News in April 2007
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2007-05-01

Books and Articles

Expert Group "Knowledge for growth" - The group's second report "The EU’s R&D Deficit & Innovation Policy" is available.

PROCEEDINGS OF FAO EXPERT CONSULTATION NOW ONLINE

For more information on the consultation, "Genetically modified organisms in crop production and their effects on the environment: Methodologies for monitoring and the way ahead" visit http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/a0802e/a0802e00.htm or contact kakoli.ghosh@fao.org. To read more: http://www.fao.org/biotech/news_list.asp?thexpand=1&cat=131

Science journalism is key to good governance
http://www.scidev.net/Editorials/index.cfm?fuseaction=readEditorials&itemid=215&language=1

The work of science journalists needs greater recognition as an essential precondition for transparent, responsive and accountable government

Food allergy, Scientific advisory body opinion/advice, Organisation: Health Council of the Netherlands.

An advisory report on IgE mediated food allergy, describing the current level of scientific knowledge concerning the prevalence and causes of food allergy, and the effectiveness of methods for its prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Several recommendations to the Dutch government are formulated, aiming especially at improving the diagnosis of food allergies and the provision of information to patients. Specific actions are recommended in order to reduce the use of “may contain” labels on products with minimal risks.

Events

Brussels, 28-29 Conference: "Agricultural Research for Development (ARD) in Europe: towards a shared vision with the partners" June 2007

3rd Living Knowledge Conference: Communities Building Knowledge - Innovation through Citizens' Science and University engagement August 30 - September 1, 2007 Écoles des Mines, Paris (France) Science for you!

World Conference of Science Journalists 2007
http://www.scidev.net/wcsj07

The 5th World Conference of Science Journalists will bring together science journalists from around the world to debate hot science topics and address key reporting issues.

New approaches to plant breeding of orphan crops in Africa
http://www.scidev.net/events/index.cfm?fuseaction=readevents&itemid=1093&language=1
Location: Bern, Switzerland Date: 19 - 21 September 2007

Third International conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefineries Ghent, June 4-6th 2007 www.rrbconference.com

"FOOD PROCESSING-INNOVATION-NUTRITION-CONSUMERS" congress will take place in thermal spa Radenci, Slovenia, from September 23rd to September 26th, 2007.

Europe - EU

Agri research at http://ec.europa.eu/research/agriculture/scar/index_en.cfm

Report highlights how far biotech has advanced healthcare

The patient testimonials and science-based information in these updated studies, presented in a clear and accessible manner are proof of the great contribution of biotech to addressing unmet medical needs," says Andrea Rappagliosi, Chairman of the EuropaBio Healthcare Council, which is a BioImpact partner. http://ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/news_events/news_bio_healthcare_en.htm

THREE GM OILSEED RAPE AUTHORIZED FOR IMPORT AND USE AS ANIMAL FEEDS

The European Commission recently authorized the import and use as animal feed of three oilseed rapes Ms8, Rf3 and Ms8xRf3, genetically modified for tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium. The authorization does not cover cultivation and food use of the oilseed rapes. Products containing Ms8, Rf3 or Ms8xRf3 will need to be clearly labelled as containing genetically modified oilseed rape. Bayer, the company that developed the oilseed rapes, will have to undertake measures to prevent any damage to health and the environment in the event of accidental spillage.

Read the press release at http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/07/416&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Europe

EUROPEAN FARMERS BENEFITING FROM BT MAIZE CROPS SAYS STUDY

Farmers in Europe are benefiting from planting genetically modified insect resistant (Bt) maize through higher income, improved grain quality and environmental gains associated with lower insecticide use. This is the conclusion of “The benefits of adopting genetically modified, insect resistant (Bt) maize in the EU: first results from 1998-2006 plantings” by Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics in the United Kingdom and author of the study.

Key findings of the study include:

bulletHigher yields: In maize growing regions affected by European Corn Borer (ECB) and Maize Stem Borer (MSB), the main impact of growing Bt maize has been higher yields compared to conventional non-GM maize. Average yield benefits are +10% and sometimes higher.
bulletHigher income: In 2006, users of Bt earned additional income levels of between €65 and €141/ha. This is equal to an improvement in profitability of +12 to +21%.
bulletBetter grain quality: In certain regions, Bt maize delivered important improvements in grain quality through significant reductions in the levels of mycotoxins found in the grain. Less pesticide use: Where farmers previously used insecticides to control ECB and MSB, adoption of Bt technology delivered environmental gains from less insecticide use and reduced use of fuel.

