News in March 2008
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2008-04-06

IDEOLOGY BEATS SCIENCE

With almost 2000 hectares under cultivation (46% of the German total), Brandenburg has more fields and bigger fields of genetically modified Bt maize than any other federal state in Germany.

The state of Brandenburg proposed separation distances of 1000 metres from nature reserves. Proposal is based on the results of a study conducted in summer 2007 at the request of the Brandenburg State Office for the Environment. From mid July until early August 2007 the transfer of maize pollen to the Ruhlsdorfer Bruch nature reserve was measured and evaluated using pollen traps. ‘Significant’ maize pollen levels were found at all the measuring locations in the reserve. During the flowering period up to 175 grains of pollen/cm2 were recorded in the neighbouring area, and as much as 10 grains of pollen/cm2 at a distance of 120 metres. The share of Bt maize pollen in the pollen samples at the various pollen trap locations ranged from 7 to 44%. According to an expert assessment at different sites in Germany and Switzerland carried out on behalf of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, maize pollen can be found in pollen traps even at distances of a thousand metres; on average 2.8 grains of pollen/cm2. The possibility of butterflies coming into contact with Bt maize pollen at a distance of 100 metres cannot be ruled out, claims NABU.

They simply refer to the results of a study conducted by researchers at the Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry (BBA) (renamed the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) in 2008). The study, which involved feeding Bt maize pollen to caterpillars, showed that the larvae of the diamond-back moth and the cabbage white and peacock butterfly were susceptible to pollen from Bt176 maize. However, MON810 maize, which is the variety approved for cultivation, produces significantly less Bt toxin in the pollen than Bt176. Correspondingly, the diamond-back moth (the most sensitive species) showed no indication of harm when fed with pollen from the MON810 strain, even at rates of 80 grains of pollen per caterpillar. The researchers refer to further studies in which no effects were found when different species of butterfly were fed with MON810 pollen. They conclude that

"These studies indicate that the toxin concentrations in the pollen from the transgenic maize strain MON810 are generally so low that Bt-sensitive larvae are not noticeably harmed, even when they consume large quantities of the pollen".

http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/

SCIENCE BEATS IDEOLOGY

Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion
Rita Batista, et. al., Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, Vol. 105, No. 9, Mar. 4, 2008
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0707881105v1

Controversy regarding genetically modified (GM) plants and their potential impact on human health contrasts with the tacit acceptance of other plants that were also modified, but not considered as GM products (e.g., varieties raised through conventional breeding such as mutagenesis). What is beyond the phenotype of these improved plants? Should mutagenized plants be treated differently from transgenics?

Authors have evaluated the extent of transcriptome modification occurring during rice improvement through transgenesis versus mutation breeding. They used oligonucleotide microarrays to analyze gene expression in four different pools of four types of rice plants and respective controls: (i) a {gamma}-irradiated stable mutant, (ii) the M1 generation of a 100-Gy {gamma}-irradiated plant, (iii) a stable transgenic plant obtained for production of an anticancer antibody, and (iv) the T1 generation of a transgenic plant produced aiming for abiotic stress improvement, and all of the unmodified original genotypes as controls.

They found that the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired trait, using either mutagenesis or transgenesis, may cause stress and thus lead to an altered expression of untargeted genes. In all of the cases studied, the observed alteration was more extensive in mutagenized than in transgenic plants.

Authors propose that the safety assessment of improved plant varieties should be carried out on a case-by-case basis and not simply restricted to foods obtained through genetic engineering.

General

2008 OECD Environmental Outlook - How much will it cost to address today's key environmental problems?
http://www.oecd.org:80/document/22/0,3343,en_2649_201185_40221270_1_1_1_1,00.html

05/03/2008 - "Solutions to the key environmental challenges are available, achievable and affordable, especially when compared to the expected economic growth and the costs and consequences of inaction", OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said at the worldwide launch of the 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook in Oslo, hosted by Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg.

The 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook  is a pathbreaking report that marries economic and environmental projections for the next few decades and simulates specific policies to address the key challenges. It identifies four priority areas where urgent action is needed: climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and the impact on human health of pollution and toxic chemicals.

Economic-environmental projections show that world greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow by 37% to 2030 and by 52% to 2050 if no new policy action is introduced. To meet increasing demands for food and biofuels world agricultural land use will need to expand by an estimated 10% to 2030; 1 billion more people will be living in areas of severe water stress by 2030 than today; and premature deaths caused by ground-level ozone worldwide would quadruple by 2030.

"Countries will need to shift the structure of their economies in order to move towards a low carbon, greener and more sustainable future. The costs of this restructuring are affordable, but the transition will need to be managed carefully to address social and competitiveness impacts, and to take advantage of new opportunities", Secretary-General Gurría said.

The 2008 OECD Environmental Outlook projects that world GDP will almost double by 2030. And the OECD policy simulation shows that it would cost just over 1% of that growth to implement policies that can cut key air pollutants by about a third, and contain greenhouse gas emissions to about 12% instead of 37% growth under the scenario without new policies.

Books & Articles

Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment
Fieldwork: November – December 2007, Publication: March 2008
http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_295_en.pdf

The EU Commission has just published a new Eurobarometer survey about “Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment”

This latest Eurobarometer survey gives the following figures related to GMOs:
 http://www.belgobiotech.be/Document/Press/GMOs%20into%20the%20New%20Eurobarometer%20survey.doc

20% of Europeans are worried about GMOs (down from 24% in 2004 - Austrians most worried)

26% consider that there is a lack of information relating to use of GM in farming (down from 40% in 2004 - Finland is the country which most lacks information on this)

GMOs are classified as “Issue of great lack of information and medium level of concern”: These issues are "scientific” by nature which makes them hard to understand for the general public and, consequently, Europeans feel they especially lack information about these topics. However, when it comes to levels of concern, these two “scientific” issues are overcome by the broader global environmental dangers such as climate change. (p. 63)

58% of Europeans declare they are opposed to GM, while 21% support their use. 9% say they have never heard of it. The survey concludes on GMOs:

Europeans in general tend to feel that they lack information about GMOs but at the same time they express relatively low levels of concern when this issue is discussed in the context of other current environmental problems. Consequently, it is likely that the feeling of not being informed contributes to the widespread opposition to the use of GMOs.

On the other hand, a clear link between concerns over GMOs and the perceived opposition to their use can also be established. In other words, even if the link between the lack of information and being opposed to the use of GMOs appears to be stronger here it only partly explains the relatively high levels of objection of the use of GMOs.

