News in May 2007
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2007-06-10

General

FAO: AGRICULTURE WILL BE KEY PLAYER TO STOP DEGRADATION OF VITAL ECOSYSTEMS

With the increasing carbon emissions, rising population, rapid desertification of arable land areas, and eroding biodiversity, drastic changes in agricultural policies, institutions, and practices must take place to slow down the degradation of vital ecosystems, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). At present, there is a dearth of information on environmental risks associated with agriculture, and a lack of strategic framework for identifying ecologically and economically sound agricultural practices. Important issues that should be addressed include the impact of livestock production on the environment, and the effect of biofuels monoculture production on biodiversity.

Read the news release at http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2007/1000542/index.html

PIONEER CLEARS STATUS OF APPROVALS FOR HERCULEX® RW ROOTWORM, HERCULEX XTRA

Pioneer Hi-Bred issued a clarifying statement on the status of approvals for Herculex® RW Rootworm and Herculex XTRA traits in the United States and in nine other countries. The Herculex® RW Rootworm Protection and the Herculex XTRA traits have full U.S. federal and all state regulatory approvals and have approval for import and for feed and food use in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Korea, Mexico, Philippines and Taiwan. Both traits are available to growers in corn hybrids from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

Readers can access the press release at http://www.pioneer.com

GM patent rejected after 13 years
- Ned Stafford, Nature (doi:10.1038/news070430-14), May 4, 2007
http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070430/full/070430-14.html

Opponents complained that Monsanto had too broad a patent on GM soybeans.

The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a patent owned by global agricultural giant Monsanto for the genetic modification (GM) of soybeans, saying the technique it approved 13 years ago lacked "novelty".

At a hearing on 3 May, the EPO revoked the patent. The board's decision is final, says Rainer Osterwalder, spokesman for the EPO, with no further appeals available.

The decision will no doubt have an impact on other GM technology patents, Osterwalder told Nature. "Case law is important," he says.

But the patent was due to expire in 2008 anyway. A spokesperson for Monsanto says: "We do not expect this decision to have an impact on Monsanto's business." The EPO will not issue a detailed written explanation of the legal basis of its decision for three to six months, Osterwalder says.

CEREAL PRODUCTION AND DEMAND UP

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts a record cereal production of 2195 million tons in 2007, about 4.8 percent over last year’s levels. However, supply may be inadequate to meet demand due to the growth of the biofuels industry. In its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, FAO notes that international prices for most cereals have significantly risen and will continue to remain high.

Read more on the FAO report at http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2007/1000560/index.html

Books and Articles

Novel Biotechnologies for Biocontrol Agent Enhancement and Management

Maurizio Vurro, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Bari, Italy; Jonathan Gressel, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel (Eds.)

Reconciling Traditional Knowledge with Modern Agriculture: A Guide for Building Bridges.

In Intellectual Property Management in Health and Agricultural Innovation: A Handbook of Best Practices (eds. A Krattiger, RT Mahoney, L Nelsen, et al.). MIHR: Oxford, U.K., and PIPRA: Davis, U.S.A. 2007.

Klaus Ammann, Guest Professor, Delft University of Technology, Department of Biotechnology, The Netherlands http://www.botanischergarten.ch

UN REPORT ON BIOENERGY CAUTIONS ON BIOFUELS ADOPTION

A recent report by the United Nations-Energy (a “cross agency body” of the United Nations) presents a more cautious view on the benefits of biofuels production and utilization.  The report, entitled “Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers”, attempts to “point key social, economic and ecological sustainability issues” raised by small and large-scale development applications of bioenergy.   While the production and use of biofuels can contribute to a cleaner global air environment, and to employment and income generation in the rural agricultural sector, the potential negative impacts on food security, and other environmental effects must not be ignored.

Among these potential negative impacts are: (1) diversion of land from food use (to biofuel crop use) could increase food prices (this is reportedly already happening for sugar and corn crops), (2) razing and loss of tropical forests that are cleared for biofuel plantations (the case of palm oil in Indonesia), (3) biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching as a consequence of large scale biofuel monocropping, (4) small-scale farmers may have difficulty competing with large scale biofuel plantations.  Careful planning is necessary to address the potential negative impacts of biofuels and to offset them in order to derive the full benefits of bioenergy.  The report also states that “biofuels are more effective when used for heat and power rather than in transport”.

For more information visit http://esa.un.org/un-energy/pdf/susdev.Biofuels.FAO.pdf

To view other news on biofuels visit ISAAA’s biofuels newsletter at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/biofuels/news/2007/05/11.html

A healthy mix: strategies for GM & non-GM crop coexistence
http://www.scidev.net/coexistence

“Encyclopedia of Life" to Catalog All Species on Earth
- John Roach, National Geographic News, May 9, 2007
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/05/070509-encyclopedia-life.html

Scientists announced plans today to put descriptions, pictures, video, and sounds of the world's estimated 1.8 million named species on the Internet for free.

The effort, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will standardize the presentation of "information about the plants and animals and microorganisms that share this planet with us," said James Edwards, the project's executive director.

IP Management in Health & Agricultural Innovation: A Handbook of Best Practices Edited by Anatole Krattiger; Volume 1 (ISBN: 978-1-4243-2026-4) Volume 2 (ISBN: 978-1-4243-2027-1) http://www.iphandbook.org/ Prepared by and for policy-makers, leaders of public sector research establishments, technology transfer professionals, licensing executives, and scientists, the Handbook offers up-to-date information and strategies for utilizing the power of both intellectual property and the public domain.

Research site keyword index

The Research site keyword index has been updated. It now contains over 8500 English keywords to help you find what you are looking for. It also contains over 2400 keywords in German, over 2800 in French, more than 2300 in Spanish, and about 300 in Italian and Dutch.

FP7 leaflet - taking European Research to the forefront
(in 23 languages)

Intragenic Crop Improvement: Combining the Benefits of Traditional Breeding and Genetic Engineering
- Caius M. Rommens, J. Agric. Food Chem. (ASAP Article 10.1021/jf0706631 S0021-8561(07)00663-2), web release date May 9, 2007
http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/jafcau/asap/abs/jf0706631.html

Abstract:

New crop varieties are developed by applying traditional breeding methods that rely on random genome modifications. These varieties combine multiple traits that support farm efficiency and acceptable yields but also contain genes associated with the production of toxins, allergens, and/or antinutritional compounds that were not considered during the selection process. Furthermore, existing cultivars frequently lack the functional genes required for specific sensory traits and the formation of health-promoting antioxidants. One new method efficiently addresses some of these issues by either silencing undesirable genes or enhancing the expression of genes that are linked to dormant beneficial traits. Rather than incorporating foreign DNA into the plant's genome, these methods transform crops with plant-derived transfer (P-) DNAs that consist of only native genetic elements. The genetic modification can be characterized molecularly so that any inadvertent transfer of undesirable DNA, as may be the case with traditional methods, is excluded. A recently developed intragenic potato plant is silenced for the polyphenol oxidase, dikinase R1, and phosphorylase-L genes in a tuber-specific manner. French fries derived from these tubers lack discolorations, display an enhanced potato flavor, and produce greatly reduced amounts of the suspected carcinogen acrylamide. It is argued that intragenic modification is unlikely to trigger phenotypic, biochemical, or physiological variation that is new to the species. Similarly, the targeted traits are similar to those that breeders select for and often have a history of domestication and reduced fitness. For these reasons, an updated regulatory system is proposed whereby intragenic crops are considered as low risk and should be cleared for commercial release in a timely and cost-effective manner. By using modern techniques to modify the same genetic material that is used by breeders, intragenic approaches may be perceived as an acceptable extension of traditional methods in crop improvement.

