News in July 2005
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Conferences

Communicating European Research 2005 - International Conference

Brussels Exhibition Center (Heysel)
14-15 November 2005, Registration will start in August

Eastern Biofuels Conference & Expo

13 – 15 September 2005Marriott Hotel, Warsaw, Poland
www.easternbiofuels.com

World Biofuels Symposium

http://www.scidev.net/events/index.cfm?fuseaction=readevents&itemid=683&language=1
Location: Beijing, China. Date: 13 - 15 November 2005-08-03

Second Training Course on Bio-informatics and Functional Genomics applied to Insect Vector of Human Diseases

http://www.scidev.net/events/index.cfm?fuseaction=readevents&itemid=681&language=1
Location: Bangkok, Thailand. Date: 3 - 14 October 2005

Second Training Course on Functional Genomics of Insect Disease Vectors

http://www.scidev.net/events/index.cfm?fuseaction=readevents&itemid=680&language=1
Location: Bamako, Mali. Date: 26 October - 10 November 2005

First Announcement of the workshop:

'Ecological consequences of gene flow from crops to wild relatives'
Two examples from the composite family (Asteraceae), lettuce and chicory
which will be held on Sunday, November 13th 2005 in Le Corum, Montpellier, France. The workshop is held in order to disseminate the project results to a broad audience (scientists and other stakeholders, incl. authorities involved in the GMO regulatory process, and NGOs). The workshop is open (no registration fees) and immediately precedes the second Conference on Coexistence of GM and non-GM crops GMCC-05 (November 14th and 15th) and will be held at the same location.
More information and registration: www.plantevents.nl

PEW INITIATIVE POSTS PROCEEDINGS

Conference Proceedings on Genetically Modified Insects Posted by Pew Initiative
In September 2004, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology hosted an international conference to explore the scientific and public policy issues surrounding the potential release of genetically modified insects. Proceedings from the conference, titled “Biotech Bugs: A Look at the Science and Public Policy Surrounding the Release of Genetically Modified Insects” are now available in English, French, and Spanish translations on the Pew Initiative website. Proceedings and highlights from the conference can be viewed and downloaded at: http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0920/

EuroNanoForum 2005: European nanotechnology research shapes the future of healthcare Organized by the Institute of Nanotechnology, with the support of the European Commission, EuroNanoForum 2005 is one of the world’s most important Conference and Expo in the field of nanotechnology research and industrial applications. This year, this flagship European event will specifically focus on healthcare application of nanotechnologies – and acknowledged area of European strength and interest.

Publications

CropLife International, a federation representing the plant science industry, has released “Compliance Management of Confined Field Trials of Genetically Engineered Plants,” a generic compliance management document that serves as a guide for those undertaking field trials of genetically modified crops. The document can be accessed at http://www.croplife.org/library/documents/Biotech issues/stewardship/2005 05 10-field trial compliance protoco-psl-f.td.pdf.

DATABASE ON PLANT BIOTECH PROJECTS
The Plant Biotech Projects database, a comprehensive world-wide information resource covering plant biotechnology research and development, is now available in print, CD ROM, and electronic formats. Four modules are available: plants as factories, input traits, crop production, and quality traits. Contact Michael Aplin at michael.aplin@informa.com for order requests or visit http://www.plantbiotechprojects.com

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) database containing “Developing Country Biotechnology Profiles” has been updated. Access the database at http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp  or contact FAO-BioDeC@fao.org to provide comments or to request more information.

Dynamics of biotechnology research and industry in India: Statistics, perspectives and key policy issues” is written by S. Chaturvedi, and provides information on India’s growing biotechnology industry. Among others, it contains an inventory of biotechnology data collection in India, and an overview of the status of biotechnology in India, with a focus on the agricultural and health sectors.

See http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/35/34947073.pdf or contact dsti.contact@oecd.org for more information.

FAO BIBLIOGRAPHY ON AGRI-BIOTECH AVAILABLE

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Research and Technology Development Service has published a bibliography of documents that cover assessments of the economic and socio-economic impact of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries, with a focus on crop biotechnology.

“Economic and Socio-Economic Impacts of Agricultural Biotechnology In Developing Countries” contains bibliographic information on publications covering methodologies for impact assessment; studies on biotechnologies not involving genetic modification (GM), such as marker assisted selection and micropropagation; and GM-based biotechnologies, with specific crop studies on cotton, soybean, rice, maize, and banana, among others. Download the document at ftp://ftp.fao.org/sd/SDR/SDRR/bibliography1.pdf, or contact SDRR-portal@fao.org for more information or to provide comments.

