News in May 2005
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Events

Brazillian Biosafety Congress
The 4th Biosafety Congress and Latin American Symposium on Transgenic Products will be held from Sept. 26-29, 2005 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Talks will focus on biosafety, co-existence, dealing with biomedical waste, and working with genetically modified foods and organisms, among others. For more information, visit http://www.anbio.org.br.

First International Symposium on Stem Cell Research
http://www.scidev.net/events/index.cfm?fuseaction=readevents&itemid=652&language=1
Location: Bogotá, Colombia, Date: 28 - 29 October 2005

Books

"The March Of Unreason: Science, Democracy, And The New Fundamentalism"
- By Dick Taverne; Oxford, $29.95, 318 pages"

Excerpts from PAST ISSUES of the ICGEB Biosafety News are available on the ICGEB Biosafety Web Pages at http://www.icgeb.org/biosafety/bsfnews.htm

Fellowship

The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology offers a postdoctoral fellowship within the Plant Bacteriology Group at the Biosafety Outstation of the ICGEB located at C? Tron, Treviso (close to Venice), Italy. http://www.icgeb.org/GENERAL/MEMBERS/memberlist.htm).

Europe - EU

See the web http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/whatsnew.cfm

bulletBiosociety
bulletStem cells, Diabetes: Insulin-producing white blood cells offer hope for diabetics
European scientists have successfully encouraged human white blood cells to produce insulin – a breakthrough that could pave the way for new, more effective treatment for diabetes.
bulletFP7, Review: Commission launches proposal for future Framework Programme
After months of consultations, the European Commission has unveiled its ambitious plans for the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) – which include a major focus on the life sciences.
bulletETHICS, FP7: Strict ethical code to govern forthcoming framework programme
EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has noted that the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) will be subject to the same strict ethical considerations as its predecessor.
bulletConferences
bulletScience and Society Forum 2005
Brussels, 9-11 March 2005
New document: Key messages arising from the Forum Report: Special session: “Civil Society and Science: an increased role for NGOs?”

Nanotechnology and the Health of the EU Citizen in 2020’. Organised by the UK-based Institute of Nanotechnology (IoN), the event will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland from 6-9 September 2005,

With European Commission and industry support, a four-day international conference and forum. According to the event organisers, the programme will explore key nanotechnology themes “from the point of view of EU strengths and improving the quality of life”. This is set against a background of the economics of future healthcare, demographics, business opportunities, and social and ethical considerations.

Co-existence of GMOs and non-GMOs based supply chains

The new European integrated research project Co-Extra (52 partners, 18 countries) will study and validate biological containment methods and model supply chain organisations and provide practical tools and methods for implementing. Co-Extra, with a grant of € 13.5 millions from the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme, will also study and propose the most appropriate information structure, content and flow management for ensuring reliable and cost-effective documentary traceability, together with analytical detection methods. Co-Extra's objective is to provide all the stakeholders of the food and feed chains with a central decision-support system integrating the tools, methods, models and guidelines needed. Its outcomes will be proposed to standardisation after validation and thus support Europe to deal with requests of consumers of preserving their freedom of choice.

Further information

For more information on the Co-Extra 4-year research programme, please see the project’s website http://www.coextra.org/.

A list of the more than 50 Co-Extra project partners from many EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Brazil and Argentina please see http://www.coextra.org/partners.html.

For the thematic priority on “food quality and safety” in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), including the forthcoming call for proposals for the next funding round, see also: http://www.cordis.lu/food/home.html.

EU launches “AthenaWeb” – a new professional portal for audiovisual scientific information – to boost science film production, circulation in Europe

AthenaWeb is a robust, user-friendly platform with innovative functionalities designed for the exclusive use of science communication professionals. Launched in close coordination with European science TV professionals and research organisations,

Transatlantic biotechnology. An industry study comparing the biotechnology sector on both sides of the Atlantic has found that European biotech is as dynamic as its US counterpart but suffers from a lack of financing.

The report was produced on behalf of EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries. In a bid to achieve transparency and to even the playing field, it stuck to a single definition of biotechnology for companies on both sides of the Atlantic. More Information:
EuropaBio press release
The comparative study
Verheugen’s speech

Biodiversity A team from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), together with US partners, is giving the scientific community fresh appreciation of the rich diversity of life that exists in the most unlikely places. Findings in the joint EMBL and US research are being reported in the latest issue of Science and give molecular biologists a tantalising look at the potential of the emerging field of ‘metagenomics’ – studying genomes recovered from environmental samples instead of cloned cultures. This field of genetic research means the genomes of organisms not easily cultured in a laboratory can still be studied.