Compliance costs for regulatory approval of new biotech crops
- Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Julian M Alston and Kent J Bradford, Nature Biotechnology (republished with permission),
http://ealerts.nature.com/cgi-bin24/DM/y/eduw0Sp4DG0HjC0BSV40EP

To the editor:
Conclusions

Economists have estimated the social benefits from biotech crop varieties to be in the billions of dollars, with the benefits shared among consumers, agricultural producers and the biotech innovators that have developed the new crop varieties1, 2. In spite of this apparent success, however, many observers have been disappointed at the rate of development and commercialization of new biotech crops3. Indeed, the accumulating evidence suggests that agbiotech innovation and product development have recently slowed down, and high compliance costs for regulatory approval have been cited as a key culprit 3, 4, 5, 6. Assessments of whether compliance costs are 'high' or 'low' are arbitrary and subjective unless they are made against an appropriate benchmark. The figures reported here are, no doubt, large in an absolute sense, especially because they represent costs incurred by biotech developers upfront and on top of R&D expenses, whereas commercial success is an uncertain outcome. Clearly, further research is needed to assess how such costs vary from one crop to another and whether they are large enough to discourage development of biotech traits in certain crops with limited market size, leading to unrealized potential productivity gains and technological orphans.

Further research is needed to assess how compliance costs vary from one crop to another and whether they are large enough to discourage development of biotech traits in certain crops with limited market size.

An additional important question that needs to be addressed is whether compliance costs have increased over time. To answer this question, one must evaluate changes in the compliance costs over time. Such assessments are extremely difficult considering the relatively small number of regulatory approvals that have been spread over a relatively long period of time. Nevertheless, some incomplete data and our cursory comparisons of dossiers that have been submitted over time indicated certain differences. Most obvious are expansions of the molecular characterization of the genetic modification studies and of the stewardship plans with parallel increases in the compliance costs. Other supportive safety assessments also appear to have become more complex and voluminous, but we do not have sufficient data to accurately measure any relevant cost changes, if any have occurred. Clearly, these last issues are important in their own right and deserve additional detailed research.

REFERENCES

  1. Falk-Zepeda, J.B., Traxler, G. & Nelson, R.G. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 82, 360-369 (2000).
  2. Huang, J., Rozelle, S., Pray, C. & Wang, Q. Science 295, 674-677 (2002). (Accessed January 12, 2007).
  3.  
  4. Bradford, K.J., Van Deynze, A., Gutterson, N., Parrott, W. & Strauss, S.H. Nat. Biotechnol. 23, 439-444 (2005).
  5. McElroy, D. Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 996-1002 (2003).
  6.  Miller, H.I. & Conko, G. Issues Sci. Technol. 21, 76-80 (2005).

Acknowledgments This research was supported by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance from a USDA special grant.

Survey Examines Americans' Trust in Science, Approach to Scientific Issues
University of Wisconsin, Press release, May 1,2007
http://www.news.wisc.edu/releases/13733

MADISON - When it comes to forming opinions on controversial scientific issues, Americans show a strong deference to the views of the scientific community, according to a study co-authored by a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher.

Dominique Brossard, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says a random survey of 1,500 New York state residents shows they lean heavily on scientists as they form opinions on agricultural biotechnology.

Dominique Brossard and Matthew C. Nisbet, Deference to Scientific Authority Among a Low Information Public: Understanding U.S. Opinion on Agricultural Biotechnology, Int. J. Public Opin. Res., Spring 2007; 19: 24 - 52.
http://ijpor.oxfordjournals.org

Business and the Environment: Policy Incentives and Corporate Responses

This book summarises the results of an OECD project which collected and analysed data from the business sector on their motivations and decision-making processes relating to the environment.

Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

OECD Sustainable Development Studies Institutionalising Sustainable Development

This volume contains recommendations for the true “institutionalisation” of sustainable development.

Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

OECD Environmental Performance Reviews Switzerland OECD's comprehensive review of Switzerland's environmental policies and programs.

Available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

More Information: Other countries in the serie OECD Environmental Performance Reviews

OECD Environmental Performance Reviews New Zealand
OECD's periodic review of New Zealand's environmental policies and programmes.
Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

OECD Sustainable Development Studies
Subsidy Reform and Sustainable Development: Political Economy Aspects

This volume uses sectoral case studies to illustrate that achieving change in structural policies such as subsidies depends largely on good governance practices.

Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

Agricultural Policy and Trade Reform: The Impact on World Commodity Markets

Using a partial-equilibrium agricultural commodity model with rich policy detail, this study examines the market impacts of agricultural policy reform annually over a 10-year horizon.

Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop

Perspectives on communication about agricultural biotechnology

Dominique Brossard - "Brossard, D., & Shanahan J.  (2007). Perspectives on communication about agricultural biotechnology. In D. Brossard, J. Shanahan & C. Nisbett (Eds). The public, the media, and agricultural biotechnology. Wallingford, UK: CABI publishing." dbrossard@wisc.edu

Ecological Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops: Ten Years of Field Research and Commercial Cultivation

- Olivier Sanvido, Jörg Romeis, Franz Bigler, Adv Biochem Engin/Biotechnol (2007) 107: 235-278 DOI 10.1007/10_2007_048, Published online: March 31, 2007

The Study of Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits in Thailand

Executive Summary

- Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA), March 2007
http://www.croplifeasia.org
Bt Cotton; Resistant to Bollworm Insect and Leaf Roll Virus Disease:

bulletImproves yield by 55%
bulletSaves 50% pesticide cost or 18% of production cost
bulletIncreases seed cost by 9% of total production cost
bulletTakes 3-years for adoption, and an additional 10-years to reach 80% adoption
bulletIf cotton production area remains at current level of 11,200 ha (70,000 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$11.5 million (Baht 400 million)
bulletIf cotton production area returns to peak level as during the 1990's, at 68,400 ha (427,500 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$43 million (Baht 1.5 billion)

+ Khaek Dum Papaya; Resistant to Ring Spot Virus:

bulletImproves yield by 471%
bulletNo perceptible cost benefit
bulletTakes 3-years for adoption, and an additional 10-years to reach 80% adoption
bulletIf papaya production area remains at current level of 17,862 ha (111,638 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$680 million (Baht 24 billion)
bulletIf papaya production area returns to peak level as between 1997-2001, at 26,103 ha (163,142 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$880 million (Baht 30 billion)

Events

International conference - "Ethics, Research and Globalisation" -Europe and its partners building capacity in research ethics

Globalisation in research presents many new opportunities for researchers in terms of international collaboration, but what about the persons participating in research: are the standards of protection rising or falling as a result of globalisation? This will be one of the key issues addressed at the international conference on “Ethics, Research & Globalisation” which will be hosted by the European Commission in Brussels on 14-15 May 2007.

Conference "Towards Future Challenges of Agricultural Research in Europe", Brussels

On 26-27 June 2007, the European Commission is holding a major Conference in Brussels on the future of European agriculture and its consequences for research. The Conference aims at debating research needs and developing a coherent European research agenda in order to enable agriculture to cope with a range of complex and interlinked challenges, such as rapidly increasing globalisation, energy shortages, climate change and unsustainable consumption of natural resources.

Perspectives for Food 2030
Charlemagne Building - Brussels, 17-18 April 2007
- Photos gallery available

Researchers uncover molecular connection on degenerative diseases

An international research team has made an interesting discovery: several degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes, are more closely related at the molecular level than initially thought. The researchers conducted a study on the brains of patients inflicted with these diseases.

