Monday, 28 January 2008

Gamma rays to improve Thai crops

Thai farmers could soon be using gamma rays to produce better plant breeds, a nuclear scientist said yesterday as she accepted a coveted national award.

Siranut Lamseejan of the Gamma Irradiation Service and Nuclear Technology Research Centre (GISC) said she and her collaborators at the Ministry of Agriculture were well on their way toward making the technology available to farmers.

Siranut, 60, was presented the Nuclear Society of Thailand's Best Nuclear Scientist award yesterday in recognition of her considerable success using gamma rays to improve important characteristics of economically valuable plants.

She used the occasion to point out that nuclear technology is uncomplicated enough that any farmer could make use of it.

"Once we combine the technology with the farmers' own skills in conventional plant-breeding, new varieties of plants with the desired characteristics could be developed," Siranut said.

She has devoted more than a decade to increasing the genetic diversity of plants using gamma rays. She has created chrysanthemum flowers (Chrysanthemum moriforium) in at least six colours and canna (Canna generalis) in various forms and colours.

Twenty new canna variants have been named, registered and released internationally as products of Thailand, Siranut said, adding that a new rust-tolerant variety of soy bean was also a result of her work.

Siranut said gamma irradiation causes mutations in the plants' rhizomes to produce desirable characteristics. The mutant strain's shoots are then planted under greenhouse conditions to determine the appropriate soil conditions for their cultivation.

"It is not only genetic engineering [GE] that can produce new varieties," Siranut said. "Nuclear technology can do the same and, most importantly, no alien species would be introduced to the original species, which is a worry with GE."

She said farmers could bring their plants to be irradiated at the GISC, then select those with the specific characteristics they need for their land.

Article by Pennapa Hongthong

Plant Breeding & Genetics

New Agriculturist

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