When asked to rank the 5 out of 15 main environmental issues they are most worried about
Climate change is the first main issue the Europeans are most worried (increased from 47% to 57%).
Water pollution comes on second rank (down from 47% to 42%), then
Air pollution (down to 40% from 45%)
¨       ……………………………..
GMOs come at place 7 out of 15 (as mentioned above down 20% of Europeans are concerned about the use of GMOs in farming).
Plant and Animal Genome XVI Conference Abstracts.  The 2008 Plant & Animal Genome XVI Conference took place in San Diego, California, USA, from 12 to 16 of January.  This yearly event is designed to provide a forum on recent developments and future plans for plant & animal genome projects worldwide.  Consisting of technical presentations, poster sessions, exhibits and workshops, it is an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and applications in all fields related to plant and animal genetic research.  Click here to access the 2008 Conference Abstracts. http://km.fao.org/gipb/
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa
Robert Paarlberg, Foreword by Norman Borlaug and Jimmy Carter, Harvard University Press, Mar. 2008, 256 pp, ISBN 13: 978-0-674-02973-6
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/PAASTA.html

Nearly two-thirds of Africans are employed in agriculture, yet on a per-capita basis they produce roughly 20 percent less than they did in 1970. Although modern agricultural science was the key to reducing rural poverty in Asia, modern farm science - including biotechnology - has recently been kept out of Africa.

In Starved for Science Robert Paarlberg explains why poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies, particularly genetically engineered seeds with improved resistance to insects and drought. He traces this obstacle to the current opposition to farm science in prosperous countries. Having embraced agricultural science to become well-fed themselves, those in wealthy countries are now instructing Africans - on the most dubious grounds - not to do the same.

In a book sure to generate intense debate, Paarlberg details how this cultural turn against agricultural science among affluent societies is now being exported, inappropriately, to Africa. Those who are opposed to the use of agricultural technologies are telling African farmers that, in effect, it would be just as well for them to remain poor.
New Report Indicates Large GM Potential for South Asia
GMO Compass, March 7, 2008 Via Agnet
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/348.docu.html

A new compendium of studies addressing the use of genetically modified plants in South Asia forecast major economic benefits. Drought- and salt-tolerant rice may provide a added value of about three billion US dollars for India.)

The report was compiled by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Entitled "Economic and environmental benefits and co sts of transgenic crops: Ex-Ante assessment", the publication was issued in February 2007 and contains information gathered from studies conducted in the past four years. Its aim is illumination of the impact of transgenic crops in South Asia during the next one-and-a-half decades. Particular emphasis was placed on India and Bangladesh.

The assessment was directed towards plants bearing traits currently being developed by the international Agricultural Biotechnology Support Programme II (ABSPII). In both countries, the greatest benefits are projected to arise from drought- and salt-tolerant (DST) rice. Its use is expected to provide roughly three billion US dollars for India and more than one million US dollars for Bangladesh. These and other projections are outlined in the table below.

Potential economic and environmental benefits also are indicated by other products that are under ABSPII development in the region. In India, this denotes varieties of sunflower, groundnut, eggplant and potato that are resistant to insects or to pathogens. In Bangladesh, tests were performed with the rice and potato lines, as well as with insect-resistant eggplant and chickpea.
OECD Review of Agricultural Policies: Chile: Book on Online Bookshop | Book on SourceOECD
Plant Breeding and Related Biotechnology Capacity Assessment (PBBC): In 2008 GIPB will make available a comprehensive online database containing assessment of national plant breeding and biotechnology capacity worldwide; see http://km.fao.org/gipb/pbbc/
Biotechnological Prospects for Engineering Insect-Resistant Plants
John A. Gatehouse, Plant Physiology 146:881-887, 2008
http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/full/146/3/881

Bacillus thuringiensis strains show differing specificities of insecticidal activity toward pests, and constitute a large reservoir of genes encoding insecticidal proteins, which are accumulated in the crystalline inclusion bodies produced by the bacterium on sporulation (Cry proteins, Cyt proteins) or expressed during bacterial growth (Vip proteins). The three-domain Cry proteins have been extensively studied; their mechanism of action involves a proteolytic activation step, which occurs in the insect gut after ingestion, followed by interaction of one or both of domains II and III with "receptors" on the surface of cells of the insect gut epithelium. This interaction leads to oligomerization of the protein, and domain I is then responsible for the formation of an open channel through the cell membrane (Bravo et al., 2007Go). The resulting ionic leakage destroys the cell, leading to breakdown of the gut, bacterial proliferation, and insect death.

However, not all pests are adequately targeted by the Bt toxins used at present, and there is still a need to develop solutions to specific problems, such as resistance to sap-sucking pests and pests of stored products. This Update will review some developments to the basic Bt strategy and selected alternative methods for engineering insect resistance.

Plants expressing novel Bt toxins like Vip and Cry3Bb1 have been shown to be effective against lepidopteran larvae. Bt genes have also been expressed in the chloroplast genome, resulting to higher levels of toxin accumulation. Scientists are currently exploiting plant-defense proteins like lectins and alpha-amylase inhibitors to combat Bt resistant pests.

John Gatehouse, author of the review, enumerated novel approaches for engineering insect-resistant plants. These include:

bulletThe use of new insecticidal proteins like cholesterol oxidase and avidin
bulletIncreasing the expression of plant secondary metabolites like cyanogenic glycosides and volatile communication compounds
bulletRNA interference for targeting insect resistance genes
The article can be accessed for free at http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/full/146/3/881
Visit EuropaBio’s new biofuels portal!
EuropaBio’s new biofuel’s portal is live on: http://www.europabio.org/Biofuels/ Comments or suggestion to r.weaver@europabio.org

Events

3rd ESF Conference on Functional Genomics and Disease October 1-4, 2008
Innsbruck, Austria
A “Workshop on Metabolomics and Environmental Biotechnology” is organised on 16-17 June 2008 in Mallorca ( Spain) as an initiative of the Environmental Biotechnology Working Group of the EC-US Task Force on Biotechnology Research.

The Workshop will cover topics on metabolomics and functional analysis of microbial communities. Over the last few years a vast amount of information on the (meta)genomes of microorganisms is being generated. The potential exploitation of these discoveries in environmental biotechnology is enormous but requires profound knowledge of the functioning of microbial cells as complex networks of interacting metabolites, which is the aim of metabolomic studies. The potential outcome in relevant aspects for environmental biotechnology, such as the development of novel biocatalysts, novel biomarkers or more efficient and safer processes will be discussed in the workshop.

