News in January 2007
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2007-02-01

General

New' drugs said to escape patent restrictions
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3315&language=1
Scientists claim to have found a way to bypass patents on expensive anti-infective drugs, allowing cheaper versions to be made. [Source: The Guardian]

Belgian, American Scientists Share Wolf Prize In Agriculture
Crop Biotech Update, www.isaaa.org

The latest winners of the Wolf Prize for Agriculture are Ronald Phillips and Michel Georges for their groundbreaking discoveries in genetics and genomics. Wolf Prizes are being awarded since 1978 by the not for profit Wolf Foundation in Israel, to individuals with outstanding contribution to agriculture, arts, chemistry, mathematics, medicine and physics.

Philips is affiliated with the University of Minnesota, USA. He was cited to be the first to generate whole corn plants from cells grown in culture. This subsequently helped in accelerating genetic modification of corn. Georges on the other hand, is with the University of Li?ge, Belgium. He is credited on developing tools and methods that helped in the identification and mapping of genes that affect economically important traits in livestock. These genes include those responsible for milk yield, fertility, and disease resistance.

The complete announcement can be found at http://www.wolffund.org.il/cat.asp?id=14&cat_title=AGRICULTURE

Books and articles

Inconsistencies in the [EU] regulatory assessment and Commissioner Dimas's approach are objected by Shane H Morris, Nature Biotechnology, Jan. 2007, v. 25, p33 http://www.nature.com/nbt and UK's GM regulatory body ACRE http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/fsewiderissues/acre-fse-060317draft.pdf

“In recent years, it has become apparent that there are inconsistencies in the [EU] regulatory assessment of the environmental impact of GM crops in comparison with other agricultural crops and practices." In addition, the report criticizes EU regulation by stressing "this inconsistency is further illustrated by GM herbicide-tolerant crops that require an extensive environmental risk assessment before approval for cultivation and marketing whilst herbicide tolerant crops produced by non-GM breeding methods can be grown without an equivalent assessment."

http://www.nature.com/nbt
http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/fsewiderissues/acre-fse-060317draft.pdf

Proceedings of the Communicating European Research 2005 Conference, now available as a book from Springer.

Research site keyword index The Research site keyword index has been updated. It now contains over 8700 English keywords to help you find what you are looking for. It also contains over 2300 keywords in German, over 2600 in French, more than 2300 in Spanish, and about 300 in Italian and Dutch.

Conference, research: "Food Quality and Safety Research: First Results from FP6"

On the 12 December 2006, the European Commission presented first results from projects in the area of food quality and safety which were funded from the EU's Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6, 2002-2006). A dozen co-operative research projects with international teams have presented their newest findings related to the quality and safety of our food.

Closing Markets to Biotechnology: Does It Pose An Economic Risk If Markets Are Globalised?
Stuart Smyth, William A. Kerr, Kelly A. Davey, International Journal Of Technology And Globalisation, Vol. 2(3/4), (2006) 377-389 http://www.inderscience.com
(Full paper with tables from Stuart Smyth. College of Biotechnology, University of Saskatchewan, stuart.smyth(@)usask.ca)

Abstract: This paper compares international trading patterns for canola, corn and soybean varieties prior to commercialisation of the Genetically Modified (GM) varieties with present trading patterns that include GM varieties. Any marketplace changes that have occurred are analysed to determine the cause for any market shifts. GM canola, corn and soybeans entered the marketplace successfully, but some international markets were lost because of the commercialisation of the GM varieties.  The paper examines if these industries were able to successfully identify any new marketplace opportunities and shift commodity exports into new markets.

Studies on Feeds from Genetically Modified Plants (GMP) - Contributions to Nutritional and Safety Assessment
G. Flachowsky K. Aulrich, H. Böhme and I. Halle Animal Feed Science And Technology, Vol. 133(1-2) , Pages 2-30.

Since 1997, 18 studies with feeds from genetically modified plants (GMP) in the nutrition of dairy cows, growing bulls, growing and finishing pigs, laying hens, chicken for finishing as well as growing and laying quails were conducted at the Federal Agricultural Research Centre (FAL) in Braunschweig (Germany).

