Date of this Version
Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 256-57.
In what is destined to become a classic, Jonathan Grassel’s Genetic Glass Ceiling: Transgenics for Crop Diversity is a carefully crafted book that is firmly rooted in science, engaging and thought-provoking, very bold in its assertions, and yet not overly alarming. Throughout, its author challenges his readers to think outside the box. Cognizant of the fact that genetic engineering as a tool in the plant breeder’s toolkit has its ardent proponents as well as detractors, Grassel, who obviously belongs to the former camp, devotes the first nine chapters to a thorough review of the science, showing how plant breeders are constrained in their work by diminishing genetic diversity, the lifeblood of their trade, and why genetic engineering deserves consideration as the “genetic glass ceiling buster.”
The approach adopted in writing this book may be likened to a classic SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities- threats) analysis of the issues. Classical plant breeding is responsible for the domestication of numerous plant species resulting in highly productive cultivars that form the basis of the world’s food supply. Of the crops that feed the world, the so-called “big four” (corn, wheat, rice, and soybean) have received most attention by breeders, to the extent that a yield plateau has been attained or approached. Classical breeding tools are incapable of breeching what Gressel aptly describes as a genetic glass ceiling to enable more productive and versatile cultivars to be developed to meet ever-increasing world food needs.