The World Health Organization exhorts its member countries to cooperate on the assessment of biotechnology and its impact human health and food production. This need for international collaboration is the gist of its latest report, “Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health, and Development.” Download the complete report at
http://www.who.int/foodsafety/biotech/who_study/en/index.html

Europe - EU

EU-Chinese co-operation pinpoints potential treatments for SARS
A team of EU-backed scientists from across Europe and China have identified a number of promising anti-SARS compounds. One of which is a treatment for schizophrenia first developed in the 1960s and already approved for use by US authorities.

Ongoing biomass Projects in FP6

ScopeAcronymInstrument
Medium to long termRENEWIP
 CHRISGASIP
 NOE-BIOENERGYNoE
 BIOASHSTREP
 COPOWERSTREP
 BIOCELLUSSTREP
 GREENFUELCELLSSTREP
 BIO-PROSTREP
 CROPGENSTREP

European Platform on Innovative Medicines
- Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) : The "Innovative Medicines Initiative Strategic Research Agenda" is available for download ( 1.42 MB)

EU Genomics News
The 4th issue of a newsletter which focus on Highlights of EU-funded fundamental genomics research is now available.

Communicating European Research 2005: Enhancing the dialogue between the research community and the media
Following the success of CER 2004, Europe’s scientific and industrial community and the media come together for the second year to showcase the latest developments and explore new avenues for communicating European research.

Scientists appeal for more research funding to EU leaders
As European leaders debate the fate of the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), thousands of scientists have weighed in behind a petition calling on the EU to ensure ‘a very significant increase’ in EU funding in line with the Commission’s proposal.

EuroNanoForum 2005: European nanotechnology research shapes the future of healthcare Organized by the Institute of Nanotechnology, with the support of the European Commission, EuroNanoForum 2005 is one of the world’s most important Conference and Expo in the field of nanotechnology research and industrial applications. This year, this flagship European event will specifically focus on healthcare application of nanotechnologies – and acknowledged area of European strength and interest.

Stagnation of R&D intensity a major threat to the European knowledge-based economy
Today the European Commission presents a new publication on Europe’s position in research and innovation. The “Key figures 2005 for science, technology and innovation” show worrying trends in R&D investment and innovation in Europe.

Sixth Framework Programme - Open and future calls for proposals for FP6
List of calls has been updated.

Reading Eurobarometer’s signals on EU citizens’ perceptions of S&T
The European Commission and other stakeholders have been digesting the findings of the latest Eurobarometer – the EU’s public opinion gauge – surveys on public perception of science and technology. Scientists and policy-makers are taking heart from science’s positive image and citizens’ support for increased R&D funding.

Scientists urge EU to create European Research Council
An alliance of 50 European research organisations has appealed to the EU to fulfil the Commission’s proposal of creating a European Research Council (ERC) to lead Europe’s drive at the frontiers of science.

Scientific Council of the European Research Council announced
The European Commission is announcing the names of the 22 eminent men and women who will be the founding members of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), a funding organisation for frontier research proposed by the European Commission under the Seventh Research Framework Programme (2007-2013). The Scientific Council will be an independent body whose role is to determine the ERC’s scientific strategy and ensure that its operations are conducted according to the requirements of scientific excellence.

Expert panel welcomes European research co-operation and recommends further funds
COST (European Co-operation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) is a suitable mechanism for contributing to the Lisbon and Barcelona goals, due to its role in assisting the co-ordination of national research, an expert panel has told the Commission. The experts found that its structure and operating procedures are designed to be simple and responsive, making it particularly appropriate for involving new countries and new research groups. The flexibility of COST makes it attractive to young people and it has a role as good preparation for participation in European research programmes.

Commission publishes forecast of cereal production: loss due to drought impact on Western EU Regions
Detailed scientific analysis by the European Commission, through its advanced crop yield forecasting system, shows that this year’s production will be at least 28 million tonnes below last years’ record numbers (about 10% less), but total EU cereal harvest remains in line with the average of the last five years. The main reason for this drop is the impact of drought on crop yields. Production areas most affected are in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Central Greece.

EUROPE

BRITISH researchers will receive more than pounds 40 million of a pounds 250 million fund to fight disease in developing countries, it was announced yesterday.

The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative will back a range of research, including the creation of GM crops that are more nutritious and can withstand harsh environments.

The programme is mostly backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and also received pounds 15 million from the Wellcome Trust in Britain. (By Roger Highfield, Science Editor)

GM bill fails in German Parliament. The German Union Party announces liberal rules in case of an election victory. After a long debate with the German Union-reigned states, the red-green German Government failed with its bill on genetic engineering. Party representatives from the German Parliaments were not able to agree on a compromise. "The second bill on biotechnology will not pass," said a spokeswoman for Renate Kunast, Germany's Consumer-protection Minister.