In agreement with more than 100 animal studies available to date, results show no significant differences in the nutritional value of feeds from GMP of the first generation in comparison with non-GMP varieties. To date, no fragments of recombinant DNA have been found in any organ or tissue sample from animals fed GMP. The lower content of mycotoxins in Bt-maize and side effects in GMP of the second generation are of safety concern.

Global Impact of Biotech Crops

Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2006 via www.checkbiotech.org

Genetically modified (GM) crops have now been grown commercially on a substantial scale for ten years. This paper assesses the impact this technology is having on global agriculture from both economic and environmental perspectives. The full article can be read at: http://www.agbioforum.org/v9n3/v9n3a02-brookes.htm

GM Crops May Reduce Greenhouse Gases
 - New Scientist, Jan. 29, 2007

If 4 million cars were taken off the road in a single year, stopping 9 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide being discharged, most environmentalists would whoop with joy. But what if the same saving came from planting genetically modified crops?

This is the claim of an annual audit of GM crops by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which is funded largely by the GM industry.

The audit, published on 18 January, bases its estimate on GM planting in 2005 in the US, Canada and Argentina. Graham Brookes of PG Economics in Dorchester, UK, who supplied the data, says 85 per cent of the savings come from the fact that farmers growing weedkiller-resistant GM crops don't have to plough their fields to get rid of weeds, so organic matter in the soil is not exposed to the atmosphere. This, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, prevents the release of 300 kilograms of CO2 per year per hectare. The rest of the figure is from fuel savings (Agbioforum, vol 9, p 139).

OECD's Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology - Latest newsletter at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/37/35/37785967.doc

Results from the FAO Biotechnology Forum: Background and dialogue on selected issues 
- J. Ruane and A. Sonnino, FAO Research and Technology Paper 11, Downloaded  at
ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/a0744e/a0744e00.pdf

Summary excerpt: "From a global consideration of the conferences, it was concluded that there is a large demand for good quality science-based unbiased information regarding agricultural biotechnology in developing countries, and secondly, that people in developing countries have a great interest and willingness to participate in dialogues on this subject.

Regarding GMOs, there was no evidence of the intensity and polarization of the debate declining while regarding non-GMO biotechnologies, on the other hand, there was general agreement about the positive role that they can play in developing countries and that they should complement more conventional technologies. For both GMOs and non-GMO biotechnologies, intellectual property rights were perceived as an important issue and their consequences were generally seen as negative.

Finally, the conferences indicated that many developing countries currently lack the resources and capacity to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and that capacity building should be prioritized."

AgBioForum - Latest Issue
http://www.agbioforum.org/index.htm

Volume 9 // Number 3 // 2006

  1. Insect Resistance Management for Bt Corn: An Assessment of Community Refuge Schemes- J.L. Price, J. Hyde, & D.D. Calvin
  2. Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects in the First Ten Years of Commercial Use- G. Brookes & P. Barfoot
  3. An Analysis of McLean County, Illinois Farmers' Perceptions of Genetically Modified Crops - N. Chimmiri, K.W. Tudor, & A.D. Spaulding
  4. Consumers' Willingness to Pay for Biotech Foods in China: A Contingent Valuation Approach- W. Lin, A. Somwaru, F. Tuan, J. Huang, & J. Bai
  5. Perceptions of Genetically Modified and Organic Foods and Processes- J.C. Anderson, C.J. Wachenheim, & W.C. Lesch
  6. Bales and Balance: A Review of the Methods Used to Assess the Economic Impact of Bt Cotton on Farmers in Developing Economies- M. Smale, P. Zambrano, & M. Cartel

SciDev.Net's E-guide to Science Communication: a practical advice article on evaluating science communication projects and a feature on how journalism can hide the truth about science. Includes following articles:

Evaluating science communication projects - http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/evaluating

How journalism can hide the truth about science - http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/truth, or http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=571&language=1

The process of science is far less linear than the media's image of a neat series of breakthroughs suggests. Elmien Wolvaardt describes how simplistic reporting can distort.