Contacts: Ioannis Economidis, PhD, Principal Scientific Office
European Commission, Biotechnologies Unit - Directorate for Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food, Directorate-General for Research
Mail: European Commission. Square de Mee?s 8, B-1050 Brussels
tel: +32-2-295.15.74 - Fax: +32-2-299.18.60
E-mail: ioannis.economidis@ec.europa.eu
International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (ISBGMO). Held biennially by the International Society for Biosafety Research, the 10th ISBGMO will be the first in the Southern Hemisphere and will highlight past achievements and future directions in environmental biosafety research and risk assessment of GMOs.  Date: 16 - 21 November 2008 Location: Te Papa, Wellington, New Zealand

Contact: The Conference Company tel.+64 9 360 1240
http://www.isbgmo.info, email: isbgmo@tcc.co.nz Registration: http://www.isbgmo.info/registration/

7-9 April 2008; Bio-Europe Spring; Madrid (Spain) For more information, http://www.bioeuropespring.com
16-17 April; BioMedica 2008; Maastricht, The Netherlands. For more information, click http://www.biomedica2008.com/.
17-19 April; European Course for Life Sciences Executives (ECLE); Basel, Switzerland. For more information, click here >>>.
27-30 April; World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing; Chicago;  http://www.bio.org/worldcongress2008/
MAY
5-6 May; BioFusion 2008; Atlanta

Global

Vatican Didn't Publish List of 7 Modern Misdeeds
http://www.zenit.org/article-22029?l=english
LONDON, MARCH 11, 2008 (www.Zenit.org). - Reports that the Vatican has published a new list of the seven deadly sins of modern times that includes littering and economic inequality is simply not true, affirmed the episcopal conference of England and Wales.

The conference released a statement today clarifying that an interview published Sunday by L'Osservatore Romano with Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the tribunal of he Apostolic Penitentiary, was misinterpreted in the media as an official Vatican update to the seven deadly sins, laid out by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. “The Vatican has not published a new list of seven deadly sins; this is not a new Vatican edict," said the conference. "The story originated from an interview that Bishop Gianfranco Girotti gave to the L'Osservatore Romano in which he was questioned about new forms of social sins in this age of globalization."

The Catholic Church wrote it all down in its "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church." It has a section called Biotechnology: Safeguarding the Environment, Chapter 10, Section 4, Text on line at http://www.vatican.va

Overall, it makes a huge distinction between humans and non-humans. As far as non-humans go, it says "...the human person does not commit an illicit act when, he intervenes by modifying some of their characteristics or properties."

It also says that "Human interventions that damage living beings or the natural environment deserve condemnation, while those that improve them are praiseworthy."
To restore its scientific credibility, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) should rethink its vision for biotech.
Editorial, Nature Biotechnology 26, 247 (2008) (republished with permission)
http://ealerts.nature.com/cgi-bin24/DM/y/ejcs0Sp4DG0HjC0Bplo0Ex

The IAASTD is unprecedented in scale, appropriately so, perhaps, given its lofty ambition to provide the world's leaders with a roadmap for mobilizing agricultural knowledge, science and technology to reduce hunger and poverty and encourage sustainable development. With "900 participants and 110 countries," the three-year, multimillion-dollar process was launched in 2005 under the auspices of five United Nations agencies, the World Bank and the World Health Organization. It is led by Bob Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which with Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize last October.

In recent weeks, the IAASTD issued its 'synthesis' report - in essence a 126-page executive summary of five separate regional reports - that will be debated line by line by government experts at the IAASTD plenary meeting in April in Johannesburg, South Africa, with ultimate publication scheduled for November.

The original plan was to have an entire chapter devoted to a "Focus on Transgenics," sharply identifying genetic modification as an important theme. As a result of lobbying by Greenpeace and others, however, the focus was muddied to a "Focus on Biotechnology," where the definition of biotech is so broad it's virtually meaningless. The chapter now endeavors to cover in 10 pages "conventional biotechnology" (meaning breeding techniques, marker-assisted breeding, tissue culture, cultivation practices and fermentation) as well as GMO approaches. Organic farming is thrown in for good measure.

Virtually every mention of GM crops is grudging and hedged about with doubts unsupported by data. In January, the Public Research & Regulation Initiative (PRRI), an international forum for public researchers involved in biotech, posted an open letter that cites nearly 20 instances of this kind of equivocation in the synthesis report.

No surprise, then, that industry and scientific groups are crying foul. The PRRI is backing the companies' decision. It concludes that the biotech chapter "is written from a perspective that is so fundamentally different from what we believe should have been the perspective of such an evaluation, that a submission of comments on the many technical omissions and errors would not be meaningful." It urges the IAASTD to completely rewrite the biotech section of the report. In February, The Scientific Alliance, another nonprofit organization of scientists and nonscientists, also pitched in, lamenting the report's "negative attitude toward technology, compounded in this case by a visceral dislike of international capitalism."

The major problem for the science and industry groups - and incidentally for the World Bank and US Department of Agriculture, both of which are reportedly angry at the anti-corporate stance of the report - is that they didn't engage with the process early enough or in the right manner. The IAASTD steering committee is crowded with bureaucrats and representatives from nonprofit organizations, most of whom have little reason to be knowledgeable about, and some of whom are ideologically opposed to, 'top-down' biotech solutions. It was this committee that oversaw the creation of the IAASTD reports and the process of author selection.

One author of the biotech chapter, Deborah Keith of Syngenta, dropped out during the report's preparation, citing a lack of time and dissatisfaction with the text. Of the remaining four, Jack Heinemann, Tsedeke Abate and Angelika Hilbeck have expertise in ecology, pest management and gene transfer and Doug Murray is a sociologist, with a focus on fair trade issues in the developing world. Hardly a group representative of the broad church of scientific thinking on GM crops. No surprise, then, that the synthesis report presents biotech from a highly skewed viewpoint.
Rice Now Too Costly to Give Away
Marwaan Macan-Markar, Asia Times, Mar. 6, 2008 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/JC06Ae01.html

Soaring global rice prices are hitting the stomachs of Asia's poorest citizens. The people of East Timor, where nearly 40% live on less than 0.55 US cents a day, have just been told they may not receive their annual quota of food aid.

"We have been forced to provide less food to East Timor; provide less rice than we intended to," Paul Risely, Asia spokesperson for the United Nations food agency, told Inter Press Service (IPS). "We have requested the people of East Timor to look for local substitutes."