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

World Biofuels Markets Congress
http://www.scidev.net
Location: Brussels; Date: 12 - 13 March 2008

Workshop on Cities, Science and Sustainability
http://www.scidev.net
Location: Trieste, Italy; Date: 20 - 22 September 2007

Europe - EU

Bio4EU

The European Commission has reviewed its strategy on Life Sciences and Biotechnology (see IP/07/484). This sector has the potential to make a significant contribution to the sustainability and competitiveness of European industry and the quality of life of Europe's inhabitants. This background note gives some key facts and figures about the sector, outlines the revisions proposed to the strategy and highlights some of the on-going and planned support to research in this area. See http://bio4eu.jrc.es and

Commission publishes Biotech Strategy review
The European Commission wants to put a special focus on innovation, research, market development and the debate with society on ethical issues in the field of biotechnology. In a mid-term review of the Strategy on Life Sciences and Biotechnology 2002-2010, presented in April by President Barroso and Commissioners Verheugen and Potocnik, a refocus of actions has been proposed to promote a competitive and sustainable European knowledge based Bio-Economy.

European Commission request to EFSA for advice to determine safety of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and welfare and the environment

The Commission has sent a request to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for a scientific opinion on the implication of animal cloning on food safety, animal welfare and the environment. The opinion, due by August 2007, is set to determine whether meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat.

European Science Week 2007: from 19 to 25 November

The European Science Week will be held in November; however the 4 projects which the European Commission is funding this year will be running several activities throughout the whole of 2007.

Giving patients a heads up on genetic disease and testing

Advances in genetic testing, which analyse the blood or body tissues of patients, have bolstered doctors' abilities to diagnose and treat several illnesses. But EuroGentest went one step further and not only conducted a major survey examining the quality of existing patient information in the EU, but it has published a series of 11 patient information leaflets on the main topics in genetic disease and genetic testing.

EU launches major new initiative to protect biodiversity in EU's tropical regions

The European Commission launched today NET-BIOME a major new research initiative to help preserve the extraordinary biodiversity of the EU's tropical and subtropical regions. The EU's outermost regions (ORs) and overseas territories (OCTs) are among the richest reservoirs of species and ecosystems in the world, encompassing 5 of the 34 biodiversity "hotspots" of the planet and spanning three different oceans.

Large EU-funded RNA silencing project gets underway

The DNA contained in our cells holds the genetic code that makes life possible. Information found in our DNA directs the formation of proteins, the building blocks of life, through intermediary RNA. But what happens when an error occurs, and a protein is created that is the source of disease?

EU Must Speed Response to New GMOs - Farm Chief
- Jeremy Smith, Reuters via Planet Ark, May 7, 2007
http://www.ellinghuysen.com/news/biotech.html

BRUSSELS - Europe must speed up its approval process for new biotech crops and foods to avoid future problems with key suppliers like Argentina, Brazil and the United States, Europe's farm chief said on Friday.

Shipments of maize feed products had fallen in the past few months due to efforts to keep out genetically modified (GMO) materials that were approved elsewhere but not in the 27 countries of the European Union.

EU regulators had to consider what would happen if imports had to be blocked altogether from given origins to avoid unwanted contamination, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.

"Many of our trade partners have a different perspective on GMO regulation from ours," she told delegates at an international cereals and oilseeds conference.

"One part of the problem seems to be that, when the European Union considers authorising a new GMO, the approval process takes a considerable time. We are examining why this is, and whether we can speed it up without compromising on the risk assessment," Fischer Boel said.

Soybeans and soy products were a bigger potential headache than maize since EU imports of maize feed were low, she said, adding that it would be hard to replace the larger volumes of soybeans and soymeal with other protein-rich feed.

"We hope to avoid having to block soya imports from our main suppliers -- the United States, Argentina and Brazil," Fischer Boel said. EU importers took more than 40 percent of Argentina's soy shipments and more than half of Brazil's, she said.

"Whereas this could be difficult in the case of the US, Argentina and Brazil ought to work with us actively on this issue, given that we take a high proportion of their soyabean exports," she said. "Nevertheless, we can't rely on hope alone."

For many years, little has changed in the split of opinion on biotech policy among EU governments, which are consistently unable to secure the weighted majority that is legally required to vote through a new GMO approval.

An application to approve a new GMO product usually takes many months, if not years, as EU governments raise objections that lead to extra scientific risk assessments. The application then goes to a committee of EU-27 experts, then is often escalated to ministers when the experts cannot agree.

European consumers are well known for their antipathy towards GMO foods but the biotech industry says its products are safe and no different to conventional foods. Europe's hostility to GMO foods is unfounded, it says.

DUPONT SUBMITS PROPRIETARY SOYBEAN TRAIT FOR EU APPROVAL

DuPont, through its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., submitted an application for the European Union approval for the import, food and feed use of its Optimum™ GAT™ trait in soybeans. DuPont plans to commercialize the herbicide-tolerance trait in corn, cotton and other crops, following its 2009 introduction in soybeans. The Optimum GAT trait is the first-ever agricultural trait developed through proprietary DuPont gene shuffling technology.

The press release is available at http://www.pioneer.com.

Europe

Serious inconsistencies in biosafety (GMO) EU legislation were analysed by Advisory Committee on Releases in the Environment (UK)

Managing the Footprint of Agriculture: Towards a Comparative Assessment of Risks and Benefits for Novel Agricultural Systems
Report of the ACRE Sub-Group on Wider Issues raised by the Farm-Scale Evaluations of Herbicide Tolerant GM Crops
Revised after public consultation
3 May 2007.

Very important document with several detail analysis of discrepancies blocking progress and in the same time open the dor to uncontrolled risks can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/fsewiderissues/pdf/acre-wi-final.pdf

Critics of GMO policy with suggestions from the EuropaBio
see http://www.greenbiotech-manifesto.org/screen-manifesto-900.pdf

BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE COMING DECADE

The next decade will be seeing an upsurge in the number of people employed in biotechnology, and a more dynamic working environment. The outcome of a broad study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI), and the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) Berlin stressed the importance and the role of biotechnology in German industry in the future. Germany must use the potential of this new technology in a more decisive manner and improve relevant framework conditions, so that its industry location is not left behind in dynamic international developments. This is especially true for industrial biotechnology, one of Germany’s strong points, and for plant biotechnology, which needs some catching up.

According to the study, almost half a million jobs can be secured or created in biotechnology by 2020. The greatest growth leap for biotechnology would be in the chemical industry, with employment figures rising by up to 200 percent, and shares expected to triple from the current 4-6 percent.

Read the complete article at http://www.europabio.org

GM crops trials return to UK farms
ITV News (UK), May 3, 2007
http://www.itv.com

Trials of genetically modified crops are taking place again in the UK three years after being abandoned over ecological concerns.

A crop of GM potatoes was planted last weekend and a report commissioned by the Government calls for a change in the way agriculture is regulated in the UK.

The study by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment suggests Britain should ease back on controls and embrace new technology and could leave the way open for a more general return of genetic modification in crops.

Acre's Chris Pollack said: "We have to accept that the world is changing, that population pressure is increasing and that there is going to be more competition for resources in the future, particularly for energy and for water.

"We are going to be facing new pressures on European land and it would be unfortunate if we turned our backs on new technology that could help." The Government has licensed two open air trials in the UK. One, on a farm near Cambridge, was planted by the bio-technology firm BASF. The trial site is surrounded by a 20-metre protection zone to avoid cross-ontamination.

