Campus News

Bowdoin Professor Earns USDA Grant to Study Genetically Engineered Plants

Story posted May 15, 1999

May 5, 1999, BRUNSWICK, Maine -- The United States Department of Agriculture has awarded a $200,000 grant to Barry Logan, assistant professor of biology at Bowdoin, and two other professors that will allow them to study genetically engineered cotton plants.

Antioxidants naturally occur in plants and serve to protect them from cold and drought. Randy Allen, of Texas Tech University, has engineered plants to produce higher levels of antioxidants, under the assumption that this will give them greater power to combat these stresses. This approach has shown promise in short-term laboratory studies, but long-term trials have not been conducted.

Logan will work for three years with Allen and Scott Holaday, also of Texas Tech, to study two plantings of cotton in the fields of west Texas. These field trials are meant to determine whether the engineered plants are better protected against cold and drought over the long term and if they are then able to produce greater amounts of cotton.

"I'm not at all convinced that this genetic approach is actually going to improve cotton yields," Logan said.

Because plants naturally produce more antioxidants when confronted with cold and drought, Logan is skeptical that the engineered plants will surpass the natural production enough to make a significant difference in the plants' survival and eventual cotton production. Regardless of the outcome, however, this study is important.

"These realistic assessments of [engineered plants'] performance haven't been done in general," Logan said.

The USDA spends a great deal of money each year to develop genetically engineered plants, and it needs to know what works and what doesn't, he said.

The ultimate goal is to determine if the performance of crops can be enhanced by engineering naturally occurring protective systems, he said. If the engineered plants do survive drought and cold better, it could lead to farming methods that are better for the environment.

Logan will travel to Texas for much of the research, but will perform some of the lab analysis at Bowdoin. Logan joined the Bowdoin faculty in the spring of 1999. He earned his bachelor's degree from Cornell University and his doctorate from the University of Colorado.

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