In fact, the government separated a part of the controversial bill on genetic engineering in agriculture, and passed it without the Federal Council. Since the Union and the FDP parties assessed the first part of the bill as a blockade on cultivation of GM plants, they refused to accept the second one. The second bill defines the rules on research and on renewable primary products.

"The blockade by the Union hurts White Biotechnology and thus harms the economy," said the State Secretary of Agriculture Alexander Muller. Now, Germany is at risk of an EU proceeding, carries notable penalties, because the guidelines for coexistence of conventional and genetically modified plants were not implemented in due time. "We are overdue," admitted the spokeswoman for Minister Kunast. FINANCIAL TIMES DE - http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?fuseaction=news&doc_id=10757&start=1&control=219&page_start=1&page_nr=101&pg=1

GMO labels unlikely in EU. EU regulators show no sign of wanting to extend strict labelling laws to foods like meat and eggs coming from animals that have eaten genetically modified (GMO) feed -- annoying green groups but keeping industry happy. The European Union has thresholds for how much GMO material may be present in foods and animal feed before being labelled as biotech. But these rules, which came into force in 2004, do not apply to meat and dairy products deriving from a GMO-fed animal.
For green groups opposed to biotechnology, this exemption is a glaring loophole in the EU's labyrinthine laws on GMO foods. But for the biotech and animal feed industry, it would be unthinkable and unacceptable to change the status quo. The difference in opinion is just another illustration of Europe's deep-seated and often bitter divisions over GMOs. Since 1998, EU governments have been unable to agree over authorising imports of any new GMO crop or food. REUTERS via TRUTH ABOUT TRADE & TECHNOLOGY - http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=4117

The strategic research agenda ‘Plants for the future’ on how Europe can improve the safe exploitation of the genetic diversity in plants using plant genomics and biotechnology has just been released. It was an output of a multi-sectoral group that included research institutions, industry, farmers, regulatory authorities, as well as consumer and environmental organizations. Download the 100-page agenda by visiting http://www.europabio.org.

Effects of Biotechnology on Biodiversity: Herbicide-Tolerant and Insect-Resistant GM Crops
Klaus Ammann, Swiss Botanical Garden, Berne, July 13, 2005

Biodiversity is threatened by agriculture as a whole, and particularly also by traditional methods of agriculture. Knowledge-based agriculture, including GM crops, can reduce this threat in the future. The introduction of no-tillage practices, which are beneficial for soil fertility, has been encouraged by the rapid spread of herbicidetolerant soybeans in the USA. The replacement of pesticides through Bt crops is advantageous for the nontarget insect fauna in test-fields. The results of the British Farm Scale experiment are discussed. Biodiversity differences can mainly be referred to as differences in herbicide application management.

Read the report at http://www.botanischergarten.ch/TIBTECH/Ammann-TIBTECH-Biodiversity-2005.pdf

GLOBAL

Shipowners can expect to see a decrease in exports of US-origin GM modified grain.
US corn exports to Japan have seen yet another setback, with the discovery of traces of Bt-10 strain corn in a third cargo that arrived at port on June 10, 2005.
Japan, which has a strict regulation policy for its GM imports, is likely to either destroy the grain or ship it back to the US - the cost of which must be borne by either Swiss biotechnology company Sygenta or the US government. (Namrata Nadkarni). Lloyd's List - 28-Jun-2005

“Biotechnology, Agriculture, and Food Security in Southern Africa,” released by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) tackles the biotechnology debate in the continent.

FAO REPORTS ON WORLDWIDE GM TREE EFFORTS
A new global study of biotechnology in forestry conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that about 70 percent of forest biotechnology activities is taking place in developing countries. India and China are the most active players in the developing world.

Of the over 2700 biotechnology activities reported worldwide over the past 10 years, genetic modification accounts for around 19 percent only. FAO reported that overall, genetic modification activities in forestry are taking place in at least 35 countries, with the vast majority at the laboratory stage, with some supporting field trials.

The study also noted that more than 210 field trials of genetically modified (GM) trees are currently under way in 16 countries. Most of the trials which are largely on Populus, Pinus, Liquidambar and Eucalyptus, are being conducted in the US. Only China has reported the commercial release of GM trees: around 1.4 million plants on 300-500 hectares in 2002. Read more on the FAO study at http://www.fao.org.

The Canadian flax industry is concerned about a U.S. plant-based pharmaceutical company's plans to grow genetically modified (GMO) flax crops in North Dakota, an official with the Flax Council of Canada said. Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada, is worried that the Canadian flaxseed crop could become contaminated as a result. Currently no flax grown in Canada is genetically modified.