Survey shows 47% would grow GM crops
Farmers Guardian (UK), May 25, 2007 http://www.farmersguardian.com

A new survey has found. In a poll carried out by the British Grassland Society (BGS), 47 per cent of members said they were definitely in favour of cultivating GM plants on their farms. As many as three-quarters of the UK's farmers would grow genetically modified crops if there was consumer demand for such products. However, the survey also found that at least 16 per cent were against growing GM crops, half of whom were producing organic foods. In a similar survey carried out by the University of Gottingen, of 370 German farmers asked, 33 per cent were not opposed to GM crops, while 29 per cent rejected the idea.

Farmers in the UK and in Germany are open to GM crops
- GMO Compass, May 3, 2007 
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/messages/200705.docu.html#111

New surveys suggest that fewer farmers in UK and Germany are opposed to planting genetically modified crops than is often believed. 47 percent of surveyed farmers in the UK and 33 percent in Germany are willing to cultivate GM plants. However, 16 percent in the UK and 29 percent in Germany reject the concept of GM crops, and many farmers are still undecided.

In the UK, the British Grassland Society polled its members on their attitude towards GM crops. Surprisingly, strict opposition to GMOs was expressed by responding farmers among only 16 percent, the half of whom are producing organic goods. While 47 percent generally favour GM crops, as many as three-quarters stated that they would grow GM plants if consumers were willing to buy them. Jessica Buss, director of the society, commented: "We were surprised that only one-in-eight Grassland farmers responding said that they would never grow GM forage crops."

In another survey, researchers of the University of Göttingen interviewed 370 farmers in the German north-west. The majority, 38 percent, were undecided on this issue. However, representing a fairly even split in decided attitudes, 33 percent of farmers welcomed GM crops and 29 percent rejected them.

The study also found that besides economic aspects and personal views on GMOs, many different factors are considered by farmers in their decision on GM crops.

University of Göttingen report (German) http://www.uni-goettingen.de
British Grassland Society http://www.britishgrassland.com/

New risks to the environment? Confusion surrounds BVL notification
Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Germany), May 14, 2007
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/news/567.docu.html

The paper reveals serious inconsistencies in the decission of the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) concerning planting Bt corn in Germany.

Approved a field trial of peas to combat infectious diseases
- Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Germany/press release), April 25, 2007
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/news/566.docu.html

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has approved a field trial with genetically modified peas in Gatersleben (Saxony-Anhalt) under certain conditions. Thanks to an inserted gene construct, the GM peas produce antibodies against certain infectious diseases.

It is not the first time that GM plants that produce active pharmaceutical substances have been tested on small areas in Germany. Last year there was a field trial near Rostock involving various GM potato lines, one of which contained an active substance that triggers inoculation protection against a rabbit disease triggered by viruses. This strategy - using plants as a production system for vaccines or drugs, is being followed around the world by various research bodies and companies.

Novoplant has developed four different GM pea lines that each produce specific antibodies for a particular infectious disease. According to Novoplant's managing director, Dieter Falkenburg, the first of these new feed additives should be ready for market in 2010.

The furthest advanced are the GM peas for which Novoplant has now applied for deliberate release authorisation. A complex gene construct consisting of several elements has been introduced into the peas so that they produce "single-chain antibodies". These bind to a particular site on the surface of Escherichia coli bacteria , which trigger intestinal infections in pigs. The antibodies are produced only in the seeds and not in the rest of the plant.

The herbicide resistance (bar) gene used as a marker gene in an early phase of the development is no longer present in the GM peas. It was possible to remove the marker gene during selection of the progeny of the parent line because the marker and target genes had been inserted into the pea genome separately. This cotransformation process is one of the new gene transfer methods that has been refined within biological safety research and which make it possible to integrate only the target gene and to remove DNA sequences that are needed only for technical reasons.

The trial in Gatersleben is to investigate whether the GM peas behave in the same way in the open as they have done in greenhouse tests. Among other things, the researchers are interested in the genetic stability of the peas and the antibody yield that can be achieved under field conditions. Novoplant also intends to use the trials to obtain plant material to be used in animal trials. This pea line was tested in field trials in the USA in 2005. No gene bank propagation plots in release year.

The approval covers the planting-out of 600 transgenic plants in the 2007 growing season on a site measuring 100 square metres. The BVL is satisfied that the trial will have no harmful effects on humans, animals or the environment. As a precaution, however, it has issued extra safety conditions on top of the measures provided for in the trial application.

Bulgaria Biotechnology Update
- Mila Boshnakova, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (GAIN Report No. BU7010), April 8, 2007
http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200705/146281054.pdf

Content: Summary, Voting positions, Legislation, EU biotech legislation, Biotechnology and/or organic production, Environmental groups.

Agriculture Minister in favor of GM soy
- HotNews.ro, May 10, 2007
http://english.hotnews.ro

While other countries fight to gain the right to ban genetically modified plants (GMs), the Romanian Agriculture Minster pleads in favor of growing GM soy.

GM soy was listed as forbidden culture in the European Union, Romania ceasing production after its accession to the EU, on January 1st, 2007.

Decebal Traian Remes, the Agriculture Minister, discussed the advantages of the GM soy cultures and stated that his ministry will support the development of GM soy within the European Union.

The Environment Ministry remained cautious while referring to the subject and announced that it would not open any time soon a campaign to support or fight GMs.

GM Crops Good for Swedish Farm Economy
Asa Lexmon, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (GAIN Report No. SW7006), May 21, 2007
http://www.fas.usda.gov/scripts/gd.asp?ID=146281170

There is no cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in Sweden today but prospects for future cultivation look good. According to a recent report from the Swedish Institute for Food and Agricultural Economics (SLI), cultivating GM crops would be economically profitable for Swedish farmers. SLI is a government agency commissioned to carry out economic analyses within the fields of agriculture, foods and fishing.

Scientists plan new GM crop trials
- NZZ Online, May 17, 2007
http://www.nzz.ch/2007/05/16/eng/article7828206.html

Three years after a series of controversial field experiments with genetically modified (GM) wheat, Swiss scientists are planning similar crop trials.

Two teams of university researchers have applied to carry out tests near Zurich and Lausanne, including observations of potential crossbreeding between wheat and wild grass.

The proposed field trials by Zurich University's Institute of Plant Biology and the Institute of Plant Sciences at the city's Federal Institute of Technology would form part of a planned national research programme.

The aim would be to help answer questions about the release of transgenic plants, specifically in Switzerland.

Africa

Researchers put GM sweet banana on trial in Uganda this month
http://www.nationmedia.com
- Esther Nakkazi, The East African (Kenya), May 14, 2007

Uganda will this week import genetically modified sweet banana plants from Belgium for field trials. The transgenic plants  -  plants that possess a gene or genes that have been transferred from a different species  -  are resistant to pests and disease.

The GM sweet banana locally known as "bogoya" and mostly eaten as a dessert, will from this month, be tested at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) for resistance to the notorious bacterial wilt and Black Sigatoka fungal disease.

Field results are expected within 5-10 years.

The new variety is expected to save up to 50 per cent of yields that are destroyed by pests and diseases thus increasing production of the country's staple crop, which is also popular in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Geoffrey Arinaitwe, the Ugandan scientist who was involved in the development variety, if the field trials succeed, Uganda will be the provider of the technology in Africa.

Uganda: Genetically Modified Bananas to be Tested
New Vision (Uganda), May 30, 2007 http://newvision.co.ug

Uganda is to begin trials of genetically modified bananas at Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute. Dr. Yona Baguma, the head of biotechnology research at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), said. The banana will arrive in the country next week for testing. The banana wilt and the black singatoka (sic) disease had affected the production of the crop. Ugandan scientist with a Belgian university were working to offer a solution to the diseases. NARO and Leuven University in Belgium are in the lead of the research.

