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Brazil is the Biotech Powerhouse We Need Now More than Ever

Bean plant (Phaseolus vulgaris) showing leaf mosaic symptoms. Public domain image courtesy Scot Nelson. Source:

Since the advent of modern agri-biotech in the 1990s, Latin America has been vital, with Brazil quickly taking on a central role. Today, Brazil is second only to the United States in terms of acreage cultivated with GMO crops. As climate change and political unrest threaten global food supplies and supply chains, Brazil’s role in driving agri-biotech innovation will become even more important.

EMBRAPA’s magic beans

In 2021, Brazil made history when state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) developed and released a bean that’s resistant to bean golden mosaic virus (BGMV).

BGMV destroys crops. Estimated losses around 300,000 tons per year, enough to feed 15 million people. It’s transmitted extremely effectively by the tenacious white fly. There is no treatment/preventative for the virus itself. Farmers must instead fight the flies that transmit BGMV, with no options other than enormous pesticide applications. Normally farmers might apply pesticides 10 times per season. To thwart the white fly, farmers who can afford to do so apply pesticides 20 times or more per season—and still sometimes lose their entire crop.

EMBRAPA developed their BGMV-resistant bean using a process similar to that used to develop the mRNA vaccination for COVID. This enhances the plant’s own natural defenses against the virus. As a result, it can react quickly enough to prevent being overcome by BGMV. They’ve found that not only does this modification protect the bean plant itself, but that virus-carrying white flies that land on the modified plants leave with a decreased virus load—making them less likely to infect neighboring plants, even if they don’t have the protective genetic modification.

A Policy Model for Sustainable Solutions, Transparent Governance, and Economic Justice

EMBRAPA really got this right. They focused on working with the small farmers most likely to get forced out because they can’t afford excessive pesticide application. And the Brazilian government has aimed for transparency, so that Brazilian consumers have embraced these new safe genetically modified products. This is possible because the Brazilian government has rationally and responsibly course-corrected in response to the realities of a changing global climate. Brazil was one of the first signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This treaty recognizes that nations have sovereign rights over biological resources found in their territories, and should aims to conserve their biological diversity, sustainably use it, and equitably share the benefits arising out of the use of those genetic resources.

From day one, Brazil’s federal government committed to making climate change and the protection of nature a priority. They’ve created avenues for meaningful public-private partnerships with stakeholders at every level—like the Bioeconomy Brazil-Sociodiversity Program and the Brazil-Biotech Initiative.

As Priorclave CEO Barbra Wells says, “this is a great example of a government making practical moves to further goals of sustainability in reaction to climate change. This policy protects the well-being of average citizens, small businesses, and the earth at the same time. It’s a terrific model for environmental and economic justice, and we hope this approach gains traction worldwide.”

Priorclave tracks global innovation so that we can support it with sustainable, robust, and cost-effective autoclaves for labs doing research and development work. If that’s what you care about too, get in touch and let’s find a way to put our machines to work for you.