Read the full report at http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/Benefitsmaize.pdf or email the author at graham.brookes@btinternet.com

INCREASE IN GM CORN PLANTATIONS IN FRANCE FUELED BY BORER EPIDEMIC

The tenfold increase in the acreage of GM corn plantations in France from 2005 to 2006 has been attributed to the thriving populations of the European corn borer pest in the southwest and central part of the country. The area of GM corn in France increased from 500 to 5,200 hectares between 2005 and 2006

France’s Association Generale de Producteurs de Mais (AGPM) mentioned that there has been an increase in the geographic reach of the pests across the country. The AGPM says that use of Monsanto's Bt-Maize MON810 made a significant difference in yield, with Bt corn averaging at about 3.5q/ha more than the conventional varieties

The press release can be found at http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/news/ng.asp?n=75383-mon-corn-borer-gm

LESS EXTENSIVE RISK ASSESSMENT OF GM STACKED EVENTS

GM stacked events are products with more than one transformation event. These have been also referred to as ‘stacked products’, ‘breeding stacks’, ‘stacked genes’ or ‘pyramided traits’. Because they are considered as new GMOs by the European Commission, they need regulatory approval, including an assessment of their safety, similar to single events prior to marketing.

Researchers in Belgium however, assert that the risk assessment of these GM stacked events could be less extensive than the assessment of the parental GM events. The researchers proposed and enumerated several criteria for the risk assessment of stacked events that include molecular and comparative analysis data as minimum requirements. Additional analysis may be conducted in order to extrapolate data from the parental GM lines to the GM stacked event.

The researchers recommend that the molecular data should include (1) evidence of the presence and the copy number of the parental inserts in the GM stack, and (2) that the levels of expression of the newly expressed proteins in the GM stack is equal to that of the GM parental lines. In addition, the combined effects of the transgenes and the effects of the potential interactions between the newly expressed proteins should also be assessed.

The opinion paper published by the journal Trends in Food Science and Technology can be accessed by subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2006.09.002.

Global

FAO: RECORD CEREAL CROP FOR 2007

The prospects for global cereal production this year are generally favorable, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). World cereal production is forecast to increase 4.3 percent to a record 2 082 million tons. However, many countries are in crisis due to significant crop losses and low yield. In many parts of southern Africa total maize production remains about the same as last year’s below-average crop. Prospects are good in eastern Africa, following above-average to bumper first season crops in the region.

Arab states sign ten-year science development plan

http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3518&language=1. The 22 members of the Arab League have signed off a ten-year plan to increase science and technology development in the region.

Africa

ECOWAS MINISTERS AGREE ON BIOTECH PLAN

An agreement was forged by the Ministers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to use biotechnology to increase food production in their region. This was reached at the third ECOWAS ministerial meeting on biotechnology and biosafety held in Accra, Ghana. A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting noted that the technology will improve productivity, make the farming sector more competitive and ensure sustainable management of natural resources.  However, safety measures at both the national and regional levels were deemed important as past of the implementation process.

Read the full report at http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-03-31-voa16.cfm

West Africa to boost food crops with biotechnology

http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3535&language=1. Members of the Economic Community of West African States have agreed to embrace biotechnology, and have adopted a regional action plan.

America – USA

APHIS POLICY ON LOW-LEVEL PRESENCE OF GE MATERIAL

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture clarified its approach for handling incidents of low-level presence (LLP) of genetically engineered (GE) plant material in commercial seeds and grain. Developers must comply with all APHIS regulations and permit conditions to prevent the release of regulated GE material.

When LLP incidents occur, the agency will initiate an inquiry whenever regulated material is mixed with commercial seeds or grain to evaluate any risk, to determine the circumstances surrounding the release, and to determine whether remedial and/or enforcement actions may be appropriate. If APHIS determines that an incident involving regulated GE plant material could pose a risk to plant health or the environment, the agency will take appropriate remedial steps using its authority under the Plant Protection Act.

In cases in which APHIS determines that remedial action is not necessary to mitigate LLP of regulated GE plant material to protect plant health and the environment, APHIS is not precluded from taking enforcement action against a company or individual for violations of APHIS regulations.

Readers can access the press release at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/llppolicy.shtml

Latin America

Venezuela's mandatory 'science spend' a success
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3538&language=1

A Venezuelan law requiring companies to spend a minimum amount of their profits on science and technology has exceeded expectations.

Canada

CBAC RELEASES ADVISORY MEMORANDUM ON BIOTECH, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND CANADA’S FUTURE ECONOMY

After a comprehensive examination of the contribution of biotechnology to Canada’s environment and to the competitiveness of its economy, an expert working group led by Dr. Arthur Hanson submitted a report to the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC) for final assessment.  The report, “Biopromise? Biotechnology, Sustainable Development and Canada’s Future Economy”, makes some specific observations, which include the lack of an integrated national or federal strategy to guide the development and deployment of innovative technological approaches to sustainable development.

