News in February 2005
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Conferences

http://www.economia.uniroma2.it/conferenze/icabr2005/call_for_paper.asp Conference organizers note that they can still provide a notice of acceptance by February 16, 2005. The conference itself will be held in Ravello, Italy from July 6 - 10, 2005.
The call for papers is posted at the following web address:

Communicating European Research 2005
Brussels, 14-15 November 2005
Information on the Calls for Proposals for the Exhibition and Forum is now available.

Science and Society Forum 2005
Brussels, 9-11 March 2005
Updated version of the programme (in english).

State of Play in the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
A Nordic seminar about the use of Genetically Modified Food (GMO) in the food chain.

The Swedish Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Consumer Affairs, in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers, presents GMO Food and Safety: The seminar will be held in Stockholm, Sweden, from March 10-11, 2005. The deadline for registration is on March 1, 2005. For more information, contact Ms Christina Isaksson at christina.isaksson-eldh@agriculture.ministry.se, or Dr. David Carlander at david.carlander@slv.se.

FAO E-mail Conference on Public Participation and GMOs
- From FAO Biotech News, http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp
The FAO e-mail conference entitled "Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people" began on 17 January and finished on 13 February 2005. Over 500 people subscribed to this moderated conference and 116 messages were posted, from 70 people living in 35 different countries. Half of the messages posted were from people in developing countries. The messages are available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c12logs.htm or can be requested as a single e-mail (size 200 KB) from biotech-admin@fao.org

New Books

The New OECD Online Bookshop Was Launched February 1, 2005. Customers will notice immediate improvements in reliability, accessibility and speed. New features include full-text searching and acceptance of American Express in addition to Visa and MasterCard.

OECD to launch OECD Factbook 2005, its New Statistical Yearbook Providing Coverage of 100 Key Variables across the full range of policy areas covered by the OECD, on March 15, 2005.

The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism

- Dick Taverne, Oxford University Press, Hardcover,     320 pages (March 2005) ISBN: 0192804855
List Price: ?16.99 at amazon.co.uk,
In The March of Unreason, Dick Taverne argues cogently that a pessimism and distrust of science and technology has become rife in society, combined with the growth of irrationality and practices unsupported by evidence, such as alternative medicine. The growth of eco-fundamentalism, arising from a misguided belief that Nature is best has resulted in an enthusiasm for organic farming, a campaign against the MMR vaccine, and above all a concerted effort to block the development and growing of genetically modified crops - a technology that may greatly alleviate world hunger. Taverne argues that this dangerous trend leads to intolerance and a threat to democracy. Only reason and science can form a sound basis on which to build a just and open society.

QUICK GUIDE TO NANOTECHNOLOGY

Our new 'quick guide' to nanotechnology (http://www.scidev.net/nanotechnology) provides a range of relevant information for those who would like to better understand and take part in this important debate. Please pass this message to friends and colleagues who will be interested.

Events

Summer School on Biosafety in Belgium: Scholarships Available!
- Prof. M. Van Montagu, University  Gent, Belgium

The Institute Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (University  Gent, Belgium) is announcing their second summer school on "Biosafety  assessment and regulation of agricultural biotechnology" from August 9-20, 2005.
There are 12 scholarships available for participants from Developing  Countries supported by the VLIR (Flemish Interuniversity Council)  to cover the cost of the course (course, travel and stay included).  More  information on the course and the forms to be filled can be found at the  website: http://www.ipbo.ugent.be under the heading in the main frame.

Summer course 2005" Scholarship applications should be in before March  1st.

Research Headlines

Science, technology and innovation regaining momentum, OECD reports
Science, technology and innovation (STI) are central to improving economic performance – this much is known. What governments do to grease the innovation wheels is the subject of volumes of analysis and strategy. Every year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) surveys the STI outlook in its member countries and beyond. Its 2004 report previews the future of R&D spending and other important trends.