America

Mexican farmers sign GM maize treaty with Monsanto
Arturo Barba, SciDev.Net, April 30, 2007
http://www.scidev.net

Mexican farmers have signed an agreement with biotechnology giant Monsanto to buy and plant genetically modified (GM) maize.

According to the agreement signed earlier this month (18 April) by Mexico's National Confederation of Corn Growers (CNPAMM) -- affiliated with the umbrella agricultural association National Campesino Confederation -- Monsanto will provide Mexican producers with GM seeds, as well as initiate activities to protect native maize, including setting up a maize germplasm bank.

Mexico proposes therapeutic cloning ban
http://www.scidev.net

The president of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies science commission has moved to prohibit research on embryonic stem cells. [Spanish Full Text]

Venezuelan R&D investment increases fivefold
http://www.scidev.net

A law forcing Venezuelan companies to invest in research has increased national investment to 2.11 per cent of gross domestic product.

Bayer Corn Seed Wins Approval From Brazil Regulator
- Carlos Caminada, Bloomberg News, May 16, 2007
http://www.bloomberg.com

The regulatory council voted 17 to 4 to give Bayer the first license to sell a gene-modified corn seed in Brazil, which already allows the sale of soybeans altered to better resist pesticides, council spokeswoman Rachel Mortari said.

CAST Paper Examines the Role of Transgenic Livestock in the Treatment of Human Disease
- Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (press release), May 14, 2007
http://www.cast-science.org/archivedNews.asp

Washington, D.C. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) is releasing a new Issue Paper, The Role of Transgenic Livestock in the Treatment of Human Disease. Written and reviewed by a six-member task force, this paper is Part 6 in the CAST series on "Animal Agriculture's Future through Biotechnology."

Transgenic livestock have the potential to play a critical role in the production of new medications for the treatment of human disease.  According to Task Force Chair Carol L. Keefer, University of Maryland, "This role may consist of the actual production of recombinant proteins, including biotherapeutic proteins and antibodies, or it may involve the development of new animal models that can be used in studies relating to human diseases. Both approaches can provide significant advances in the development of new treatments.

U.S. approves GMO rice to produce human proteins
- Lisa Haarlander, Reuters, May 16, 2007
http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSN1628462120070516

The U.S. government gave approval on Wednesday for a biotech company to plant rice genetically modified to produce human proteins in Kansas.

Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento, California, can now grow up to 3,200 acres of genetically modified rice in Geary County, Kansas, to produce proteins that would be used in medicine to treat diarrhea.

Asia and Global

CHINA TO SET UP NATIONAL BIOSAFETY CENTER

The National Development and Reform Commission in China has approved the establishment of a National Biosafety Research Center. To be completed by 2009, this  center will manage agricultural and biological related issues. It will house several research departments including laboratories for high risk plant pathogens, insects, and plants, as well as units for agriculture-related information analysis and quarantine facilities. The center will be supervised by the Plant Protection Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Biotech developments in China are available online in Mandarin at  http://www.biotech.org.cn/news/news/show.php?id=48578

VC finds salvation in GM seeds?
- Sidhu Damdami, The Tribune (Chandigarh, India), May 7, 2007
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2007/20070508/punjab1.htm#1

Ludhiana - The solution to the crisis facing the Punjab agriculture sector lies in genetically modified (GM) crops, contract farming, purpose-oriented agro research and such varieties of crops, which require less watering.

Agriculture in Pakistan and neighbour countries

According to the study conducted by the Planning Commission - Pakistan will have to increase its national average agricultural yield to ensure food security for its growing population, which has increased to 156 million in 2006 from 34 million in 1947.

The world average yield of wheat is around 1100 kg per acre, while in Pakistan it is about 915 kg per acre; similarly national average rice yield is 1165 kg per acre against world's average of 1585 kg per acre. In China and India, it is around 2535 kg and 1180 kg per acre, respectively. It is worth to remember that our potential for wheat yield ought to be over 38 million tons at an average yield of 1.85 tons per acre; we are annually losing about three billion US dollar due to wheat production inefficiencies.

While rice production must rise to 6.5 million tons in 2010 from 4.2 million tons in 2006. Similarly the average yield of maize in Pakistan is around 715 kg per acre against world's average of 730 kg per acres; however maize average yield is 690 kg per acre in India and 2032 kg per acre in China.

Similarly average cotton yield is around 755 kg per acre in Pakistan against world's 725 kg per acre. Local demand from cotton and textile industry is increasing each year in Pakistan; so cotton lint output has been projected to increase to 21.5 million bales in 2015 from 12.4 million bales in 2006-07.

In fact before the arrival of modern crop biotechnology technology; farmers around the globe had only option of chemical pesticides as weapon to combat the major pests and to manage weeds in the field, but with the passage of time this methodology has became ineffective as many pests and weeds showed resistance against most of pesticides available in the market.

With the introduction of GM crops, farmers have been able to manage their cotton crops in a very effective way because there is an in-built pest and weeds control mechanism created in the plant to control pests and weeds on time.

Moreover it almost impossible and worthless to spry during rainy and windy period even if farmers know that their crops are under pests attack; however GM is the only solution to protect crops in the such circumstances due to its presence with in the plant life cycle.

It is worth knowing that in Pakistan, an estimated worth US $300 million of pesticides are being used in agriculture, of which more than 80 percent is used on cotton especially to control Bollworm known as "Sunides"; use of pesticide has reached over 47,550 metric tons annually; due to indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals health of people living in the rural areas and environment have been affected badly on the same time water quality of these region has been found contaminated which is harmful for human and water echo system. Although Bt cotton also provides significant control of targeted bollworms but supplemental foliar insecticide sprays are occasionally required to keep other bollworms and sucking pests from causing excessive damage in Bt fields.

Moreover subject of Patents and intellectual property rights have created strong debate in the developing countries and even in United States and the European Union. That's why this new or modern biotechnology has captured the attention of scientists, entrepreneurs, financiers, policymakers, governors, and the public in general and the pressure is on the journalists and media to illustrate factual data on this subject.

In Pakistan, we are already facing negative consequence by not strengthening patents laws, due to which, the markets are flooded with adulterated pesticides, inferior seed quality, and poor quality of life saving drugs etc.

It is unfortunate many developing countries including Pakistan missed the opportunities during the Green Revolution; now farming methods of late 60's are coming to an end due to water shortage, soil degradation, loss of seedling varieties and high input costs; while we are entering into a new phase where with very limited resources we have to deliver multiple benefits to different stakeholders.

CONSUMER ATTITUDES ON GM FOODS IN TAIWAN

In Taiwan, the attitude of consumers toward GM foods is mainly determined by the consumer’s benefit perception, said researchers in Tatung University. The researchers, Mei-Fang Chen and Hsiao-Lan Li, recommend that consumer education will help a lot in making the consumers in Taiwan form a more positive general attitude toward science and technology.

Chen and Li have determined that the general attitude toward and trust in institutes and scientists performing gene manipulation have positive impacts on the perceived benefits. In contrast, knowledge has negative impacts on the perceived risks of applying gene technology to produce food products. The researchers tested their hypotheses using structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis, a popular method used in social sciences literature. The study of Chen and Li analyzed responses from 564 individuals located in four regions in Taiwan.

The paper published by the Food Quality and Preference journal can be accessed by subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2006.10.002.