In response to the report, CBAC urged the federal government to develop an action plan designed to facilitate initiatives aimed at realizing the benefits of applying biotechnology to sustainable economic development. Two areas of immediate government attention are suggested: the development of biorefineries and the development of a program for monitoring ecosystem impacts.

Read the full report at http://cbac-cccb.ca/epic/site/cbac-cccb.nsf/en/ah00623e.html

Asia

The bad side of biofuel: palm oil in Indonesia
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=592&language=1

The popularity of palm oil as a biofuel is a disaster for Indonesia's forests, providing cover for illegal loggers and destroying biodiversity in the region, reports Ian MacKinnon. (Source: The Guardian)

China and Europe form new bioethics alliance
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3551&language=1

Chinese and European bioethicists and life scientists have formed an expert group to promote ethical behaviour in biomedical research.

News in Science

FIELD SCALE GENE FLOW IN FODDER MAIZE ANALYZED

Results from Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials in the UK indicated that the rates of pollen-mediated gene flow from herbicide-tolerant (HT) to conventional maize decreased rapidly with increasing distance from the GM source. The experiment conducted by researchers in the Central Science Laboratory and the Winfrith Technology Centre utilized the largest number of sites (55) and samples (1,055) that was analyzed in a single study to date.
The researchers reported that the maximum level of gene flow detected was 60% in samples taken 0-2 m from the HT crop. Gene flow was also detected in samples taken 200 m away from the GM source. The researchers used RT-PCR of the herbicide tolerance gene pat to detect geneflow from the Liberty Link maize line T25.

The data was also used to construct statistical models to help confirm assumptions made in risk assessments concerning gene flow in the FSEs. In addition, the results help validate whether the separation distances for maize issued by the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) are effective. SCIMAC is a formal UK grouping of industry organizations representing farmers, plant breeders, and seed trade and biotechnology companies.

The paper published in Transgenic Research can be accessed by journal subscribers at  http://www.springerlink.com/content/w1627886480r1xr8/

NEW REPORT CITES BENEFITS OF PESTICIDE USE

A report from the study conducted by researchers at the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom stated the numerous benefits derived from pesticide use, a view that is in contrast with a number of other publications.

In their study, Jerry Cooper and Hans Dobson provided evidence that pesticides will continue to be a vital tool that will help improve living standards for the people of the world. Among the cited benefits include those categorized as ‘primary benefit’, for example improved crop/livestock yield and quality, and ‘secondary benefits’ such as improved nutrition and quality of life. The researchers further categorized these primary and secondary benefits as economic, environmental or social in nature.

The report was supported by CropLife International and can be downloaded at http://www.croplife.org/library/documents/Crop%20protection/Pesticides%20and%20humanity%20Version%20A24.pdf.

The complete press release can be found at http://www.croplife.org

March of killer fungus sparks race for resistant wheat
http://www.scidev.net/Features/index.cfm?fuseaction=readFeatures&itemid=591&language=1

The spread of deadly wheat rust to Yemen has triggered a rush to pin down wheat varieties that are resistant to it. (Source: Science)

ICRISAT HYBRID PIGEONPEA TO BOOST PRODUCTION OF PULSE CROP

The low productivity of pigeonpea remains a major concern of many countries that consume this pulse crop (legume). A new hybrid pigeonpea technology, developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and partners offers a hope of starting a pulse crop revolution in India and other developing countries by substantially increasing pigeonpea production.

The new hybrid technology is based on the cytoplasmic male-sterility (CMS) system. Male-sterile plants are those that do not have functional male sex organs. For hybrid production to be successful, it requires a female plant in which no viable pollen grains are borne. A simple way to establish a female line for hybrid seed production is to identify or create a line that is unable to produce viable pollen. This male-sterile line is therefore unable to self-pollinate, and seed formation is dependent upon pollen from the other male fertile line. So far the progress in the mission of enhancing the productivity of pigeonpea has been very encouraging and the team at ICRISAT is confident that the reality of commercial hybrids is just around the corner.

The news article is available at http://www.icrisat.org/Media/2007/media6.htm.

IN VITRO BREEDING OF BRASSICA FOR METAL PHYTOEXTRACTION

Indian mustard, Brassica juncea, is among the plant species recognized to have potential for phytoextraction. Researchers in Switzerland recently have shown that in vitro breeding and somaclonal variation can be used to improve the potential of the plant species to extract and accumulate toxic metals. The researchers generated somaclonal variants of the Indian mustard from metal-tolerant callus cells.