Part of the problem stems from poor planning with the Dili government urging the World Food Program (WFP) to step in only after finding that it could not afford to purchase sufficient quantities of the grain from Vietnam, due to high prices. Vietnam, the world's second largest exporter of rice, shipping out nearly 4.5 million tons of the grain annually, has been a major supplier of rice for the WFP's global program. Neighboring Thailand is the largest rice exporter, shipping 9.5 million tons to the global market, which was 30 million tons in 2007. But last year, Vietnam placed limits on rice exports in order to meet domestic demand, triggering a spike in the price of its grain in the world market. The ban stemmed from national food security concerns in the communist-ruled country. Hanoi wanted to avoid a local food shortage due to flooding in the rice-growing central regions.

In Asia, the world's largest rice-growing region, rice production is "increasing very slowly, with rice production in 2007 being only 0.5% higher than in 2006", states the FAO. "A major underlying reason for this is that yield growth is plateauing. "Although there may be some potential for expansion of rice area in other countries, the total area in Asia will unlikely increase much beyond the current estimate of 136 million hectare," writes Sushil Pandey, of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in the magazine. "Rice production is facing increasing competition for land, labor and water from other economic activities and the recent growth in biofuel production is likely to exert additional pressure."

Consequently, organizations like the IRRI, based in the Philippines town of Los Banos, are making a push for a repeat of the Green Revolution (1968-81), during which high yield varieties of rice were distributed to increase rice output by 42% over a 13-year period. "A second Green Revolution to reverse the rising trend in rice prices and to keep process low is needed now as much as the first Green Revolution was needed earlier to avoid famine and mass starvation," Pandey argues.
Wheat killer detected in Iran - Dangerous fungus on the move from East Africa to the Middle East.  A new and virulent wheat fungus, previously found in East Africa and Yemen, has moved to major wheat growing areas in Iran, FAO reported today. The fungus is capable of wreaking havoc to wheat production by destroying entire fields.  Countries east of Iran, like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert, FAO said. It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents. http://km.fao.org/gipb/

Europe - EU

Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs)

The Parliament's Industry Committee voted by a large majority to adopt the Council's common position. According to the decision, the European think-tank will have a two-tier structure in which a Governing Board selects institutions for higher education, research organisations, companies and other stakeholders to form partnerships called "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs). Every KIC will consist of at least three partners from two different EU countries, and will include at least one higher education institution and one private company.

By the end of 2009 at the earliest, a first set of two or three KICs will be selected. For the biotech sector, a planned focus on renewable energies might be most interesting. Further KICs will be selected after theadoption of a "Strategic Innovation Agenda" (SIA), which will define the priority fields of the EIT for future initiatives.

The EIT will need more money. Roughly EUR2.4 billion will be required for the first six years, according to Commission estimates, but the EU will only be contributing EUR308.7 million from the Community budget. Additional funding could come from industry or from the different countries that apply as locations for the EIT. By autumn, the European Council will take a decision on where the EIT's governing body will be located. MEPs have already proposed Wroclaw (Poland), Budapest (Hungary) and Munich (Germany) as possible seats for the EIT's governing board. Paris is also a candidate. In mid-February, Austrian Research Minister Johannes Hahn proposed locating the EIT in Vienna. "It is better to locate the EIT in a metropolis than out in the middle of nowhere", he told local newspapers.

http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/index.php?RDCT=84987dce08c16a593de0
EU ministers' requests to improve research coordination came shortly before the publication of the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS). The new figures on Europe's competitiveness demonstrate that the EU-US innovation gap is narrowing more slowly than in previous years. From 2003-2006, the EU caught up significantly, but it is currently behind the US in 11 of 15 innovation indicators. "The apparent slowdown in catching up with the US and the increasing gap in public R&D show that reinforced efforts are needed if we are to create more world-class innovation", said Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen.

http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/index.php?RDCT=84987dce08c16a593de0

Feeding trials of GMO were discussed by EFSA

In this report the various elements of the safety and nutritional assessment procedure for genetically modified (GM) plant derived food and feed are discussed, in particular the potential and limitations of animal feeding trials for the safety and nutritional testing of whole GM food and feed.

The safety assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed follows a comparative approach, i.e. the food and feed are compared with their non-GM counterparts in order to identify intended and unintended (unexpected) differences which subsequently are assessed with respect to their potential impact on the environment, safety for humans and animals, and nutritional quality. Key elements of the assessment procedure are the molecular, compositional, phenotypic and agronomic analysis in order to identify similarities and differences between the GM plant and its near isogenic counterpart.

It is recommended to include a relevant number of commercial varieties as control diets to demonstrate the biological range of the parameters which are measured in order to assess the biological relevance of statistically significant differences between the GM plant and its counterpart.

The choice of the comparator for GM food and feed testing is crucial, and can be found in the parental (near isogenic) line. For modified macronutrients a comparator is the unmodified form of the macronutrient. For investigating GM food and feed with enhanced nutritional properties, choices for control diets should be made on a case-by-case basis.

See the summary at  http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1178660555237.htm

Europe

Limagrain Moves GM Tests To The US Due French Ban
Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters via PlanetArk, Feb. 29, 2008
http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/47254/story.htm

PARIS - Europe's largest seed cooperative Limagrain said on Thursday it had moved its research tests into genetically modified (GM) crops to the United States, put off by France's hostility to GMs and the destruction of test fields. Chairman Pierre Pagesse said Biogemma, Limagrain's grain and oilseed research unit, would carry around 1,000 tests on GM crops this year in Illinois, in the US corn belt. Limagrain has a 70 percent stake in the world's fourth-largest seed maker Vilmorin.

"We have decided to transfer our tests to the United States this year," Pagesse told Reuters in an interview at the Paris farm show. "It is with a heavy heart," he added. "For the first time we will move outside France and even outside the European Union to carry out our tests and this due to the current situation in our country, The expatriation of the GM tests to the United States, was also prompted by the repetitive attacks carried out by anti-GM activists on Biogemma's test fields.“ Pagesse said.

While GM crops are common in the United States, France and other European countries are dubious about using the new genetic technology in agriculture. France decided in December to suspend the cultivation of the sole GM crop grown in the European Union, a maize developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, and notified the European Commission earlier this month that it was extending the ban.
Survey shows attitudes towards GM crops are softening (see Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment above).
Farmers Guardian, Mar. 17, 2008 http://www.farmersguardian.com:80/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=17155

CONSUMER attitudes towards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are gradually softening, according to a new EU-wide survey.