Vietnam looks to develop GM crops
- VietNamNet Bridge May 11, 2007
http://english.vietnamnet.vn/tech/2007/05/693742/

Vietnam has stated that the country will be producing genetically modified (GM) crops by 2020 in a draft of a biotechnology development plan authored by the Ministry of Industry.

In addition to GM crops, enzymes, amino acids, new generation vaccines, antibiotics and other bio products will be produced by the country by 2020.

Two hi-biotechnology centres will be built in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and a number of international standard research and development centres will be set up nationwide to enable the plan's success.

VIETNAM’S BIO-TECH PARK PROJECT

The Hanoi People’s Committee has submitted to the Vietnamese Government a project on a bio-tech park, capitalized at $1B. If approved, this will be the first bio-tech park in the country. The bio-tech park will include a bio-industrial complex, consisting of high-quality laboratories, which will be equipped with modern facilities for research and development, education and training related to biotechnologies. The project has been put forward by the Ireland-based Pacific Land Ltd (PLL).

For further information, contact Hien Le of Biotech Vietnam at hientttm@yahoo.com

Foundation to narrow 'Arab knowledge gap'
http://www.scidev.net

The United Arab Emirates has announced a US$10 billion foundation to fund science for development in the Arab region.

Australia

Accept GM food, expert says
- Daily Telegraph (Sydney), May 7, 2007
http://www.news.com.au

AUSTRALIANS will have to accept genetically modified (GM) food if the agriculture industry is to continue in an era of climate change, a plant genetics expert says.

Professor Mark Tester of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide said today that GM food should be embraced as farmers battle the effects of global warming.

Prof Tester said a current study was focusing on improving the "toughness" genes of plants so they could survive in extended periods of drought, high-salinity areas or hotter weather.

Australian farmers who grew wheat and barley could benefit most from changes in the structure of plants, he said.

"Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment," Prof Tester said.

"There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainability and economically.

"Genetic modification is one of those tools."

Prof Tester said he understood opposition to GM crops because the public could not see any benefit, but technological improvements would produce better crops for the future with less stress on the environment.
He said there was no reason why people who embraced organic and clean food could not embrace GM food.
"Genetically modified food is about adapting the plant to the environment rather than adopting the environment to the plant," he said.

Study examines potential impact of GM canola on organic sectors
- Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (press release), May 10, 2007
http://www.abareconomics.com

The commercialisation of GM canola in Australia is likely to have only negligible direct impacts on the organic canola, livestock and honey industries according to a new ABARE report.

ed. note: The full study is available at http://www.abareconomics.com

News in science

Porous nanoparticles deliver chemicals into plants
- Institute of Physics Publishing, May 15, 2007
http://nanotechweb.org/articles/news/6/5/14/1?rss=2.0

Although nanoparticles can be used to deliver DNA, drugs and other molecules into animal cells, this is not so easy to do in plants because of their cell walls, which act as barriers. Now, researchers at Iowa State University in the US have succeeded in overcoming this problem by using silica nanoparticles with a honeycomb shape. The nanoparticles have pores measuring just 3nm across and can transport DNA and chemicals into isolated cells and intact leaves. The breakthrough result could find applications in plant biotechnology and might even be used to improve crops in the future.

Victor Lin and colleagues have shown that the pores of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) can be used as reservoirs for efficiently encapsulating ?-oestradiol - a chemical trigger for expressing a certain gene in tobacco plants. The researchers used gold nanoparticles to cap the pores of ?-oestradiol-loaded silica nanoparticles, which were then coated with DNA molecules encoding a "marker gene" of green fluorescent protein (GFP). The GFP gene expression is controlled by the presence of ?-oestradiol. MSN uptake by cells MSN uptake by cells.

After coating it with DNA, Lin and co-workers fired the MSNs into tobacco plant cells. By using chemicals to uncap the nanopores the scientists found that they could control the release of the MSN-encapsulated ?-oestradiol. "Controlled release of these molecules in plant cells will allow us to study gene functions more effectively," said Lin.

Using the GFP, the Iowa team was able to track the movement of the MSNs as they travelled across the cell walls in the plant. The researchers say the system may also allow them to deliver RNA or small peptides and any molecule that can be encapsulated inside the pores. Moreover, they may be able to deliver imaging agents that could probe the environment of a plant cell when it undergoes development or physiological changes.

Lin told nanotechweb.org that the technique could serve as a new design principle for future generations of smart nanodevices for target-specific delivery of proteins, genes and chemicals in plant cells and tissues. His team will now investigate whether pore size in the MSNs can be enlarged without compromising the overall particle size and shape of these nanomaterials. Bigger pores could allow other biological molecules, such as enzymes and functional polymers, to be encapsulated. The researchers also plan to look at uncapping the MSNs using radiation, magnetic fields, temperature and internal stimuli such as cellular pH and osmotic pressure.

The work was reported in Nature Nanotechnology.

Victoria, Australia Researchers Develop Technology That Could Lead to Doubled Crop Yields
Technology Delays Leaf Ageing Process
- Government of Victoria Australia (press release), May 7, 2007
http://www.marketwire.com

Research scientists from Victoria, Australia have developed a technology that could lead to doubled crop yields, and improved environmental and health outcomes, the Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, announced today at the BIO 2007 Conference in Boston. The new technology delays the leaf ageing process, enhances biomass production, increases seed yield and also has potential molecular farming applications.

DPI Research Director German Spangenberg said cytokinin levels are increased in plants under the control of a highly developmentally regulated plant gene promoter. This technology has been given the name LXR.

"The LXR delayed senescence technology also offers significant opportunities for applications in molecular farming which in turn could result in high value products for health, bioenergy and environmental outcomes," Prof. Spangenberg said. "We would be able to test the LXR technology combined with the production of plant-based antibodies for animal health, productivity and environmental outcomes, such as targeting approaches to mitigate methane production from livestock -- an important source of greenhouse gas emission."

Genetically Modified Chicory Brings Hope to African Malaria Patients
- Dafra Pharma (press release), May 8, 2007
http://sev.prnewswire.com/biotechnology/20070508/3406093en-1.html

WAGENINGEN, the Netherlands -- Dafra Pharma has commissioned Plant Research International (PRI) to begin new research into optimising the production method of artemisinin via genetically modified chicory plants. The aim of the research is to realize inexpensive, large-scale production of artemisinin under controllable conditions. Artemisinin is a basic raw material used in ACTs (Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies), the latest generation and most effective antimalarial treatment according to the WHO.

New research by PRI, also commissioned by Dafra Pharma, now aims to examine how the artemisinin precursor (dihydroartemisininic acid) can be optimally extracted from the chicory root. With its chemical experience and know-how, Dafra Pharma can, after extraction, convert the precursor into artemisinin, which can be used to produce ACTs.

Drought tolerant, high yield rice culture developed
 The Hindu, April 28, 2007
 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blnus/27281801.htm

 COIMBATORE: The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), has developed a new drought tolerant rice culture that is capable of yielding 3.7 tonnes per hectare and suitable for rainfed areas of Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga districts of Tamil Nadu. This culture has been developed by combining conventional and molecular breeding methods following a novel participatory research approach by involving farmers, Dr T S Raveendran, Director, Centre for Plant Breeding and Genetics, TNAU, said.

Genes being developed for disease resistant chicken
The Deccan Herald, April 30, 2007
 http://www.deccanherald.com

Scientists are working on identification of genes resistant to diseases like pathogenic bird flu to implant these into poultry but it may take six to seven years before it is fully developed.