Spotting fraudulent claims in science http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/spotting

Planning and writing a science story http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/planning
http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/explaining

Reporting on controversies in science http://www.scidev.net/scicomm/reporting

Events - Meetings

Europe's longest running international & multidisciplinary biotechnology congress
Focusing on today's most important issues

CALL FOR REGISTRATION, PAPERS & SPONSORS
Please check the congress website www.ecb13.eu for regular updates on the Programme and Speakers.

Conference, 15-16 February 2007, Brussels,
CHARLEMAGNE Building
SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING IN THE EUROPEAN RESEARCH AREA
ACCESS, DISSEMINATION AND PRESERVATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE

ABIC 2007 - September 23-27, Calgary, Alberta, Canada - http://www.abic.ca/abic2007/

The theme is: Harnessing Science for the Evolving Consumer: The Fit of Agricultural Biotechnology. With ABIC Calgary 2007 drawing near, we have searched the globe to bring you the most authoritative and forward-looking speakers on a wide variety of essential ag biotech topics. If ag biotech is your business, ABIC Calgary 2007 is the place to be.

Workshop: Biosafety of GM Crops and the Evolution of Regulatory Frameworks
Belo Horizonte, Brazil; September 24 - 28, 2007 http://www.anbio.org.br/eventos/icgeb.htm

Organised by: International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology; Deadline for applications: 31 March 2007. The workshop is aimed primarily at people who will be in a position to review applications for the deliberate release of genetically modified crops.

Europe - EU

CALL FOR PROPOSAL: FP7-KBBE-2007-1 Publication Date: 22 December 2006, Closing Date: 02 May 2007 at 17:00, Specific Programme: Cooperation, Theme: Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology, Total budget for this call: € 192 090 000, Preparation & Submission: The EPSS software tool is expected to be available for this call from 19 March 2007. Full information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/dc/index.cfm?fuseaction=UserSite.InputCooperationDetailsCallPage&CALL_ID=16

CALL FOR PROPOSAL: FP7-ERANET-2007-RTD, Publication Date: 22 December 2006, Closing Date: 31 July 2007 at 17:00, Specific Programme: Cooperation, Theme: Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology, Total budget for this call: € 28 900 000, Preparation & Submission: The EPSS software tool is expected to be available for this call from 19 March 2007. Full information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/dc/index.cfm?fuseaction=UserSite.CooperationDetailsCallPage&call_id=7

European Researchers' Night 2007
- The call for proposals regarding the Researchers' Night 2007 is open, with a deadline for submitting proposals fixed on 3 April 2007

New projects reports available
FP5 : Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme: Key Action 4 - Environment & Health http://ec.europa.eu/research/quality-of-life.html
One topic is “Health and electromagnetic fields.

European team unexpectedly finds clues to origin of life

Scientists studying RNA interference (RNAi), a recently discovered phenomenon with wide-ranging implications for biology and health, have stumbled upon what they believe may be an important clue to the origins of life itself

Young researchers choosing Europe for stem cell careers

As the new year gets underway, young researchers in cutting-edge and politically contentious fields are forced to examine how their respective sectors have progressed over the past year and the direction they will take in the new one.

Europe

Hungary Too Emotional on GMO Issue, Claims Biotech Expert
Neil Merrett, Food Production, Jan 17, 2007 http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/

Speaking ahead of EU talks to be held over the issue next month, Prof. Dr Marc Van Montagu of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO) believes that too often GMO debate "centres on emotional arguments, rather than looking at scientific positives." As a result he believes that processors in developing markets like Hungary and Eastern Europe are missing out on the environmental benefits offered by GMO's.

"Products like GMO maize, ensure that dangerous chemicals and pesticides are having to be used less frequently on crops, which improves the quality of any related food product, he said." He added that GMO's could also boast strong applications for soil conservation, ensuring a sustainable supply of goods to producers in the country by using modified crops more capable of retaining water and nutrients.

The latest EU GMO debate which is to be held on 20 February, will aim to discuss a number of issues regarding the use of scientifically altered crops within both the food, and non-consumables production. The topics which have already been discussed by EU experts failed to achieve a majority decision, and as such now rely on approval by a committee of EU ministers.