The European Commission has published a new Eurobarometer survey about the attitudes of European citizens towards the environment, including GMOs. The results showed:

= 20 per cent of Europeans are worried about GMOs, compared with 24 per cent in 2004
= 80 per cent are not concerned about the use of GMOs in farming.
= 26 per cent consider there is a lack of information relating to use of GMOs in farming, down from 40 per cent in 2004.
= GMOs are classified as an 'issue of great lack of information and medium level of concern'.

Respondents were also asked to rank the main environmental issues they are most worried about:
= Climate change was ranked first, up from 47 per cent in 2004 to 57 per cent.
= Water pollution was second, down from 47 per cent to 42 per cent.
= Air pollution was third, down to 40 per cent from 45 per cent.

Commenting on the survey, Dr Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (abc) said the industry was 'pleased to see that concern about the use of GMOs in farming has reduced'. "It is important to continue to ensure that people have access to appropriate information about GM but these relatively low levels of concern demonstrate that hysteria around the use of GM in farming is misguided. "Interestingly, the report suggests that at least part of the concern regarding GM can be correlated with a perceived lack of information. abc is committed to improving the communication of the use of this technology in the UK."
GM's stumbling block is EU politicians
John Parry, Farmers Guardian, Mar. 21, 2008
http://www.farmersguardian.com/story.asp?sectioncode=19&storycode=17216

THE Council of Ministers of the EU is coming under increasing pressure to release the log jam of GM crop varieties currently banned from being grown in or imported into the EU for political reasons despite the overwhelming scientific opinion they are both safe and beneficial.

Last year MON810 hybrids were grown on 110,000ha (a 77 per cent increase on 2006), mainly in Spain and the south of France. But even this established GM crop received a setback in February when the French Minister of Agriculture activated a safeguard clause to justify a politically-motivated presidential decree suspending the growing of the crop in France this year.

The ban is based on 'new scientific evidence' on the effect of the variety on the environment and human health. This prompted the head of France's Biomolecular Genetics Commission, which had trialled the Bt maize and declared it safe for cultivation, to resign in protest. And last week Europe's largest seed co-operative Limagrain announced it had moved its research tests into GM crops to the US due to the French government's hostility. The ban has also provoked a furious National Federation of Farm Unions and the General Association of Maize Growers to challenge its legality with an appeal to France's supreme court for administrative justice, the Council of State.
French farmers lose bid to overturn GM corn ban
Agence France Presse, Mar. 19, 2008
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/afp/20080319/tsc-france-farm-biotech-us-e123fef.html

PARIS - A group of French farmers on Wednesday lost a bid to overturn a government ban on a strain of genetically-modified corn, a month after it came into force. France's highest administrative body, the state council, rejected the challenge from nine plaintiffs including a maize producers' association.

"The judge has rejected the complaint," said a spokeswoman for the state council. "There are no serious doubts as to the legality of the decisions" to ban the use of MON810 strain of corn, the only GM crop grown in France.

Africa

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) just announced a public-private partnership to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties for Africa. The partnership, known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), was formed in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families. AATF is an African-led charity designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary technologies with potential to increase the productivity of resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.  http://km.fao.org/gipb/
Scientists meet to launch a multi-million dollar project to step up rice production in Africa and Asia.  National and international rice specialists are taking part in a meeting to launch a multi-million dollar project on “Stress-tolerant rice for poor farmers in Africa and South Asia” at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), Cotonou, Benin, 5–7 March 2008.  The project, which will be carried out by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners, has been approved for funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through a grant to IRRI for US$19.9 million over three years.  http://km.fao.org/gipb/
New propagation techniques boost Ghana banana-plantain production

More than two million Musa seedlings – covering 1,300 hectares and worth $2.5 million annually to the farming economy of Ghana – were propagated and distributed to banana and plantain farmers here in a rapid two-year time-frame.

New Musa “micro-propagation” techniques, developed and tested across West Africa by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and national science organizations and research partners, are having a positive impact on farmers’ incomes, enhanced food security, economic diversification and potential for food exports.

The boost to Ghanaian Musa producers – an estimated 4,000 local farmers – follows a four-year research program to assist smallholder farmers funded by the Gatsby Foundation of London UK. In addition to the direct farmer beneficiaries, nutritional and income gains are estimated by scientists to accrue to a further 70,000 people spread across 40 communities in the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana’s central Asutifi District, comprising extended families.

Plant distribution initiatives were spearheaded by Ghanaian organizations led by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Crop Research Institute (CSIR-CRI), the University of Ghana and Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Further technical input was provided by Bioversity International and private-sector assistance from Newmont Gold Ghana Limited (NGGL).

http://www.iita.org:80/cms/details/news_details.aspx?articleid=1474&zoneid=81
Genetically modified food produce up 30%
Food & Beverage Reporter (South Africa), Apr. 2008

In terms of area planted, SA's genetically modified (GM) maize, soy and cotton increased by 30%, to 1.8m hectares, last year over 2006/07.White GM maize totalled 1,040,000ha, an increase of 48% over 2006/07, representing a market share of 62%. Yellow maize increased from 528,000ha to 567,000ha, up 7%, with a market share of 51%, according to AgriSA's president, Lourie Bosman.

SA has retained its eighth position among 13 biotech mega-countries worldwide. Some 12m farmers in 23 countries on six continents planted 114.3m ha of GM crops last year. About 90% or 11m of these farmers are resource-poor farmers in 12 developing countries.

America

Brazil GMO Cane Research Advances, Waits For OK
Inae Riveras, Reuters via PlanetArk, Mar. 5, 2008
http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/47344/story.htm

SAO PAULO - Sugar cane genetically modified for greater ethanol and sugar production could be developed in three to five years but strict Brazil biotechnology regulation could keep it off the market for as much as seven years. "At this point, (the GMO cane) is more a regulatory issue than a scientific issue" said Paulo Arruda, scientific director at Alellyx Applied Genomics, developer of a variety being tested in the fields.

The Alellyx genetically modified sugar cane program is focused not only in developing cane with a higher sucrose yield, but also with increased biomass and resistant to herbicides and insects and to drought. "Most of Brazil's new cane areas are degraded pastures, where pluviometric levels are lower than traditional cane producing areas," Arruda said, explaining the importance of drought resistant varieties. "We'd be happy if technology allows us to have 10-15 percent higher yields given the adverse conditions," he said.