"Theoretically, it would stay in the U.S.," he said, "but the border isn't very tight. It would be easy for a seed to transfer to Canada." Hall said this would have a negative impact on exporting flax from Canada, as the European market has a tough stance on genetic modification and would not buy any Canadian flax if there were a concern that it could have mixed with a GMO crop. "The Council admits that a genetically modified crop could be useful," he said, "but there is no indication that Europe could back-off on the issue."

CHINA APPROVES NEW GM CORN VARIETY
Mike Johanns, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, announced that China has approved NK603, a variety of Round Up Ready corn, bringing the total Chinese biotech approvals to eight varieties of corn, two of cotton, seven of canola and one variety of soybeans. Johanns also said that the US will work with China to promote a regulatory system based on sound science to expedite future approvals.

Secretary Johanns and Minister Li Changjiang of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to improve bilateral cooperation on animal and plant health and food safety. This will enable the US to address the sanitary, phytosanitary, and food safety issues that have hindered its agricultural access to China. The MOU also provides for the exchanges of information on relevant laws; regulations and standards; inspection and quarantine procedures; methodology and technology; pests and disease; toxic and harmful residues; food certification and establishment registration. For more of Johanns’ first visit to China, visit http://www.usda.gov.

News in Science

Epigenetics study uncovers twin secrets
Genetically identical twins may share the same DNA, but variations in which genes are active can lead to differences in such things as physical appearance and proneness to disease, report European and US researchers.

Gene Associated With High Rice Yields Discovered
A research team spearheaded by the Nagoya University Bioscience and Biotechnology Center has identified a gene in rice that is associated with harvest yields. (Asia Pulse - 24-Jun-2005)

The team identified the gene, dubbed CKX, by crossbreeding Indica habataki with Japonica koshihikari over multiple generations while selecting for rice plants with higher yields.

In plants where the CKX gene is more active, a hormone that induces the production of more seeds gets degraded faster. CKX thus acts as a brake on seed growth, so in plants where the gene is less active the rice yield is higher. Habataki is a rice strain in which the CKX gene has low activity. Through the crossbreeding, the team was able to create a strain of koshihikari with a 20 per cent higher rice yield. The same gene appears to be related to harvest yields in wheat, corn and other cereal crops.

Antibody Against Tooth-Decay Now Produced in GM Crop
http://www.in-pharmatechnologist.com/news/printNewsBis.asp?id=61277

US firms Large Scale Biology Corp and privately-held Planet Biotechnology have expanded their biomanufacturing program to extract and purify the latter's lead product, CaroRx, a plant-made antibody to control dental caries.

LSBC biomanufacturing approach relies on the use of tobacco plants as biological factories. The company inserts the genetic sequence coding for the desired compound - in this case a secretory immunoglubulin A (SIgA) - into a virus that infects tobacco plants. This tobacco mosaic virus is based on RNA, so it does not combine with the tobacco plant's genetic material. This does away with the need to genetically modify the plant, avoiding the high cost and length of time taken to develop transgenics and also bypassing environmental concerns about GM material.

Using LSBC's process, regular tobacco is planted and sprayed with the virus once the plants have emerged. The tobacco is then harvested as normal, and further processing takes place to extract and purify the target protein.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) S protein production in plants: Development of recombinant vaccine,” Natalia Pogrebnyak and colleagues of the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, USA carry out preliminary work on producing a SARS vaccine in plants, as well as testing it on model organisms. Their work appears in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Download the article at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/102/25/9062

The test to determine if horseweed plants were resistant or susceptible to the herbicide glyphosate. Developed by ARS scientists Clifford H. Koger III and Dale L. Shaner

Koger is an agronomist with the Crop Genetic and Production Research Unit at Stoneville, Miss., and Shaner is a plant physiologist with the Water Management Research Unit at Fort Collins, Colo. Koger was based in the ARS Southern Weed Science Research Unit at Stoneville when the research was done.

In 2000, horseweed (Conyza canadensis) became the first weed species to develop resistance to glyphosate in cropland where glyphosate-resistant soybeans were grown. Glyphosate-resistant biotypes of horseweed have now been confirmed in 13 states east of the Mississippi River.

The two tests can be used together. One method, which involves dipping a whole leaf into a glyphosate-based mixture and looking for signs of injury, is quick and easy to perform. To achieve double confirmation of the weed's status, a second assay can be used. This method takes advantage of glyphosate's mode of action, which involves inhibiting amino acid metabolism in what is known as the shikimic acid pathway. Leaf tissue samples are removed, and amino acid levels are measured with specialized laboratory equipment.

