' plants will be cultivated through three generations under the conditions described, and in the fourth generation under neutral, i.e. identical environmental conditions and compared with reference to developmental dynamics, plant form and leaf metamorphosis. We expect that characteristics that the plants have inherited in the course of the first three generations will be passed on, i.e. form features of their antecedents will be retained. If the results are positive the experiment will be extended by using Arabidopsis thalinia (thale cress) – the "work horse" of plant molecular genetics. Here too, we shall record developmental dynamics and morphological changes and test it in neutral recultivation. If the experiments are successful, as well as the phenotypic changes we intend to study the epigenetic changes in collaboration with a laboratory equipped to do so. We started the experiment in 2009 and in the autumn of 2009 after three generations will be able to carry out the first test comparison.
A preliminary experiment in which the plants were fertilised with ash from different tree species it was shown that Senecio is particularly appropriate for answering such research questions. Its plasticity in development, overall shape and leaf form is very marked. Likewise, the plants react strongly to the stress conditions imposed on it.
Renatus Derbidge, Johannes Wirz, Raj Modh, João Felipe Toni
Ruth Richter und Johannes Wirz
Experiments in the 2000 and 2001 showed clear morphological differences not only between the non-manipulated and the transformed plants of the same variety but also between plants with different inserted gene constructs. The results showed that the plant as a whole is changed by the genetic intervention. For conventional researchers this is a complete surprise, especially as the morphological changes are observable independently of the expression of the foreign gene. But from the point of view of a holistic understanding of the organism this was precisely what was to be expected. In living organisms, there are no isolated features! With this as backgound, in 2002 we carried out a greenhouse experiment with tomato plants. These had a 'built-in' marker gene whose product according to the current state of knowledge does not take part in the plant's metabolism (it serves merely to visualise the regulation of the plants own gene sequences in the tissues).
Michael Haring (Amsterdam University) supplied us for cultivation seeds of two genetically modified tomato varieties. In the laboratory in Amsterdam we could investigate our experimental plants for the presence and level of expression of the marker gene. This allowed us to relate the results of the morphodynamic experiments with the molecular and biochemical findings. We compared the following: wild type (non-modified starting variety); plants that were genetically modified but had lost the marker gene; plants with a non-expressed marker gene, and lines with different levels of expression of the marker gene, as well as three commercially available varieties.
The morphological differences between the genetically modified lines were far less noticeable than in the potato experiments, and smaller than the differences between the varieties. Nevertheless, a preliminary compilation of the data of many parameters showed that the wild type was different from all the manipulated lines, even from those that had lost the inserted gene. A statistical analysis of the extensive data set remains to be done.
As regards the nutritional quality the question arises as to whether the manipulation limits the capacities of plants to develop in a way appropriate to the species in differing environments. Experiments on plasticity, which involve cultivating manipulated plants under different conditions, were carried out in 2004.
Further information can be found here: Unintended phenotypic effects of single gene insertions in potatoes – assessing developmental dynamics and leaf morphology
Haijo Knijpenga and Beatrix Waldburger
With the method of sensitive crystallisation, the differences between variants mentioned above were more prominent in the tomato experiments than in the previous experiments with potatoes. In 2002 we studied tomato plants within the framework of broad-ranging experimental design. In 2003 we cultivated the seed from these plants, in particular three non-transgenic varieties, under different growth and environmental conditions and studied them further. A wide pallette of crystallisation pictures from each sort or variant made visible the living connection between plant and environment. In accordance with the morphological data it as possible to show that a manipulated plant after loss of the foreign gene no longer simply resembles the original wild type. A preliminary illustrated report has been published.
In recent years we have often dealt with with the theme of genetic engineering. In many articles and lectures we have presented the up-to-date developments in agriculture and medicine and offered viewpoints for a responsible engagement with the subject. Here we select two events from the great variety of our activities.
From 18 to 21 September 2002 in Edinburgh, Ifgene held another of its workshops. Under the title of ' Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Animals und Plants' almost 80 participants from round the world met for an intensive and to some extent controversial discussion professionally organised by David and Pat Heaf. It was wonderful to see a Demeter farmer and the Director of the Roslin Institute, the birthplac of Dolly the cloned sheep, in conversation, especially as their views wre light years apart. The assessments regarding which direction is more significant for the future were polar opposite. Timothy Brink emphasised that biodynamic farming in his understanding of wholes is still in its infancy, but therefore still has its future before it. On the other hand, Harry Griffin was of the view that mopdern knowledge is sufficient for quickly and efficiently solving technologically the problems in agriculture and medicine. What he extolled as the future of pharmaceutical research and – in view of complying with the strict standards of animal welfare legislation – had described as humane animal research is today just rubbish. The project was stopped in the early summer of 2003 because of the high risks for financial investors.
Highlights of the workshops were the contributions of the environmental lawyer Mike Radford and the environmental economist Clive Spash. The showed that biotechnologies must be evaluated in a social context. The state must bear responsibility for ensuring sustainable methods of production for the future – even against a majority of consumers and producers, who frequently decide things on purely economic grounds. Furthermore, they vividly showed that technologies are frequently pursued not for their success but for their lack of success because, in projects that have spent a lot of money, the principle of 'lock-in' forces yet more money to be invested. Investment is therefore not an unequivocal indicator of economically successful undertakings, but rather it puts the brake on the possible development of sustainable technologies!
In a concluding remark, Donald Bruce, Director of the Church in Scotland's 'Society, Religion and Technology Project' said that the workshop had shown that the modern sciences cannot really be considered as ethical without being supplemented by holistic approaches to research.
In recent years, the way has been cleared for the cultivation, processing and selling of genetically modified plants in the EU, thus creating a threat to the very existence of organic and biodynamic agriculture. The result is that in future each farmer will himself be made responsible for the security of his management. In practice this means that it is not the farmer who wants to cultivate genetically modified plants who has to ensure that his crops do not cross into the fields of his neighbours, but quite the reverse: the farmer who wants to produce without genetic engineering must take precautions to prevent contamination – a spectacular distortion of the principle of liability. Furthermore, at the political level there are discussions as to whether zones free of genetically modified crops should even be permitted. Such zones have already been created in order to protect regions from genetic contamination. The removal of these zones or the prohibition of sutting up more would for many farmers have far-reaching negative implications. Finally it is still an open question as to who is to bear the cost of testing and controlling production that is free of genetically modified organisms. It is unimaginable that the individual producer could pay the high laboratory testing costs.
Against this background, Nikolai Fuchs, Ruth Richter and Johannes Wirz have written a memorandum in which they argue for understanding agriculture in consciousness evolution terms as a 'cultural revolution', similar to the coming into being of the great world religions. Thus, agricultural visions would have to consider not only economic viewpoints but also those that are cultural and spiritual. The memorandum received a good welcome and is already supported by many people. It can be obtained from the Agriculture Department and signed by anyone who wishes to do so.