Bt corn cleared in Colony Collapse Disorder
http://www.americanfarm.com/TopStory5.01.07f.html

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has caused much concern among beekeepers nationwide and it is not clear to date what is causing the die-off. Genetically modified crops, specifically Bt corn, have been suggested as a potential cause of CCD. While this possibility has not been ruled out, the weight of evidence based on a multitude of studies argues strongly that the current use of Bt corn is not associated with CCD.

Ecology Multitrophic interaction facilitates parasite-host relationship between an invasive beetle and the honey bee
- Baldwyn Torto, Drion G. Boucias, Richard T. Arbogast, James H. Tumlinson, and Peter E. A. Teal, Published online before print May 4, 2007 (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0702813104)
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0702813104v1

Colony defense by honey bees, Apis mellifera, is associated with stinging and mass attack, fueled by the release of alarm pheromones. Thus, alarm pheromones are critically important to survival of honey bee colonies. Here we report that in the parasitic relationship between the European honey bee and the small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, the honey bee's alarm pheromones serve a negative function because they are potent attractants for the beetle. Furthermore, we discovered that the beetles from both Africa and the United States vector a strain of Kodamaea ohmeri yeast, which produces these same honey bee alarm pheromones when grown on pollen in hives. The beetle is not a pest of African honey bees because African bees have evolved effective methods to mitigate beetle infestation. However, European honey bees, faced with disease and pest management stresses different from those experienced by African bees, are unable to effectively inhibit beetle infestation. Therefore, the environment of the European honey bee colony provides optimal conditions to promote the unique bee-beetle-yeast-pollen multitrophic interaction that facilitates effective infestation of hives at the expense of the European honey bee.

Researchers attach genes to minichromosomes in maize
- Biology News Net, May 14, 2007
http://www.biologynews.net

A team of scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia has discovered a way to create engineered minichromosomes in maize and attach genes to those minichromosomes. This discovery opens new possibilities for the development of crops that are multiply resistant to viruses, insects, fungi, bacteria and herbicides, and for the development of proteins and metabolites that can be used to treat human illnesses.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega and James A. Birchler built on a previous MU discovery about the creation of minichromosomes to demonstrate that genes could be stacked on the minichromosomes.

Construction and behavior of engineered minichromosomes in maize
- Weichang Yu, Fangpu Han, Zhi Gao, Juan M. Vega, and James A. Birchler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0700932104), Published online before print May 14, 2007
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0700932104v1

Engineered minichromosomes were constructed in maize by modifying natural A and supernumerary B chromosomes. By using telomere-mediated chromosomal truncation, it was demonstrated that such an approach is feasible for the generation of minichromosomes of normal A chromosomes by selection of spontaneous polyploid events that compensate for the deficiencies produced. B chromosomes are readily fractionated by biolistic transformation of truncating plasmids. Foreign genes were faithfully expressed from integrations into normal B chromosomes and from truncated miniB chromosomes. Site-specific recombination between the terminal transgene on a miniA chromosome and a terminal site on a normal chromosome was demonstrated. It was also found that the miniA chromosome did not pair with its progenitor chromosomes during meiosis, indicating a useful property for such constructs. The miniB chromosomes are faithfully transmitted from one generation to the next but can be changed in dosage in the presence of normal B chromosomes. This approach for construction of engineered chromosomes can be easily extended to other plant species because it does not rely on cloned centromere sequences, which are species-specific. These platforms will provide avenues for studies on plant chromosome structure and function and for future developments in biotechnology and agriculture.

Scientists Display Modified Sorghum Crop
Michael Graczyk, Associated Press via Casper Star Tribune, May 2, 2007
http://www.casperstartribune.net

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M University scientists showed off to state and federal officials Tuesday a genetically engineered crop of sorghum they believe will be a more efficient and economical option to corn in drier parts of the country as the nation pushes for alternative energy sources.

Sorghum, which as a plant resembles stalks of corn, is a centuries-old grain common around the world but used more in the United States as a livestock feed. At Texas A&M, researchers have been working over the past several years to extend its growing season, allowing it to double its height to more than 10 to 15 feet, thicken its stalk and be even more drought tolerant.

The genetic changes make it ideal to raise in the South and Southeast where the growing season already is longer than in northern sections of the country. The climate also makes it more suitable than growing corn, which has emerged as a biofuel alternative used in ethanol production, particularly in the Midwest. The cellulose from one version of the sorghum and sugar from another version similarly can be processed for fuel. Researchers said energy yields could top those from corn and at a more reasonable cost, making it an economic windfall for farmers.

Texas, with 1.3 million acres harvested in 2005, and Kansas are the nation's leading sorghum-producing states. A&M researchers said they've been working with their counterparts at Kansas State University in developing sorghum for ethanol use. About 15 percent of the domestic grain sorghum crop already goes into ethanol production, according to the National Sorghum Producers, an industry trade group.

PLANKTON YIELD SECRETS TO ROLE IN EVOLUTION AND GLOBAL PHOTOSYNTHESIS

It turns out that diversity and species adaptation affect how the algae assimilate hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the global cycling of carbon.

Scientists at the United States Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and the Pierre & Marie Curie University analyzed the DNA of two species of Ostreococcus plankton and found dramatic changes in genome structure and metabolic capabilities. Overlapping genes conserved across the species and species-specific chromosomes with horizontally transferred genes contribute to genetic variation.

The researchers also noted the abundance of selenium-rich proteins, which allow the organisms to horde nutrients and reduce their appetite for iron. "From an applied perspective, we are learning some of the tricks nature has employed to 'engineer' an extremely small eukaryote to thrive in nature? which may well find applications in bioengineering," said lead author Brian Palenik.

Read the news release at http://www.jgi.doe.gov/News/news_4_30_07.html.

FUNGUS RESPONSIBLE FOR AFRICA'S FOOD-RELATED DEATHS IDENTIFIED

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have positively identified the poisonous strain of fungus responsible for food-related deaths in Kenya. The “S” strain of Aspergillus flavus tainted Kenya’s maize crop, the primary food staple, with deadly levels of poisons known as aflatoxins that killed 125 people in Kenya in 2004.

Through a special permit, the researchers were able to obtain samples of contaminated maize from affected Kenyan villages. After grinding the corn, they isolated the fungi and grew them in culture. They found the "S" strain of A. flavus, a potent aflatoxin producer not previously known in Africa, to be the most prevalent source of toxins in the maize.

The news article is available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/070426.htm

NEW PLANT ENZYMES COULD BOOST ETHANOL PRODUCTION FROM CELLULOSE

A new enzyme found in a tomato plant by Cornell researchers could make the production of ethanol from cellulose less expensive. "This is the first example of a cellulose-binding domain in a plant cell wall enzyme," said Jocelyn Rose, co-author of the paper.

Read the news release at http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April07/Biofuels.rose.kr.html

GLOBAL WARMING AND ASIAN RICE PADDIES

Experts in climate change meeting this week in Bangkok, Thailand, have concluded that changes in rice production in Asia are essential as part of a global strategy to reduce the level of emissions of greenhouse gases. Flooded rice fields are a major source of atmospheric methane, the second largest contributor greenhouse gas to global warming. Methane is 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping infrared radiation. Improved rice production practices, together with changes in the livestock sector, could reduce agricultural emissions of methane by 15 to 56%, say the experts.

ENGINEERED ‘GOLDEN’ POTATOES GIVE MORE BETA-CAROTENE

Researchers from Italy and Germany have conducted a study that resulted to what they call ‘golden’ potatoes.  These engineered potatoes can provide half of the recommended vitamin intake of Vitamin A.