Brazil cleared commercial use of GMO soybean and cotton after passing a biosafety law in 2005, but it has taken until February 2008 to approve any other genetically modified agricultural product. Last month Brazil's National Biosafety Council (CNBS) gave the final clearange for two varieties of transgenic corn for commercial use. Many other products have been waiting approval for years.

About half of Brazil's almost 500 million tonne cane crop is turned into ethanol. Sugar, which accounts for the rest of the crop, does not contain any DNA or protein to be considered as a GMO product. Through the use of existing varieties, it's possible to raise conventional cane yields currently by around 2 percent per year. With GMO cane it would be possible to double this growth.
Activists Plan More Attacks Against Multinationals in Brazil

SAO PAULO - Campaigners from the Landless Rural Workers Movement, or MST, will organize more attacks against multinational companies in Brazil, a spokesman for the group said late Friday. "MST will target multinationals such as Syngenta AG, Monsanto, Bunge, Cargill, Suzano Papel e Celulose and DuPont," the spokesman said. The women were protesting the decision last month by the National Biosafety Council, CTNBio, to allow Monsanto's Guardian brand of genetically modified corn as well as Bayer CropScience's LibertyLink corn to be sold in Brazil.

Mexico approves rules to begin planting GM corn
Mica Rosenberg, Reuters via Forbes, Mar. 19, 2008

MEXICO CITY - Mexico, widely thought to be the birthplace of corn, said Wednesday it will begin allowing experimental planting of genetically modified crops, despite resistance from some farmers who question their safety.

Under the new rules, the farmers who want to plant GMO crops must register with the agriculture ministry and environmental authorities to request a permit. GMO corn seeds will not be allowed into certain parts of the country that are determined to be "centers of origin" for genetically unique corn strains found only in Mexico http://www.forbes.com/reuters/feeds/reuters/2008/03/19/2008-03-20T012109Z_01_N19354017_RTRIDST_0_MEXICO-GMO.html

USA

Ecoterrorism in 1999 MSU

EAST LANSING (AP) - More than eight years after a New Year's Eve fire at Michigan State University, four people have been indicted related to an arson incident federal authorities said Tuesday was an act of domestic terrorism.

The Dec. 31, 1999 fire caused roughly $1 million in damage to the university's historic Agriculture Hall. Michigan State officials, along with federal authorities, have been working the case since.

The 1999 fire at Michigan State damaged offices for a project aimed at enhancing the use and commercialization of crop biotechnology in developing countries. Shortly after the Michigan State fire was set, the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the incident. ELF said Michigan State was targeted because of genetic engineering research related to crops.

China

Big funding for GM research
Hepeng Jia, Chemistry World (Royal Society of Chemistry), Mar. 26, 2008
http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2008/March/26030801.asp

China is to launch a huge research programme on genetically modified (GM) crops by the end of the year, according to top agricultural biotechnology advisors.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' (CAAS) Institute of Biotechnologies, says the programme could receive as much as 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) over the next five years - five times more than the country spent on GM research in the preceding five years.

A member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's upper house, and a key government advisor on biotechnology policies, Huang revealed the news at a briefing on the annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit organisation promoting agricultural biotechnology.
Origin's New Corn Hybrid Seeds Approved in Provinces Throughout China
Origin Agritech, Ltd. (press release), Mar. 4, 2008
http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/index.jsp?epi_menuItemID=887566059a
3aedb6efaaa9e27a808a0c&ndmViewId=news_view&ndmConfigId=1009150&newsId=
20080304005823&newsLang=en

BEIJING--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Origin Agritech Limited (NASDAQ GS: SEED) ("Origin"), a leading technology-focused supplier of crop seeds and agri-biotech research in China, today announced it has approved five new corn hybrid varieties for its product line for distribution during the next sales season in provinces throughout Central and West China. The company now has over 50 total corn hybrids approved for sale throughout China and its revenues consisted of 74.4% revenues from corn seed in 2007.

Liang Yuan, co-Chief Executive Officer of Origin Agritech, commented, "Our accumulated hybrid germplasm from our conventional breeding techniques forms a base for our next generation, genetically developed seed. Our strategy continues to be to accumulate our local hybrid seeds to facilitate our genetically modified product line.

The seed variety approval process is one of the most stringent regulatory requirements in all of China. The approval requires the applicant to undergo two growing seasons of monitored growth in at least five different locations in the region. Seeds submitted for testing are planted together with control seeds, which are typically the most popular seeds in the testing regions. Only seeds that have an increased yield of 8% or higher versus the control seeds, and that rank in the top six among all seeds being tested are cleared to proceed to the second year of testing. When successful, the approval is granted.
Origin Agritech Updates Genetically Modified Popeline
Origin Agritech Ltd. (press release), Mar. 24, 2008
http://www.businesswire.com

BEIJING--Origin Agritech Limited, a leading technology-focused supplier of crop seeds and agri-biotech research in China, updated its genetically modified pipeline to set forth the next generation of corn product into China.

Phytase: World's first transgenic phytase corn is expected to be commercially launched in 2009, and is expected to be the first genetically modified corn product in China. Final approval (Phase 5) of product development is expected in late 2008.

Glyphosate (Herbicide) Resistence: Glyphosate resistance is in the intermediate testing phase (Phase 2). Origin plans to apply for environmental release test for both (Phase 3) in mid 2008 for 5 selected lines.
Pest Resistance (Bt Corn): Pest resistance (Bt Corn) is in the intermediate testing phase (Phase 2). Origin plans to apply for environmental release test for both (Phase 3) in late 2008 for 3 selected lines, and the company retains the exclusive license rights to these specific pest resistant (Bt corn) traits which, in all early trials, are the best performing traits for pest resistance throughout China.

Stacked Traits: Glyphosate Resistance & Pest Resistance (Bt): Glyphosate resistance and pest resistance are in the intermediate testing phase (Phase 2). Origin plans to apply for environmental release test for both (Phase 3) in 2008.

Nitrogen Efficiency & Drought Tolerance: Nitrogen efficiency and drought tolerance traits are in the laboratory testing phase (Phase 1). Again, Origin Agritech retains the exclusive license rights to these specific traits.
YaSheng Set to Expand Agricultural Biotechnology R&D Spending Along With China Trends
Yasheng Group (press release), Mar. 4, 2008
http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release.do?id=828267

REDWOOD CITY, CA - The YaSheng Group (PINKSHEETS: YHGG) over the past 10 years has expanded Agricultural Biotechnology R&D spending following suit with China's National Trends.

