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Unformatted text preview: REVIEW A history of plant biotechnology: from the Cell Theory of Schleiden and Schwann to biotech crops Indra K. Vasil Received: 31 March 2008 / Revised: 28 May 2008 / Accepted: 10 June 2008 / Published online: 9 July 2008 Springer-Verlag 2008 Abstract Plant biotechnology is founded on the principles of cellular totipotency and genetic transformation, which can be traced back to the Cell Theory of Matthias Jakob Schle- iden and Theodor Schwann, and the discovery of genetic transformation in bacteria by Frederick Griffith, respec- tively. On the 25th anniversary of the genetic transformation of plants, this review provides a historical account of the evolution of the theoretical concepts and experimental strategies that led to the production and commercialization of biotech (transformed or transgenic) plants expressing many useful genes, and emphasizes the beneficial effects of plant biotechnology on food security, human health, the environ- ment, and conservation of biodiversity. In so doing, it celebrates and pays tribute to the contributions of scores of scientists who laid the foundation of modern plant biotech- nology by their bold and unconventional thinking and experimentation. It highlights also the many important les- sons to be learnt from the fascinating history of plant biotechnology, the significance of history in science teaching and research, and warns against the danger of the growing trends of ignoring history and historical illiteracy. Keywords Biotech crops Cell Theory Genetic transformation History of science Plant biotechnology Plant regeneration Somatic embryogenesis Totipotency Transgenic crops The further backward you look, the further forward you can see (Winston Churchill). Know where you come from, to get where you are going (Jhumpa Lahiri). Introduction Eighteenth January 1983, is arguably one of the most important dates in the history of plant biotechnology. Indeed, history was made that day 25 years ago, at the Miami Winter Symposium, where three independent groups described Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated genetic transformation, leading to the production of nor- mal, fertile transgenic plants. Although each group had introduced a bacterial antibiotic resistance gene into tobacco, a model plant for studies on in vitro regeneration, there was widespread belief that the new technology would allow introduction of agronomically important genes into crop species that are susceptible to agrobacterial infection. Soon, scores of academic as well as corporate research groups took up this challenge, along with the difficult task of developing the necessary technologies for the genetic transformation of the economically important cereal crops that at the time were considered to be outside the host range of Agrobacterium . It is a testament to the ingenuity of the plant biotechnology community that within the next decade all major crop species had been transformed with genes that conferred resistance to non-selective herbicides,...
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