Global Governance Initiative Annual Report 2005 released by the International Food Policy Research Institute says that if current trends continue, there will still be about 600 million hungry people in 2015, far short of the target of 400 million set by heads of State of the World Food Summit in 1996. To reach that goal, efforts need to be accelerated more than 12 times or “this scenario will not materialize.”

See the full report online at: http://www.ifpri.org or contact Michael Rubinstein at m.rubinstein@cgiar.org for additional information.

SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 14 February 2005
Our updated GM crops dossier is packed with the latest news and a fully revised introduction to the issues. Two new Policy Briefs take a look at how developing countries assess the risks involved in implementing GM technologies and explain the rules and regulations governing transport of GM across borders. Plus: new key documents with the latest reports and findings. Go to http://www.scidev.net/gmcrops to find out more.

News Europe

Nature, January 31, 2005
Britain clamps down on animal activists' tactics
UK government proposes legislation to curb 'economic' campaigning.
- AFP, Feb 11, 2005
WARSAW (AFP) - Around 30 activists from environmental group Greenpeace blocked the entrance to the office of Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka for nearly two hours to demand that Poland ban imports of genetically modified produce.
Some of the protesters chained themselves to the metal fencing around the prime minister's office while others unfurled a banner above the main entrance reading: "Stop GMOs before it is too late." The demonstrators were from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Greenpeace said.

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/b573a7ca-747e-11d9-a769-00000e2511c8.html
German R&D continues to shift abroad
Financial Times, By Bertrand Benoit, February 1 2005
About half of all German companies which invest in research and development abroad have been reducing their research capacities at home, according to a study published on Tuesday.
The shift of highly qualified R&D jobs is strongest among companies that have moved production capacities to low-cost labour markets, and leads to an "off-shoring" spiral, according to a survey conducted by the DIHK, the umbrella organisation for German chambers of commerce.

“Assessing Environmental Risks: UK Experiences” presented by Dr. Brian Johnson, (senior advisor on biotechnology to the British statutory conservation agencies, and head of the Biotechnology Advisory Unit at English Nature): in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines.
He emphasized the need for a strong dialogue among stakeholders based on science. Generalized information about environmental risks from genetically modified organisms is worthless and has no place in regulation. UK experience shows that each crop has different characteristics and carried different potential risks. Risks from GM crops are sometimes different from conventional crops but not necessarily higher.”
Contact Dr. Johnson at brian.johnson@english-nature.org.uk.

News Global

Developing world 'needs nanotech network'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1923&language=1
The developing world's leading nanotechnology research institutes should form a collaborative network, says the executive director of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).

US$1 million reward for solution to arsenic problem
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1914&language=1
A one million dollar prize is on offer to scientists who develop a cheap, practical way of detoxifying water contaminated by arsenic in developing countries.

Finding a filter for arsenic-tainted water
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=370&language=1
Mark Clayton reports on technologies being developed to solve the problem of arsenic-contaminated drinking water. ( Source: The Christian Science Monitor)

Bangladesh hit by fresh outbreak of bat-borne virus
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1921&language=1
As the deadly Nipah virus breaks out for the fourth year running in Bangladesh, scientists are working to discover how it is transmitted to humans.

Malaria research finds new home in Zambia
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1908&language=1
Zambia has opened a national institute dedicated to researching malaria prevention and undertaking clinical trials of potential drugs.

Bird flu vaccines approved for Chinese fowl
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1913&language=1
The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has authorised the use of two new bird vaccines in the hope of slowing the spread of bird flu.

Kenyan initiative to take science to its farmers
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1924&language=1
A multi-million dollar initiative in Kenya aims to empower farmers by increasing their access to modern technologies and the results of agricultural research.

Researchers pinpoint pests' weak spot for natural toxin
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1926&language=1
A molecule that allows a 'natural pesticide' to kill insect pests could lead to drugs against parasitic worms in people, say scientists.