YaSheng Group is leading the way in Northwest China in R&D through their Educational Institutes and high-tech R&D Growing Centers. As the company implements its international expansion plans, past and future investment into R&D will continue to fuel future growth. YaSheng Group has invested significant capital into agricultural R&D over the past 5 years. This investment, in conjunction with drought & insect resistant strains, and advanced drip irrigation has increased production of Hops, Potato, Corn, Seedlings, and Fruit crops. These improvements have helped secure new long term contracts with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tingzhou, Yanying, and other major companies. YaSheng will continue to invest in Agricultural Biotechnology over the next 5 years to continue this upward trend.

Jikun Huang, director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing, said: "There will be a substantial increase in investment in biotechnology, especially agricultural biotechnology." "Spending on biotechnology is expected to increase fivefold," said Zhang Liang Chen, president of the Agricultural University of China.

China's population currently stands at 1.3B, or about 20% of the world's total population. By 2020, it is expected to climb to 1.5B. Yet, the country claims only 7% of the world's total arable land.

India

Biotechnology may get separate ministry
The Financial Express (India), Mar. 17, 2008
http://www.financialexpress.com/news/Biotechnology-may-get-separate-ministry/285497/

New Delhi - The government is planning to upgrade the department of biotechnology (DBT) to the status of a full-fledged ministry. At present DBT is under the Union ministry of science and technology and is responsible for promoting researches for development of genetically modified (GM) crops and other biotechnological applications in agriculture and health sciences.

Speaking at the 22nd Foundation day of DBT on Monday, the Union science and technology minister, Kapil Sibal said, "DBT is 22 years old where 27 people are working. As the 21st century would be the century of biotechnology with researches and applications being carried out across the globe, the time is ripe that DBT be upgraded to the status of an independent ministry or a commission."

Asia

Soaring Corn Prices Test Japanese Distaste For GMO
Reuters via PlanetArk, Mar. 17, 2008 http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/47536/story.htm

TOKYO - Japan, the last major importer in Asia still holding out against genetically-modified corn for food use, could soon be buying more GMO material. Until recently, most corn processors have used only non-GMO crops to produce corn starch and corn syrup, a widely used sweetener, as some customers, mainly beer and drug makers, refuse to use GMOs.

But smaller corn processors have already used unseparated cargoes, taking advantage of lax labelling laws for small quantities of raw materials in foods in Japan.

Shrinking supplies mean the price premium on non-GMO corn that processors pay to importers is set to double to 10,000 yen ($97) per tonne next year, industry sources said. Currently, US GMO corn is imported at around 40,000 yen per tonne, doubling over the past two years on a similar rally in Chicago corn prices during the same period. "They cannot help but give up 'non-GMO only' this year as it is now a question of 'to survive or not'," said a corn trading manager at a major trading house, who declined to be named.

Use of GMO products would trigger negative campaigning by anti-GMO groups such as Greenpeace, which led a successful attack on GMO foods in Europe. "It is not something we can overlook due to a lack of strict labelling rules here," said Sachiyo Tanahashi, GMO campaigner at Greenpeace Japan. "We've been proposing top food makers produce organic products at a premium price to gauge the appetite of consumers, but so far in vain," Tanahashi said.
IMPROVING GMO REGULATION IN INDONESIA

To benefit from the advances in biotechnology, Indonesia's regulations should be set in place. A study was conducted by Dr. Bahagiawati and Dr. Sutrisno from the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development (ICABIOGRAD) on the "Application of Genetically Modified Crops: Status, Regulation and Detection Method in Indonesia". The results published in the Journal AgroBiogen, showed that Indonesia had several regulations on application of  transgenic crops such as Government Regulation (GR) 21/2005; GR 69/1999 on labeling of GMO products; and GR 28/2004 on GM food. However, according to the authors, the implementation of GR 69/1999 and GR 28/2004 are still not realized since there is no implementation guidance, lack of laboratory  facility, and capable human resources to implement the rules.

In Indonesia,  the labeling of GMO is still mandatory with the threshold of 5.0. The authors also mentioned that until now, Indonesia has only four GMO detection laboratories, of  which two are government laboratories (ICABIOGRAD, Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Drugs Agency), and two private laboratories (PT. Saraswanti and Atmajaya University). The authors further recommended that Indonesia needs to have a biosafety framework, enhanced facility and human resources to assess the existence of GMO in any food materials.

See more details at: http://www.indobiogen.or.id/agrobiogen.php or contact the authors for more information at s.trisno@indo.net.id, bahagiawati@indo.net.id, or Dewi Suryani of IndoBIC at  dewisuryani@biotrop.org
Indonesia develops a biotech drought tolerant rice
Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Research Center for Biotechnology (pressrelease), Mar. 13, 2008
http://www.biotek.lipi.go.id/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=409

The Research Centre of Biotechnology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has successfully developed a genetically engineered rainfed lowland rice cultivar with drought tolerance.  "We have created the cultivar by overexpression of the genes encoding the transcription factors OsHOX" , said Prof. Dr. Umar A. Jenie, Head of LIPI. Furthermore, the cultivar is now being tested and is already in the early stage of a confined trial in a green house facility. This will be followed by environment and food safety testings as well as a multilocation field testing.

LIPI has also developed a yellow stem borer {S. incertulas (Walk)} -resistant rice variety.  According to Prof. Jenie, the preliminary field testing result showed that the transgenic crops are not adversely affecting the environment ecology since there is no geneflow to another crop as well as to other insects or soil microbes. He also emphasized that all transgenic rice developed in Indonesia will be tested for its environmental and food safety.
Production of GM eggplant and papaya seen in Philippines
Rudy A. Fernandez, The Philippines Star, Mar. 2, 2008
http://www.philstar.com/scripts/article_print.php?PhilStar&id=2008030154&type=2

LOS BA?OS, Laguna  -  Within two years, the Philippines will be a commercial producer of genetically modified (GM) eggplant and papaya.

This is the timetable of  studies being done at the University of the Philippines Los Ba?os-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

The research on eggplant is being undertaken by UPLB-IPB in partnership with the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco). It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through ABSP II, EMERGE, and ISAAA.

Eggplant is now the country's top vegetable crop, covering about 20,000 hectares and yielding annually 179,000 tons valued at about P2 billion.

The new plant type is resistant to papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), which has been the scourge of the papaya industry since it was first discovered in Silang, Cavite, in 1982. It has since spread to other parts of the country, except Mindanao.