If glyphosate resistance is confirmed, the tests should help reduce the spread of resistant horseweed populations because growers will use different herbicides to manage the resistant weeds.

Genetic Clue to Drought Resistant Crops Found - Sonja van Renssen SciDev.Net , July 14, 2005 The 'erecta' gene in Arabidopsis could play a key role in developing drought-resistant crops, say researchers A gene shown to determine how well plants conserve water could help scientists develop drought-resistant crops, say Australian researchers. Josette Masle and colleagues at the Australian National University isolated a gene that helps a plant called Arabidopsis minimise water loss as it grows.

Their work was published online by Nature on 10 July. The gene, called 'erecta', determines how many pores the plant has on its leaves. Plants use these pores to take in carbon dioxide, but lose water through them whenever they are open. "There is a trade-off: gaining carbon dioxide means losing water," explains Masle. As well as determining the density of pores on the plants' leaves, erecta also helps determine how efficient the cells beneath the pores are at converting carbon dioxide into sugars plants use for growth. It is the first gene shown to affect both processes.

Masle's team found that by changing the structure of erecta they could create plants with a different balance in the trade-off between losing water and gaining carbon dioxide. Knowing this means researchers could help crops, such as rice and wheat, be more 'economical' with their water, by giving them a version of erecta that strikes the right balance for the environment they grow in. Already, the team has found genetic sequences similar to erecta in rice and wheat. The crops could be modified using either conventional breeding methods or modern genetic engineering. This is likely to become increasingly important as climate change leads to drier conditions in many parts of the world.

The research offers the potential to increase yields both in areas already cultivated and on land previously too dry to farm. Boosting plants' ability to deal with insufficient water might also enhance their ability to overcome other challenges like extreme salt levels, Masle told SciDev.Net. Better use of water is one way of combating drought, but other methods include developing plants with a more extensive root system or the ability to retain more water by accumulating dissolved salts.

GM cassava uses viral gene to fight disease
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=2227&language=1 By modifying cassava with viral genes, researchers have made a plant able to resist the very same virus. It could save farmers large losses.

TOMATO GETS NUTRIENT BOOST
In the latest issue of Nature Biotechnology, Ganga Rao Davuluri of Stazione Zoologica, Naples, Italy, and colleagues demonstrate that “Fruit-specific RNAi-mediated suppression of DET1 enhances carotenoid and flavonoid content in tomatoes.” The research shows new work on raising the levels of nutritious compounds in tomato through the use of inverted repeat RNA interference (RNAi) constructs under the control of fruit-specific promoters – and through the control of a single gene.

The gene in question is DET1, which codes for a transcription factor first identified in Arabidopsis. DET1 mutants can grow in the dark, as though the plants were exposed to light. Researchers were able to engineer tomato plants in such a way that DET1 would be suppressed by RNA interference, but would not result in any other disruption of plant metabolism or growth.

After testing the fruits for nutrient content, researchers found that both lycopene and beta carotene were present at higher levels than in wild-type fruits. Other nutrients were also increased, including chlorgenic acid and naringenin-chalcone. All the increased nutrients have been shown to be potent antioxidants in previous studies.
The findings of the research may prove to be highly beneficial to both consumers and the food industry. First, the transgene and the constructs created are of host plant origin, the gene in question has natural mutants, and the modifications on the plant do not result in lower yield.

Download the journal article at
http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v23/n7/pdf/nbt1108.pdf, and the news at
http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v23/n7/pdf/nbt0705-825.pdf

RESEARCH LOOKS INTO COLD, SALT INTOLERANT PLANT
Jianhua Zhu of Purdue University, USA found out that “HOS10 encodes an R2R3-type MYB transcription factor essential for cold acclimation in plants.” The research reports the identification and characterization of an Arabidopsis mutant extremely sensitive to freezing temperatures and sodium chloride levels due to the mutation of a gene, and is published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.

Plant metabolism is highly complex, and still not completely understood. For instance, evidence indicates that metabolic pathways can cross each other and affect one another when pathways controlling drought, salinity, and cold tolerance are concerned. Through RNA gel analysis, cloning of the HOS10 gene, mutation of the gene, and identification of the HOS10 locus, among other things, researchers produced plants which were reduced in size, flowered early, and yet had reduced fertility. These HOS10 mutants, moreover, could not survive in cold and high salt conditions, and could not synthesize an important hormone.

This mutation, researchers said, could prove useful in further studies involving connections between cold or salt tolerance, and plant metabolism. Download the complete article at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/102/28/9966.

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