The researchers used the mini-pathway of bacterial origin technique which can increase the beta-carotene content of potato by 3600 fold. The genes, phytoene synthase (CrtB), phytoene desaturase (CrtI), and lycopene beta-cyclase (CrtY) from the bacteria Erwinia, were inserted into ‘golden’ potatoes.  Gainfranco Diretto, the lead author, said that the ‘golden’ potatoes have the highest carotenoid and beta-carotene content for biofortified potato.

To read more, visit: http://nutraingredients.com/news/pirntNewsBis.asp?id=76099

TRANSGENIC RICE WITH TOLERANCE TO IRON DEFICIENCY IN SOILS

Although iron (Fe) deficiency is relatively rare in irrigated rice systems, it can lead to yield loss in alkaline or calcareous soils. Iron deficiency is the most difficult and expensive micronutrient deficiency to correct, as soil applications of inorganic iron fertilizers are often ineffective, except when application doses are large.

Rice plants utilize the iron chelators (substances that bind particular ions removing them from a solution) known as mugineic acid family phytosiderophores (MAs) to acquire iron from the soil. Researchers at the University of Tokyo, the Japan Science and Technology Corporation, and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, have transformed rice plants with a chelate-reductase gene from yeast, selected for its higher performance at high pH. The resulting transgenic plants have a higher tolerance to low levels of iron in the soil, manifested by an 8-fold increase in yield when compared to control plants.

The study shows that introducing genes encoding the enzymes in the biosynthetic pathway of MAs has the potential for engineering rice plants that are even more tolerant to low-Fe conditions, thereby having increased productivity in calcareous soils.

The open-access article, published in the journal PNAS, can be accessed at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/104/18/7373

OXO MAIZE CONFIRMED MORE RESISTANT TO CORN BORER

The genetically modified maize containing the wheat oxalate oxidase (OxO) gene was found to be more resistant to European corn borers (ECB). The result from the recent study by a group of researchers in Ottawa, Canada confirms earlier findings about the OxO maize. The OxO maize lines have phenolic concentrations that are significantly higher than non transgenics. In addition, the transcription of a 13-lipoxygenase gene, coding for a key enzyme involved in the regulation of secondary metabolism, is likewise higher.

The researchers believe that the high levels of soluble phenolic acids, in particular ferulic acid, contributed to the insect resistance of the OxO maize. They have found an inverse relationship between ferulic acid concentration and the ECB larval growth rate. Field testing showed that leaf consumption and stalk-tunneling damage caused by ECB were significantly reduced by 28-34 and 37-39%, respectively, on all of the OxO lines that the researchers tested.

The paper published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry can be accessed by subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf063030f.

Modified rice called nice for environment
- Bernadette Tansey, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2007
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/04/BUGUSPKPNF1.DTL

A Davis biotechnology company is collaborating with China's top rice-growing region on a project designed to reduce the huge contribution of agriculture to global warming.

Arcadia Biosciences has agreed to adapt its genetically engineered strain of rice to grow in China, where it may lower the need for nitrogen fertilizer because it absorbs the element nitrogen more efficiently than naturally occurring varieties.

Nitrogen-based fertilizer contributes to climate change because soil bacteria convert it into nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has almost 300 times the power to induce global warming as carbon dioxide, Arcadia chief executive Eric Rey said.

Detoxification of 2,4-dinitrotoluene by Transgenic Tobacco Plants Expressing a Bacterial Flavodoxin
- Vanesa B Tognetti, Mariela R Monti, Estela M Valle, Nestor Carrillo, and Andrea M Smania, Environ. Sci. Technol. (ASAP Article 10.1021/es070015y S0013-936X(07)00015-6), Web Release Date: May 4, 2007
http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/asap/abs/es070015y.html

Creating Corn For Cars
- Science Daily, May 4, 2007
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070504153451.htm

"We've developed two generations of Spartan Corn," said Mariam Sticklen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences. "Both corn varieties contain the enzymes necessary to break down cellulose and hemicellulose into simple sugars in their leaves. This will allow for more cost-effective, efficient production of ethanol."

Plant 'thirst' shapes Panama's tropical forests
http://www.scidev.net

A study shows how plant species resistance to drought influences where they will grow, shaping tropical forests along rainfall gradients.

Genetically-engineered silkworms spin colors of rainbow: study
- PhysOrg.com, May 08, 2007
http://www.physorg.com/news97810726.html

The study's author, Takashi Sakudoh of the University of Tokyo, said understanding the pigment transport system of silkworms could "pave the way for genetic manipulation of the color and pigment content of silk."

In nature, silkworm cocoon colors vary from white, yellow, straw, salmon, pink and green. The colors in the silk are from natural pigments absorbed when the silkworms eat mulberry leaves. Silk fibers could be produced in a flesh color and a reddish color, the authors wrote in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

Plants tag insect herbivores with an alarm
- American Society of Plant Biologists (press release), May 9, 2007
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-05/asop-pti050907.php

Now, for the first time, researchers reporting in the June 2007 issue of Plant Physiology have identified a specific class of small peptide elicitors, or plant defense signals, that help plants react to insect attack.

In this colorful self-defense strategy, proteins already present in the plant are ingested by insect attackers. Digesting the proteins, the insects unwittingly convert this food into a peptide elicitor, which gets secreted back onto plants during later feedings. Recognizing the secreted elicitor as a kind of "SOS," plants launch defensive chemistry. This defense discovery opens the door for the development and genetic manipulation of plants with improved protection against pests.

To address those questions, Dr. Eric Schmelz at the United States Department of Agriculture's Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Gainesville, Florida, led a research team that spent three years systematically analyzing the biochemical response of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), a legume, to herbivory and oral secretions of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), a general crop pest. During the extensive project, the researchers conducted over 10,000 leaf bioassays, testing for plant phytohormone production after exposure to successively fractionated insect oral secretions, among other experiments. Painstakingly collected just a few microliters at a time, the team tested approximately one full liter of caterpillar secretions.

As previously reported, the scientists identified and isolated an 11 amino acid peptide, inceptin, that plays a pivotal warning role in cowpea plants being attacked by the fall armyworm. Inceptin is part of a larger, essential enzyme, chloroplastic ATP synthase, in plants. When the fall armyworm feeds on cowpea, the insect ingests ATP synthase and breaks it down, releasing inceptin, which then becomes part of the armyworm's oral secretions. When the worm next feeds on cowpea, trace amounts of inceptin recontact the wounded leaf and alerts plants to generate a burst of defensive phytohormones.

The research paper cited in this report is available at the following link: http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/abstract/pp.107.097154v1

HYBRID PIGEONPEA PRODUCES “QUANTUM LEAP IN YIELD”

Scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) announced recently that the new hybrid of grain legume pigeonpea, Cajanus cajan,  known as ICPH 2671, produces nearly 50 percent more grain than the popular Indian cultivar Maruti. Agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan predicts that the new pigeonpea hybrids, with their “quantum leap in yield,” could open the way for a revolution in the production of this important pulse, similar to the transformation of wheat and rice production made possible several decades ago by novel semi-dwarf varieties.

ICRISAT is working closely with a consortium of private- and public-sector seed companies in India to ensure that ample supplies of hybrid seeds can be made widely available within the next couple of years.

Read the news article at http://www.cgiar.org/monthlystory/may2007.html

Scientists crack mosquito code
http://www.scidev.net

The genome of the Aedes aegypti mosquito will give insight into its biology and behaviour and could lead to new disease control methods, say scientists.

Bacteria 'could be recruited to attack malaria'
http://www.scidev.net

Scientists have identified bacteria that live in mosquitoes that could be used as a method of malaria control.

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