A topic likely to prove particularly controversial during the talks is the possibility of imposing a draft order on Hungary to lift its ban on the GMO maize. Monsanto, the company who produce the MON 810 maize seeds crop currently outlawed in the country, believes the ban contravenes the general consensus of the food industry in the EU over the product. "Not only are these laws contrary to EU law and all scientific data, they are not consistent with the growing demand for biotech crops from European farmers," said a company spokesperson.

"With more countries planting now, including a ten fold increase in markets like France, the trend is very much in the opposite direction." they added. The country is not the only member state to have blocked the product however, with neighbouring Austria also under pressure to remove its objection to the maize.

Environmental groups have backed Austria and Hungary's objections however, by opposing any use of GMO crops on the grounds that its long term health affects remain unknown and could pose a risk to consumers. Though unsure of the outcome of the discussions, Van Montagu added that the increasing willingness of the EU to debate the use of GMO's heralded changing attitudes towards the use of modified foodstuffs in the industry.

"I am convinced that most people's attitudes are changing towards the use of GMO's in the food industry," he said. Adding: "the industry is seeing past the 'Frankenstein foods' image and is now beginning to realize there are no rational arguments for not using GMO's in food production."

UK: Organic Food is No Better, Says Environment Minister
Isabel Oakeshott, The Sunday Times (London) January 7, 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk

Organic food may be no better for you than mass-produced farm food, according to the cabinet minister responsible for the industry.

David Miliband, the environment secretary, says organic produce, which is usually more expensive, is a "lifestyle choice" with no hard evidence that it is healthier. His comments will be a blow to the organic food industry, which is pressing for government recognition of what it describes as the nutritional and environmental benefits of its produce.

The Soil Association, which regulates organic food, argues that meat, vegetables and dairy produced without pesticides are likely to be healthier, with some additives used in conventional farming linked to asthma and heart disease. Organic meat also has welfare benefits, guaranteeing that animals are kept in free-range conditions and fed natural diets.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has refused to accept these arguments. Sir John Krebs, a former chairman of the FSA, angered organic lobbyists when he said that there was no evidence that organic food was more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced food, despite its cost.

Organic produce is up to 63% more expensive than conventional food, according to recent research by Morgan Stanley, the investment bank. The Soil Association says this is because it takes longer to produce and is more labour intensive.

Spain Corn Crop Down, But Biotech Share Grows
Reuters January 16, 2007

Genetically engineered corn was estimated at 132,696 acres (53,700 ha.) in 2006, meaning the biotech crop made up 14.8 percent of total corn plantings, up from 12.8 percent in the previous year, the report said. But corn plantings overall have decreased due to water shortages, it added.

"Green genetic engineering" is the central topic of interest in the Newsletter dated 02-2006 prepared by the working group of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences, the union of the eight honourable German science academies - from Bavaria, Berlin-Brandenburg, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Leipzig, North Rhine-Westphalia, Mainz and recently also Hamburg.

- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jan 23, 2007 (Lohnende Gen-Mission Lobbyismus in den Biowissenschaften: Eine Fallstudie –

It is the communiqué of a meeting in the spring of 2006 in Berlin. Originally it was to have been adopted in December 2006 in Egypt by the "Inter-Academy panel", a world-wide union of ninety-four science academies. But, to the disappointment of the German Academic Union, the resolution was shifted to autumn 2007. The member academies can still change the paper.

Six articles carry inscriptions on how

bullet"campaigns against the green genetic engineering is without scientific basis",
bullet"less chemistry in the field" and
bullet"genetic research should not be obstructed.

In the centre of the publication is a statement of thirteen scientists from nine countries about green genetic engineering in developing countries.

Africa

More African nations use DDT to cut malaria death toll http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3333&language=1

A once-banned insecticide is being used under strict conditions in an increasing number of African countries to cut malaria deaths.

America

Brazil deciphers sugar cane bacterium genome
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3306&language=2

Researchers have sequenced the genome of a sugar cane bacterium, which could save Brazil's economy up to US$23 million a year. [Spanish Full Text]

How journalism can hide the truth about science
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=571&language=1

The process of science is far less linear than the media's image of a neat series of breakthroughs suggests. Elmien Wolvaardt describes how simplistic reporting can distort.