Stem cells and diabetes. The advance was made by a Spanish and German team working together under the umbrella of the recently formed European Stem Cell Network (ESCN), which brings together scientists from 14 European countries and Israel in a bid to promote closer collaboration in this emerging field . The full study – which shows how white blood cells were coaxed to produce insulin – is due to appear in the journal Gastroenterology, but the scientists involved previewed their findings at a recent conference in the UK.

EU projects supporting scientific policy. Policy-makers need sound scientific advice. Fortunately, measures were introduced in the EU’s research programmes to provide just that. The initiative, dubbed Scientific Support to Policy (SSP), was created to help strengthen the foundations of the European Research Area, and focuses on three main priority areas.

EU-AgriNet Added: a link to the draft work programme for the 4th call for proposals in the area of Food Quality and Safety.

The herbicide-resistant maize, known as GA21, is made by U.S. agrochemicals giant Monsanto and designed for use as an ingredient in food processing.  "It was a non-opinion," an official at the European Commission told Reuters, indicating failure to reach a decision.

Eight countries voted in favour -- Belgium, Ireland, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Voting against were Austria, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Slovakia. The rest of the EU-25 abstained, except for Malta, Greece and Lithuania who were not represented at the meeting. Under the EU's weighted voting system there were insufficient votes for the proposal to pass.

The herbicide-resistant maize, known as GA21, is made by U.S. agrochemicals giant Monsanto and designed for use as an ingredient in food processing.  "It was a non-opinion," an official at the European Commission told Reuters, indicating failure to reach a decision.

Action on unauthorised GM imports
A method for detecting residues from genetically modified Bt10 maize has been developed and agreed by the European Commission. This means that public analysts in the UK and accredited commercial laboratories are also able to carry out specific and sensitive tests for Bt10 maize, which was accidentally supplied to some farmers in the US during 2001 to 2004. The Agency is drawing up a sampling programme to check that maize products marketed in the UK are free from residues of Bt10 maize. See FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY - http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2005/may/btcheck

GMO in Portugal: Robert Derham, Checkbiotech, April 28, 2005 http://www.checkbiotech.org/

The Portuguese Council of Ministers decided on April 21, 2005 that farmers will be allowed to grow several varieties of genetically modified maize during the next growing season. In total, Portuguese farmers with have access to 17 new varieties of genetically engineered maize from different seed providers.

The Portuguese Agriculture Ministry also made reference to new legislation that will help regulate the new transgenic varieties. A Ministry spokesperson noted that the legislation guarantees that genetically modified varieties will be able to coexist with conventional crops. Current regulation also specifies that the distances from transgenic to conventional fields must be 200 meters, and from transgenic to organic, 300.

In addition, Pioneer Hi-Bred Sementes de Protugal will be undergoing field trials for four GM maize varieties. Pioneer Hi-Bred received permission from the European Commission to test the maize, that are resistant to certain types of insects or pesticides. Testing will run from April 2005 until the end of 2008.

This year, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission for Biotechnology and GMOs has given notice of over 50 new field trials in the first quarter of 2005. In comparison, the Centre reported just over 60 new field trials for all of 2004 With news from http://www.checkbiotech.org, http://www.bbc.co.uk, and http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int.

GMO in Poland. With data gathered from genetically modified oilseed rape, sugar beet, and maize with herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance traits, Graham Brookes of Brookes West, UK, and Professor Andrzej Aniol of the Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute, Poland assess “The farm level impact of using GM agronomic traits in Polish arable crops.” Their work on the socio-economic benefits of the abovementioned genetically modified (GM) crops appear in the journal Biotechnologica.

The research shows that GM technology can offer benefits to farms of all sizes, and that small farms in Poland have been the most enthusiastic adopters of it, given the simplicity and low capital costs of GM technology. The technology also carries with it additional intangible benefits, such as increased management flexibility and simplicity, since finding outlets for GM derived crops is likely to be fairly straightforward, especially in the feed sector.

