Many public and most privately funded plant breeders use plant variety protection (PVP) to help ensure that others cannot copy or plagiarize varieties they have bred. PVP laws do not prevent others from breeding with commercially available varieties.
However, it is increasingly possible to make changes to existing varieties by selecting mutants and incorporating one or more genes by backcrossing or by using transgenic technology.
Consequently, U.S. PVP laws now include the concept of essential derivation to help prevent copying and plagiarism. If a new variety retains the essential characteristics of an initial variety, it can now be classified as an essentially derived variety (EDV), meaning that the owner of the initial variety also legally owns the EDV. These revisions prevent a breeder from gaining sole ownership of an existing variety by making only small genetic changes to the initial parental variety.
These legal changes have important policy outcomes for U.S. plant breeding, agricultural and horticultural production, and the sustainability of the genetic resource base. They will help steer investments into research and breeding that are focused on creating new, more productive varieties as opposed to the generation of a succession of varieties that are perhaps only cosmetically different from their parents. These changes will also help stave off a narrowing of the germplasm base. A narrowing of the germplasm base would reduce progress toward improving productivity via genetic gain and would increase risk of crop failure due to insect, disease, or environmental stress.
Maize and other breeders have been working within the auspices of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the International Seed Federation (ISF) to help ascertain what constitutes an EDV and to develop methodology to make that determination. Published studies have concluded that comparing genetic conformity measured using molecular marker profiles is a first step toward determining an EDV.
Validating marker technology, defining the methodological criteria, and selecting a set of marker loci that are publicly available are critical steps to enable the concept of EDV.
An article in the March–April 2010 issue of Crop Science reports on the results of research sponsored by the ASTA to define a methodology for those critical steps to help determine EDV status for maize inbred lines.
Concomitant with this publication, detailed protocols and procedures have been made available on the ASTA website (www.amseed.com). Publication of this paper acknowledges and reinforces the understanding that plant breeders can protect the products that result from their investments into research and development. The authors conclude that this improved research environment helps encourage breeders to generate new useful diversity and thus contribute to continued increases in productivity on farms while also helping to provide stewardship of the genetic resource base.
Adapted from Kahler, A.L., J.L. Kahler, S.A. Thompson, R.S. Ferriss, E.S. Jones, B.K. Nelson et al. 2010. North American study on essential derivation in maize: II. Selection and evaluation of a panel of simple sequence repeat loci. Crop Sci. 50:486–503. View the full article online