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb05/fusarium0205.htm
Wheat and barley disease fungus is fully mapped and on the Web
USDA, Feb 2, 2005
ARS played a pioneering role in the complete mapping of the genome of Fusarium graminearum. This is the pathogen that causes scab-the most devastating disease of wheat and barley to date. This fungus not only cuts yields of plants, it also affects their quality and produces harmful toxins. Last year, a scab epidemic crippled the wheat industry in the southeastern United States. In the 1990s, a widespread epidemic hit barley and wheat country, both here and around the world. The genome map has been revised since its initial release. Both maps have been combined and are now on the Broad Institute's web site at www.broad.mit.edu/annotation/fungi/fusarium.

Agribusiness company Syngenta has made available for public use important genetic information on Phytophthora infestans, as well as most of its genomic sequence. P. infestans causes Potato Late Blight, one of the most devastating plant diseases affecting potato and tomato. Syngenta worked with the Syngenta Phytophthora Consortium, an international panel of academic institutions, to analyze and develop a partial genomic sequence.

Syngenta also plans to make available genomic data for three other important pathogens this year.

See press release at: http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/article.aspx?article_id=482.

THE MARKET POTENTIAL OF A NEW GM SOYBEAN

Konstantinos Giannakas and Amalia Yiannaka of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA analyze the market potential of a second-generation, genetically modified, high-oleic soybean developed at the University of Nebraska. The authors suggest that a successful commercialization strategy might need to focus on the consumer to include determining the value that high oleic content adds to different products (such as soy oil). An effective communication of potential health and other benefits to consumers is also necessary.

See the full report at http://www.agbioforum.org/v7n3/v7n3a02-giannakas.htm.

Is there a "Zero GMO limit" in US organic farming?

The regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic operations (§205.2-Terms defined, and §205.105-Allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients in organic production and handling). The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, THE UNINTENTIONAL PRESENCE OF THE PRODUCTS OF EXCLUDED METHODS WILL NOT AFFECT THE STATUS OF THE ORGANIC OPERATION. AS TO THE STATUS OF THE COMMODITY, USDA'S POSITION IS THAT THIS IS LEFT TO THE BUYER AND SELLER TO RESOLVE IN THE MARKETPLACE THROUGH THEIR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. (See page 80556 of the preamble, "Applicability-Clarifications; (1) "Genetic drift").

However, a buyer and seller may have a contract specification that allows a buyer to reject a product for some reason, in this case, if the buyer and seller agreed that presence of a detectable substance allowed the buyer to reject.

An expert consultation organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended that any responsible deployment of genetically modified (GM) crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process. Specifically, this includes pre-release risk assessment, biosafety considerations, and post release monitoring. For more details regarding the experts consultation visit: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2005/89259/index.html

CHINA RELEASES RICE GENOME ANALYSIS

Scientists led by Gane Ka-Shu Wong from the Beijing Institute of Genomics reported a “much improved, near complete genome analysis of the indica and japonica subspecies of Oryza sativa” in an article published in PLoS Biology.

They used the combined DNA sequence data from the two subspecies to facilitate the sequence assembly. This resulted in an almost 1,000-fold increase in contiguity for the two genome sequences relative to the existing sequence data.

They noted that there is evidence in the rice DNA sequences for a whole-genome duplication event just before the grasses diverged from other flowering plants, about 55–70 million years ago. This genome duplication may have played a role in the origin of the grasses, which then spread rapidly across the world.
The individual gene duplications provide a continuous source of raw material for gene genesis. The challenge is thus to use the rice sequence to develop improved strains of rice and other important food crops.
The article is available online at http://www.plosbiology.org. Contact Gane Ka-Shu Wong at gksw@genomics.org.cn

China Planning Large-Scale Introduction of Genetically-Engineered Rice

- Agence France Presse, Feb 17, 2005 http://story.news.yahoo.com
China is on the verge of introducing genetically-engineered rice on a large scale as it seeks ways to adequately supply the basic staple to its people.  "It would boost China's rice output by 30 billion kilograms (66 billion pounds) a year. That's enough to feed 70 million more people," Yuan Longping, head of China's super hybrid rice scheme, told the Changsha Evening News.

