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Next generation crops: foresighting


Genetic modification (GM) of plants aims to introduce trait-related genes through the genetic engineering of plant material. The report looked specifically at the market for improved seeds for community crops, fruits and vegetables, the companies active in this area and the persisting technology needs. The report focused on identifying the critical points in bringing new crops to market and evaluating where existing techniques and strategies may not meet the future needs of agriculture. The report concentrated on the transformation techniques of plants and the precision phenotyping of the transformed plants.


The methodology consisted of: an investigation of the size, products and dynamics of the market and its drivers and restraints; an assessment of the major players, performance and trends of the industry, the value of innovation in agbiotech; case studies of four agricultural biotechnology companies; a technology analysis of the benefits and limitations of existing technologies, outstanding needs and solutions; the Intellectual Property (IP) landscape; and an evaluation of the current approaches and emerging techniques of phenotyping.


Genetically modified crops are planted on over 110 million hectares globally and generate around seven billion dollars in seed sales. By 2016, over one-third of all seeds sold will be GM. Future market growth will depend on the delivery of superior products in a broader range of food and feed crops. At present, most of the value of genetic modification lies in just four crops bearing simple improvements such as herbicide and pest resistance. However, even combinations of these traits will not be adequate to address the impending yield gap, nor help to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. The market for GM seeds is dominated by a few major players, who maintain their position through control of the superior varieties that farmers prefer (elite germplasm), thus preventing new entrants reaching the market. The report suggests that the major companies are not sufficiently innovative and depend on external collaborations with smaller tools and technologies players. The market for GM products, and low activity in this sector, has been curtailed due to: public distrust of the technology and the resultant policy changes; strict regulations; lack of private and public investment; and the resulting loss of expertise from the sector. The report concludes that investment in agricultural research and development can be beneficial and there is an increasing awareness that funding is needed to bridge the gap between laboratory and field. Scotland has one of only three UK centres for applied crop research, as well as containing many well-respected plant biologists, imaging experts and systems-modelling experts.


The report suggests that the GM market is poorly served by innovation, but that innovation will be essential for its anticipated dramatic growth in the near future. ITI is concerned that public and political perceptions, which have served to constrain commercial opportunities in Europe to date, will need to be addressed and allayed, and that confidence in the technology needs to be rebuilt. ITI believes that Scotland is well placed to address the innovation needs – of both its local agriculture base and of the global market – by drawing on its wealth of basic and applied research.

Author ITI Life Sciences
Published Year 2010
Report Type Research
  • Business infrastructure
    Supporting key sectors
  • Sectors
    Life Sciences