USDA Grants - Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program. The purpose of the USDA Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) Program is to assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing genetically modified organisms into the environment. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant.

Deadline 15 Feb. Contact: Kathy Kimble-Day, Program Specialist, Phone 202-401-4420.
http://www.csrees.usda.gov/funding/rfas/biotech_risk.html

News in science

European specialists have uncovered the chemical mix responsible for memory through the observation of genetically modified mice.

Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's (EMBL) Mouse Biology Unit in Monterotondo, Italy, and the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Sevilla, Spain focused their research on the hippocampus region of the brain, an area integral to memory formation, and the proteins and receptors responsible for receiving and interpreting sensory stimuli. They recently reported their findings in Learning and Memory.

Each cell in our body receives a constant flow of stimuli from our environment, and those stimuli the cell has already experienced are stronger and longer each time allowing the cell to distinguish it from new, unrecognised information. This phenomenon, known as long-term potentiation (LTP), has long been suspected of being the basis for learning and memory, though the chemical mechanics behind it have never been fully understood. Minichiello and her team used molecular, electrophysiological and behavioural methods to develop their novel mouse model. Their multidisciplinary approach has given them the opportunity to establish the molecular basis of LTP while simultaneously addressing its effects on learning and memory.

To better understand LTP, they created mice with a defective receptor found in the hippocampus called TrkB. These mice lacked the ability to activate a signalling pathway involving the protein PLCg, and as a result were unable to learn. Additionally, the hippocampal cells were unable to produce LTP, leading researchers to believe that the mice were unable to recognise familiar stimuli.

“TrkB and the PLCg activated signalling pathway are central to both LTP and learning. For the first time we have been able to prove that LTP and learning do in fact have a common molecular basis,” says José Delgado-García from the University of Sevilla.

European researchers discover root of chaos in cells

An international team of European researchers has uncovered the culprit behind a chaos-like state in the cell which can lead to disease. The team has identified a protein which, when present in insufficient amounts, can lead to a communication breakdown in the cell. Experts from Germany and Austria came together in an attempt to explain recently discovered abnormalities and to develop new therapeutic strategies. They recently published their findings in the journals Nature Medicine and The Journal of Cell Biology.

Europeans developing first-ever Dengue fever vaccine

Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. Symptoms can be mild with patients never knowing they have been infected. However, in more unfortunate cases, Dengue fever can lead to haemorrhagic tendency triggering the often fatal Dengue Shock Syndrome.

Deadly wheat disease 'a threat to world food security'
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3349&language=1

A virulent wheat disease that moved from Africa to Yemen could devastate world wheat crops, warn scientists.

Mad Cow Breakthrough? Genetically Modified Cattle Are Prion Free
Science Daily, January 1, 2007 http://www.sciencedaily.com

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have announced initial results of a research project involving prion-free cattle. ARS scientists evaluated cattle that have been genetically modified so they do not produce prions, and determined that there were no observable adverse effects on the animals' health. ARS studied eight Holstein males that were developed by Hematech Inc., a pharmaceutical research company based in Sioux Falls, S.D. The evaluation of the prion-free cattle was led by veterinary medical officer Juergen Richt of ARS' National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa. The evaluation revealed no apparent developmental abnormalities in the prion-free cattle.

Wheat Can Fatally Starve Insect Predators
Purdue University , January 11, 2007 http://www.sciencedaily.com/

A newly identified wheat gene produces proteins that appear to attack the stomach lining of a crop-destroying fly larvae so that the bugs starve to death.

The gene's role in creating resistance to Hessian flies was a surprise to U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University researchers, discoveresrs of the gene and its function. They made the finding as they investigated new, long-term methods to protect wheat from insect damage. The researchers found that a specific protein, called HFR-3, one of a group of substances called lectins, is capable of binding with a carbohydrate complex in the Hessian fly larvae. The lectin acts as a key to the carbohydrate structure, known as a chitin.

When the larvae attack a resistant plant, the plant's lectin production quickly increases by as much as 3,000 times. The larvae then ingest the lectin. This interaction probably damages the larvae's chitin-rich mid-gut lining so that it can't absorb nutrients from the plant, causing the insects starve, Williams said.

Reminder to content type on to