Yuan said the new rice strains still have to pass state appraisal, expected to be conducted later this year, before they receive vigorous promotion.  Shrinking acreage, falling water tables and a population that is expected to grow significantly beyond 1.3 billion are factors that have led China to explore other ways to feed its masses.

Scientists block budget cut in Ecuador
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1893&language=1
Ecuadorian scientists have convinced members of parliament to ignore the finance ministry's proposal to exclude science from the 2005 budget.

Rich nations 'should spend 5% of R&D funds on the poor'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1891&language=1
Industrialised nations have been urged to devote five per cent of their research spending to projects relevant to developing countries.

Health biotech 'essential' to meet millennium goals http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1900&language=1
Nigeria's health minister says building Africa's ability to apply biotechnology to health problems is essential if the region is to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals.

Major plan to boost African agriculture unveiled
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1902&language=1
A plan to revitalise Africa's agricultural system - that has science at its core - has been unveiled in Tanzania.

UK and Canada to support African research on smoking
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1890&language=1
African scientists will conduct research on smoking control as part of a programme jointly supported by Canada and the United Kingdom.

Donors pledge long-term support for African science
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1889&language=1
British and Canadian aid agencies have agreed to join forces to build scientific capacity in Africa.

Africa 'needs more world-class research centres'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1895&language=1
Delegates at a meeting discussing scientific capacity in Africa have called for more centres of 'research excellence' on the continent.

Public 'must know about science to support it'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1896&language=1
Swaziland's minister of education has highlighted the way public understanding of science can lead to political support for the sector.

Six components for science in poor nations
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1897&language=1
The UK aid agency's newly appointed chief scientist has outlined his approach to linking science to development policy.

Local tricks to tackle climate shifts
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1903&language=1
Meeting in Bangladesh last month, experts agreed that local knowledge would help poor communities adapt to climate change.

Green light for China's first stem cell therapy test
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1904&language=1
Chinese researchers are poised to begin the country's first clinical trials in humans of a therapy that uses stem cells.

Progress and challenges for Asian stem cell research
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=366&language=1
Denis Normile and Charles C. Mann describe how a lack of restrictions in Asia is allowing scientists there to make advances in stem cell research. (Source: Science)

An easier ride for women researchers in Pakistan
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=365&language=1
Ehsan Masood describes the changes that are making it easier for women in Pakistan to pursue careers in science. (Source: Nature)

New pearl millet hybrid resistant to downy mildew (DM) was developed with the help of marker assisted breeding (MAB) by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Haryana Agricultural University (HAU). The hybrid, designated HHB 67-2, is the first ever product of marker-assisted breeding in pearl millet to be released for cultivation in India. For further information, contact Dr CT Hash at c.hash@cgiar.org

Iranian scientists produce country's first GM rice
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1937&language=1
The first genetically modified crop produced by Iranian researchers has been approved for human consumption. UAE plans US$400 million 'biotechnology park' in Dubai

Mexico Approves Planting and Sale of GM Crops
- Karla Peregrina and Javier Crúz, Scidev.Net, February 22, 2005
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1945&language=1
Mexico has passed legislation that authorises the planting and selling genetically modified (GM) crops. The Mexican congress's upper house (the Senate), passed the law on 15 February, with 87 votes in favour, 16 against and 6 abstentions.

Since it was proposed, the law has created considerable debate in Mexico and has practically split the country's scientific community in two.  The Senate drafted the law in April 2003 with input from the Mexican Academy of Sciences (AMC), the country's leading science organisation. However, some academy members were critical of the process and the academy's involvement.

http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1930&language=1
The United Arab Emirates is to spend US$400 million on a science park to promote biotechnology research and development.