EUROPE INFORMATION - Strong lack of information on GMOs. - The issue on which there is a strong EU-wide consensus among the respondents is that they feel they a lack information on GMOs. This feeling is especially strong in Finland, where a towering 66% of respondents - 20% above the EU average - said they lack information on GMOs. The number of ill-informed is also high in Slovenia (56%), Greece (54%) and Slovakia (54%), as well as Germany (49%) and Austria (44%). Feeling best-informed on GMOs are Portugal (only 28% ill-informed), Italy (33%), Spain (33%) and Latvia (33%).

Greece and Austria are the countries where the biggest number of respondents named genetic engineering among their top environmental concerns: both countries saw 43% of respondents mention GMOs as a worry. They are followed by Cyprus (39%), Slovenia (31%) and Germany (30%). At the opposite end of the scale, the Maltese (12%), the Spanish (15%) and the Dutch (15%) are the countries where least respondents mentioned GM products as a concern.

GMOs not among Europeans' top environmental concerns. - One of the survey's surprising finds, in view of the raucous debate over GMOs which has taken place in the EU in the last few years, is that the use of GMOs in farming does not rank among the top environmental issues that Europeans are worried about. The survey found GMOs to be a major environmental concern for 24% of the interviewees, ranking just tenth in the overall list of concerns. Intriguingly, more people seem to be worried about agricultural pollution - and in particular the use of pesticides and fertilizers - than GMOs, with 26% of respondents ranking agricultural pollution as a major concern. Both concerns are far outweighed by the four major worries which top the list: water pollution (47%), man-made disasters (46%), climate change (45%), and air pollution (45%) (see separate article for a full analysis of the environmental aspects of the survey). http://europa.eu.int/comm/public_opinion/archives/ebs/es_217_en.pdf

62 GMO-Free Municipalities In Italy Calabria ANSA English Corporate Service - 05-May-2005

A total 62 municipalities in the southern Italian region of Calabria have declared themselves free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Italy's farmers' union Coldiretti said on the occasion of the Mediterranean food fair Cibus Med, held from May 3 to 5, 2005 at trade fair centre Fiera del Levante in Bari.

Birds - France has asked the European Commission for flexibility on the directive of 2nd April 1979 on the protection of migratory birds. France has obtained a meeting of the Ornis group (intergovernmental group for the follow up of the directive in which each member of the European Union has a respresentative) to integrate into the directive an interpretation Guide drawn up by the European Commission. The Guide allows for flexibilty concerning a period of ten days in relation to the dates of the reproduction periods of the birds. The ornis group can make modifications without an official revision of the directive, (this can only be done through a vote by the council of ministers). This request should be welcomed by the hunting community who have been requesting it for some time.

WORLD

US Food and Drug Administration statement on Bt 10
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have coordinated efforts to determine the safety of genetically engineered Bt 10 corn in food and feed. Bt 10 is closely related to Bt 11, a genetically engineered corn line which has undergone full U.S. regulatory clearance. FDA has evaluated whether the inadvertent marketing of Bt 10 presents any food or feed safety concerns. FDA does not believe that possible unintended changes in the composition of corn pose food or feed safety risks or regulatory issues in circumstances in which the corn makes up a small part of the total food or feed supply. In this type of situation, the relevant information for food and feed safety is the safety of the new protein(s) in the corn. Therefore, in circumstances such as those surrounding the presence of Bt 10 in food and feed, the information relevant to safety assessment is limited to the safety of the proteins evaluated by EPA.

Based on EPA's finding that the genetically engineered proteins in Bt 10 are safe, the extremely low levels of Bt 10 corn in the food and feed supply, and the fact that corn does not contain any significant natural toxins or allergens, FDA has concluded that the presence of Bt 10 corn in the food and feed supply poses no safety concerns. Thus, under these circumstances, there are no further requirements under the U.S. regulatory process for Bt 10 to be legally present in the United States food and feed supply. However, it is not legal for Bt 10 to be planted in the United States. For more information on the respective roles of USDA-APHIS, EPA, and FDA in the federal regulation of genetically engineered plants, see the United States Agencies Unified Biotechnology Website. For more info, check out NBII FOODCONSUMER - http://www.foodconsumer.org/777/8/U_S_Food_and_Drug_Administration_Statement_on_Bt_10.shtml

India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved more Bt cotton hybrids for renewed planting, as well as new varieties for first-time cultivation in the country. Find out more from http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=69708,

Argentina Resumes GMO Corn Exports To Brazil
Reuters News - 04-May-2005 - By Hilary Burke
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, May 4 (Reuters) - After four years in the doghouse, Argentina is again exporting genetically modified corn to neighboring Brazil thanks to a request by feed-hungry poultry producers in Brazil's northeast.