The new phenotypes were found to have improved tolerance to cadmium, zinc and lead under hydrophonic conditions. These plants were able to extract cadmium and lead by up to six and four times higher than the control plants, respectively. The researchers concluded that the clones could be used to further assess metal accumulation and extraction properties in contaminated soils under real field conditions for phytoremediation purpose.

The abstract in Plant Cell Reports, with links to the full paper for journal subscribers, is at http://www.springerlink.com/content/p0p370n036253r80/

VITAMIN E SHOWN TO ACCUMULATE IN GM POTATO TUBERS

Elizabeth Crowell and colleagues used the Agrobacterium method to transform the potato varieties ‘Spunta’ and ‘MSE149-5Y’. The researchers employed high-performance liquid chromatography to determine the expression levels of the Arabidopsis genes that were incorporated into the potato varieties.  The transgenes used were the Arabidopsis thaliana p-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (At-HPPD) and A. thaliana homogentisate phytyltransferase (At-HPT).

For more information and to access the full article in the journal Transgenic Research, please visit http://www.springerlink.com/content/g0515325830j8m74/

PRODUCTION OF HUMAN INTERFERON IN LETTUCE

A paper published by a group of Chinese researchers details how they were able to produce HuIFN-beta compounds using transgenic Japanese Glass Lettuce. This is the first report on the successful production of the biologically active therapeutic proteins produced by Agrobacterium mediated transient expression in the crop.

The abstract, with links to the full paper for subscribers to the journal Scientiae Horticulturae, can be accessed at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2006.12.047

GENETIC USE RESTRICTION TECHNOLOGIES REVIEWED

The interest in technologies to impede transgene movement is being driven by interest in using transgenic crops to produce pharmaceutical and industrial products. In a review paper, Melissa Hills and colleagues in Canada discussed some of the genetic restriction technologies (GURTs) that could be used to restrict the spread of transgenes. To date, no GURT has been applied commercially or have been tested in the field yet.

The review to be published in Trends in Plant Science focused on varietal GURTS (VGURTs). These are mechanisms that impede transgene movement, either by rendering the plant unable to develop properly, or produce functional pollen or seed, or by preventing the transmission of the transgene so that there is reduced frequency in subsequent generations.

Among the VGURTs reviewed are those that can help reduce seed admixture, render seeds sterile, effect male sterility, and use the mechanism of maternal inheritance. The researchers concluded that several paradoxical issues are associated with GURTs. Among these include the preference of regulatory agencies to use streamlined transgenic constructs, which might preclude the use of additional genes. Also a concern is whether the public will perceive the product with an additional gene more acceptable.

The review paper can be accessed by journal subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2007.02.002

Key protein in immune response to disease found
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3515&language=1

A protein called Mal modifies the way the immune system responds to infection, suggesting new therapies to tackle these and other diseases.

Immortalized Fetal Liver Cell Lines
Patent Number: WO2007035082

Abstract: The present invention relates to a human fetal hepatocyte cell line that is derived from primary human fetal hepatocytes. The hepatocyte cell line is cloned and is immortalized by increasing telomerase activity in the cell. The hepatocyte cell line is capable of producing urea, as well as capable of elimination of ammonia, lidocaine and/or galactose and the cell line has the ability to differentiate into functional mature hepatocytes.

Viral obesity methods and compositions
Patent Number: RE39,544

Abstract: A source of viral induced obesity has been discovered. A virus known as AD-36P adenovirus type 36 has been found to be associated with obesity in both animals and humans. Diagnostic DNA sequences are presented so that DNA based tests for the presence of the obesity associated virus can be conducted.

DNA-vaccines based on constructs derived from the genomes of human and animal pathogens
Patent Number: 7,196,066

Abstract: Methods of eliciting an immune response in a subject by administering one or more large genomic DNA fragments are provided. Also provided are methods of identifying sequences encoding antigenic polypeptides. Also provided are vaccine compositions comprising one or more large genomic DNA fragments.

Blood conversion could benefit developing countries
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3540&language=1

A method of converting blood types could solve many transfusion problems in developing countries ? but it may take time, say researchers.

Mosquitoes with 'selfish genes' may help fight malaria
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3529&language=1

Selfish genes could enable mosquitoes resistant to malaria or dengue fever to outcompete the natural population.

Scientists find rice gene for grain size and yield
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3547&language=1

A gene that influences the yield and size of rice grains could help crop breeders develop better varieties of rice, say scientists.

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