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How breakthroughs could affect farming

Despite much talk about genetically tailored crop plants and animals, genetic tinkerers have yet to make much impact on farming. Nevertheless, James R. Wild of Texas A&M University says it's ''realistic'' to look ahead to major breakthroughs.

At the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he explained: ''Within five years it will be possible to transfer genes from any organism to any other organism and have those genes stably inherited during development.''

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Taking a longer look ahead, Dr. Wild said that ''drought-resistant plants, larger animal species, pest-free ornamental plants, plants setting fruit during shorter photoperiods . . . are clearly realistic goals to scientists.''

He added that ''the development of entirely new species of plants and animals (will be necessary) as we move into the 21st century.'' These new species would help agriculture adapt to adversities such as loss of farmland, climatic change, or pollution.

Indulging in what he called ''the fun'' of speculation, Wild asked, ''Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could put our cows to graze on the leaves that fell on our front lawn?''

This is an example of what he called ''a terrible waste of different kinds of agricultural products that can't be used.'' He explained that leaves have plenty of food energy which cows or dogs could use, if only there were bacteria that could help digest the tough leaf material. ''If we could create a bacterium to digest those agricultural wastes, then we could use them. And many people are orienting their thinking in that particular way,'' he said.

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