Malaysia seeks next generation of scientists http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=2075&language=1

A shortage of researchers is looming in Malaysia because many of its scientists are approaching retirement at the same time. Malaysia seeks next generation of scientists

GM RICE IN CHINA.

The Economist, April 28, 2005 http://www.economist.com/

Huang Jikun, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, and his colleagues, have been studying trials of two strains of GM rice that the Chinese government is hoping to commercialise. Their results show that in the hands of the small farmers who dominate the countryside these strains produce higher yields, consume less pesticide, and are better for the health of those farmers than non-GM strains.

Both strains are designed to enhance protection against insects. One uses the conventional and widely deployed technique of introducing a gene from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the crop. The gene in question encodes a protein that paralyses the digestive systems of insects but is harmless in vertebrates and is already employed routinely in GM cotton and maize. The other strain uses a gene from a cowpea plant. In this case the protein produced inhibits the activity of trypsin, one of the principal digestive enzymes-but again, acts only in insects.

Xianyou 63 and Youming 86, each of which has been genetically engineered to resist insects. Xianyou 63 carries a gene for producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural pesticide commonly used by organic farmers, while Youming 86 has an insect-resistance gene from the cowpea plant.

Instead of following rigid guidelines, farmers were left to spray their crops, as they do, according to perceived need. The GM rice required far lower use of pesticides (once per year compared with 3.7 times per year for unmodified crops).

None of the GM farmers reported any pesticide-induced illnesses, such as headaches, skin irritation or nausea, while 7.7 per cent of the conventional farmers suffered these in 2002 and 11 per cent suffered them in 2003. Yields of the Xianyou 63 variety were 9 per cent higher than conventional rice, while those of Youming 86 were comparable to the non-GM equivalent.

Xianyou 63 and Youming 86, each of which has been genetically engineered to resist insects. Xianyou 63 carries a gene for producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural pesticide commonly used by organic farmers, while Youming 86 has an insect-resistance gene from the cowpea plant.

Instead of following rigid guidelines, farmers were left to spray their crops, as they do, according to perceived need. The GM rice required far lower use of pesticides (once per year compared with 3.7 times per year for unmodified crops).

None of the GM farmers reported any pesticide-induced illnesses, such as headaches, skin irritation or nausea, while 7.7 per cent of the conventional farmers suffered these in 2002 and 11 per cent suffered them in 2003. Yields of the Xianyou 63 variety were 9 per cent higher than conventional rice, while those of Youming 86 were comparable to the non-GM equivalent.

Insecticide use and yields with biotech and non biotech rice varieties in China

 Application
# of Spray
Spray Costs
(yuan/ha)
Spray Volume
kg/ha
Spray Labor
Days/ha
Yield
kg/ha
Biotech0.5312.00.736364
Non Biotech3.724321.29.16151

The study, entitled Insect Resistant GM Rice in Farmers’ Fields: Assessing Productivity and Health Effects in China, was published in Science on 29 April 2005 Volume 308 pp 688-690.
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050416/fob7.asp

A human gene that Japanese researchers have inserted into rice enables the plant to break down a portfolio of chemicals now used on farms to kill weeds. The unusual breadth of that herbicide resistance could circumvent a major shortcoming of existing genetically engineered crops and also open new avenues for cleaning up contaminated soils.

Some scientists, however, are concerned that weeds growing with the rice could eventually acquire the human gene and become herbicide-resistant superweeds.

The herbicide resistance of many crops, including much of U.S. soy and cotton, results from genetic elements that scientists have transferred from other species. These engineered plants can tolerate powerful weed-control chemicals. To date, most plants tweaked this way are resistant to only one type of chemical, so farmers must use both the herbicide-resistant crop and the matching herbicide to keep weeds at bay without killing the plants they want to harvest.

A human gene that Japanese researchers have inserted into rice enables the plant to break down a portfolio of chemicals now used on farms to kill weeds. The unusual breadth of that herbicide resistance could circumvent a major shortcoming of existing genetically engineered crops and also open new avenues for cleaning up contaminated soils.