Nanotech revolution needs business know-how
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1938&language=1
To be part of the coming nanotechnology revolution, developing countries must focus on entrepreneurship as well as research, say experts in the field.

Asia 'challenging US in high tech sector'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1933&language=1
Asian scientists returning home from jobs in the United States are helping China and India compete on the global high-tech stage, says a report. (Source: www.Sify.com)

Free access GM 'toolkit' launched
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=1920&language=1
A new technique for genetically modifying plants is being made freely available through 'open-source' licensing.

The Economist, Feb 10,  2005 (Forwarded by Roger Kalla)
In a paper published in NATURE on February 10th, a group of researchers describe a way to transfer genes into plants that bypasses the now most commonly used technique, agrobacterium transformation, which is protected by hundreds of patents. The new process may provide an alternative method of modifying certain types of crops in order to, say, improve harvests. But what makes the invention particularly notable is that the authors, affiliated with CAMBIA, a non-profit biotech research group in Australia, have made the procedure free for use under a novel "open-source" licence. CAMBIA's licence represents an actual technique being provided in an open-source form. It is part of a broader push towards open practices in the life sciences. For example, Science Commons, an offshoot of Creative Commons (which provides less restrictive copyright licences to authors), is preparing to develop open licences later this year. The dominant patent holder in agrobacterium transformation, the most widely-used means of plant gene-transfer, is Monsanto, a big agricultural firm. The firm says that, although it is not very familiar with open-source approaches in the life sciences, the technology seems to complement, not threaten, its business model. The open-source-like approach may not revolutionise the biotech industry, but it is a notable step in a new direction.

ISLAMIC SCIENTISTS FAVOR BIOTECHNOLOGY - MUSLIM EDUCATOR
- Philippines Today, 29-30 January 2005

A LEADING Muslim educator favors the safe use and propagation of biotechnology in agriculture and medicine as long as the producers and technology used comply with the basic tenets of the Koran.
In a forum among scientists, Christian and Muslim leaders held at Annabel's Restaurant in Quezon City, on Monday, Dr. Carmen Abubakar, dean of the University of the Philippines-Institute of Islamic Studies, said biotechnology or genetically modified food is acceptable to Muslims only as long as the processed is clearly labeled as "free from haram elements."

Haram generally means taboo, but in case of food, it refers to forbidden ingredients like swine extracts, blood, wine and other elements that Muslims are barred from consuming.
Abubakar said biotechnology is not new to the Islamic world, adding that as early as 2000, Muslim scientists have already been studying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their potential contribution to the growing Muslim population.

Hay fever treatment
- Reuters, Feb 4, 2005

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese scientists have developed a genetically modified strain of rice they say will help alleviate the symptoms of an affliction that causes misery each year for some 10 percent of Japan's population.
The new strain of rice contains a gene that produces the allergy-causing protein, a Farm Ministry official said on Friday.

"Eating the rice ... helps mute the reaction of the body's immune system," she said, adding that the effect was similar to other allergy treatments where a small amount of allergen is released into the body to allow resistance to build up.

GM PLANTS POTENTIAL TO CLEAN POLLUTED SOILS

A team of researchers from the University of California Berkeley, and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown that genetically modified (GM) plants have a potential to clean polluted soil.

Norman Terry, professor at UC Berkeley and one of the researchers, explained that the Indian mustard is a fast growing plant and is tolerant to many toxic conditions. He added that a promising aspect about mustard plants is that they can metabolize selenium into a gas called dimentyl selenide. “Getting inorganic selenium into gas form will allow it to just dissipate harmlessly into the atmosphere. No other form of remediation can do that,” Terry explained.

See the UC Berkeley release at http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/02/01_plantremediation.shtml.

ROUNDUP READY CORN APPROVED FOR PLANTING IN THE PHILIPPINES

The Philippines Bureau of Plant Industry, an agency under the Department of Agriculture, has given the commercial approval to Roundup Ready corn.

See the Monsanto release at http://www.monsanto.com.

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