Organic Industry's Phoney Star Wars
A flash animation produced by the makers of The Meatrix has been released today attacking conventional agriculture.  Designed to coincide with the release of the latest Star Wars movie, Organic Trade Association (OTA)'s presentation claims that "an empire of pollution and pesticides- genetic engineering- has destroyed the planet?"  OTA's Store Wars presents conventional agriculture, represented by Darth Tater, as the "evil dark side of the farm--more chemical than vegetable" and encourages shoppers to chose organic over 'toxic conventional foods.' Found at http://www.storewars.org/ the site also makes health, quality and taste claims comparing organic with conventional agriculture products.

Greenpeace Charged Under Danish Terror Law For GM Crops Action.
The environmental organization Greenpeace has become the first body to be charged under the provisions of the anti-terrorism package over a protest action against genetic modification. This conflicts with the aim of the anti-terrorism legislation, several Danish parliamentarians have said.

On 13 October 2003 Greenpeace carried out an action against genetically-modified crops at Danish agriculture's headquarters at Axelborg in Copenhagen. Activists entered Axelborg illegally and hung up a giant banner. Greenpeace activists have used the same tactics in scores of previous actions and this usually triggers a fine for each individual activist. Greenpeace is now also being charged for the first time under a section of the so-called terror package.

Malaria calls linked to drive on organic pollutants
The UN's environmental arm is to meet governments this week in Uruguay to review the Stockholm Convention limiting persistent organic pollutants. However, one of the chemicals in question, DDT, is also effective at combating malaria and the UN Environment Programme will therefore call for more funding for malaria vaccine development so that DDT can eventually be outlawed. FINANCIAL TIMES PAGE: 9 http://news.ft.com/cms/s/3aacf3b4-bc38-11d9-817e-00000e2511c8.html

Developing world media 'lacks critical analysis of GM'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=2111&language=1 A study of the media in five developing countries shows that coverage of genetically modified (GM) crops is often uncritical and rarely gives voice to farmers.

RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENTS

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression. The genes which code for these represent 1% of the expressed genome in complex organisms such as worms, flies, and humans. Identifying an entire set of miRNAs, as well as their target genes in an organism, is important for researchers who want to understand how genes are regulated, and how they may be silenced.

In “Cloning and Characterization of MicroRNAs from Rice,” a research article that appears in the latest issue of Plant Cell Online, Ramanjulu Sunkar of the University of California, Riverside and colleagues used computational methods to predict families of miRNAs in rice; and sequencing methods to identify new families unique to the crop. Download the complete article at http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/reprint/17/5/1397

Corn Ancestry from Ancient Grass to Modern Crop
May 27, 2005 http://www.physorg.com/news4301.html

Researchers have identified corn genes that were preferentially selected by Native Americans during the course of the plant's domestication from its grassy relative, teosinte, (pronounced "tA-O-'sin-tE") to the single-stalked, large-eared plant we know today. The study revealed that of the 59,000 total genes in the corn genome, approximately 1,200 were preferentially targeted for selection during its domestication.
The study, by University of California, Irvine's Brandon Gaut and his colleagues, appears in the May 27 issue of the journal, Science.

More efficient Bt: Charles Q. Choi, The Scientist, May 17, 2005 http://www.the-scientist.com 'New technique increases activity of Bt toxin, but scientists caution it needs safety testing'An international team of researchers has developed a new technique for increasing pest resistance in transgenic crop plants, they report this week in PNAS. The strategy, which boosts and broadens the activity of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins, targets previously impervious pest species and reduces by up to 1000-fold the level of toxin _expression needed, said coauthor Paul Christou at the University of Lleida in Spain. They fused the sequence for Bt toxin Cry1Ac with that of the nontoxic B-chain subunit of ricin (RB) in a recombinant plasmid. RB is a leptin that binds with galactose- and N-acetylgalactosamine residues with high affinity, the latter of which are key components of Bt toxin-binding receptors. They then bombarded embryonic callus from mature maize seeds with this BtRB fusion. Christou said his group was engaged in large-scale, collaborative experiments to determine exactly which insects are susceptible to these novel fusion proteins. "These results need to be validated repeatedly in multiple experiments, first in the laboratory, then in greenhouse experiments, and ultimately in controlled field experiments," he said. "If any of these experiments indicate toxicity to no target or beneficial insects, this toxicity needs to be studied, understood, and remedied before experiments progress forward."

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