Other

Australia: Farms Set for Genetically Modified Canola Crops
Catherine Best, Herald Sun (Australia), March 1
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23299397-2862,00.html

More than 100 Victorian farmers are expected to plant genetically modified canola this season after a four-year moratorium on the GM crop ended yesterday. But a limited supply of seed will curtail the industry's growth in the short term.

Biotechnology giants Bayer and Monsanto have approval to develop and market GM canola, which is pesticide-tolerant and promises more efficient returns for farmers. Monsanto is providing the technology to three seed companies, which will supply a limited amount to growers in Victoria for autumn planting. Bayer does not expect to be ready for a commercial launch before 2010.

Debate continues to rage over the safety of GM crops. New South Wales, which has also lifted its GM canola bans, is considering tougher controls of the industry. Monsanto held two accreditation sessions for growers in regional Victoria this week, attended by 100 people. Three further sessions are planned next month.

Similar in ABC News (Australia), Feb. 29, 2008,
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/02/29/2175876.htm

Government regulators have given the two varieties the relevant environmental and health approvals, with a report finding the move will benefit Victoria by $115 million over the next eight years.

News in Science

A built-in strategy for transgene containment
Creation of selectively terminable transgenic rice
Zhejiang University (press release), Mar. 18, 2008
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-03/plos-abs031708.php

Hangzhou, China - A method of creating selective terminable transgenic rice was reported by the scientists of Zhejiang University in this week's PLoS ONE. Unintended spreading of transgenic rice by pollen and seed dispersal is a major concern for planting transgenic rice, especially transgenic rice expressing pharmaceutical or industrial proteins.

However, with the technology reported by Dr. Zhicheng Shen's group, the transgenic rice plants mixed in the conventional rice could be selectively eliminated by a spray of Bentazon, an herbicide commonly used for rice weed control.

"If you use Bentazon for weed control in your rice field, you do not need to worry about any possible contamination caused by transgenic rice created by our method. The herbicide will take care of it" said Dr. Shen, the corresponding author of the article.
Gene to Increase Yield Through Genetic Engineering
Via Checkbiotech.org
http://www.checkbiotech.org/green_News_Genetics.aspx?infoId=17249

Shital Dixit at Wageningen University discovered genes that radically enhance the seed production of rice and Arabidopsis plants in dry and saline conditions. Shital Dixit studied the so-called 'HARDY' gene, found in a collection of Arabidopsis mutants in which certain jumping genes increase the activity of genes. Via genetic modification, she developed Arabidopsis plants in which the HARDY gene was more active. She discovered that these genetically modified plants grew better under drought stress than ordinary Arabidopsis plants. The 'HARDY plants' used water more efficiently than normal plants. During desiccation of the soil, the plants were found to vaporise considerably less water while maintaining their growth. When the soil was dry, the HARDY plants lived on and recovered after being given water. They also proved to be resistant against high saline concentrations in the soil.

By means of genetic modification, Dixit managed to transfer the HARDY gene to rice. The HARDY rice plants also turned out to be tolerant to both drought and salt. To Dixit's surprise, these improved rice plants also performed at least as well in optimal cultivation conditions as ordinary rice plants. The general rule in plant biology is that plants with increased stress tolerance perform worse in optimal conditions than plants without tolerance. This makes the HARDY system even more promising in practical applications.

The HARDY gene encodes for a so-called transcription factor, meaning that a whole chain of genes is regulated. A plant can therefore turn an entire drought or salt tolerance mechanism on or off with a single switch. Dixit also discovered that the SHINE gene, which also encodes for a transcription factor, is capable of making rice tolerant to salt as well.
Major Advance in BioFuel Production

University of Maryland research started with bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay resulted in a process that may be able to convert large volumes of all kinds of plant products, from leftover brewer's mash to paper trash, into ethanol and other biofuel alternatives to gasoline. That process, developed by professors Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, professors of cell biology and molecular genetics, is the foundation of their incubator company Zymetis.

Chesapeake Bay marsh grass bacterium, S. degradans has an enzyme that could quickly break down plant materials into sugar, which can then be converted to biofuel.

The Zymetis researchers were unable to isolate the Bay bacterium again in nature, but they discovered how to produce the enzyme in their own laboratories. The result was Ethazyme, which degrades the tough cell walls of cellulosic materials and breaks down the entire plant material into bio-fuel ready sugars in one step, at a significantly lower cost and with fewer caustic chemicals than other methods.

When fully operational, the Zymetis process could potentially lead to the production of 75 billion gallons a year of carbon-neutral ethanol.
http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu:80/scitech/release.cfm?ArticleID=1613
Alpha-1-antitrypsin from tomato

Scientists from the Indian National Botanical Research Institute have developed transgenic tomato lines producing a functional human alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) protein. AAT is the most common serine protease inhibitor in the human plasma. Deficiency in AAT results to diseases like liver cancer, pulmonary emphysema, arthritis and dermatitis. Previous efforts to source AAT from transgenic bacteria, yeast cells and animals proved to be unsuccessful. The AAT derived from these hosts were either unstable, biologically inactive or mixed with immunogenic impurities.

The transgenes were found to be stably expressed in successive generations. AAT from the GM tomato lines exhibited high specific activity. On the average, 195 milligram of AAT can be obtained per kilogram of tomato leaves. The abstract of the article published by the journal Transgenic Research is available at http://www.springerlink.com/content/053336v077647j05/?p=afd6add86e7f4e06ad327a2c504f690a&pi=2
Parameters affecting gene flow in oilseed rape

The transfer of herbicide resistance genes via pollen-mediated gene flow from genetically engineered (GE) crops to non-GE crops is often raised as a concern as it relates to co-existence of different agricultural cultivation systems and weed management. Hence, a literature search for worldwide studies on cross-fertilization in oilseed rape was done to identify the major factors that affect pollen-mediated gene flow.

Alexandra Hüsken and Antje Dietz-Pfeilstetter of the Federal Biological Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry in Braunschweig discuss parameters affecting gene flow, that include shape, orientation, and size of pollen source and recipient field; isolation distance and border crops between pollen source and recipient field; and local environment and climatic conditions. View a copy of the report at  http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2008/artspdf/mar0801.pdf
SOYBEAN VARIETIES RESISTANT TO THE ROOT-KNOT NEMATODE

Purdue University researchers have identified soybean varieties resistant to the root-knot nematode, parasites of the genus Meloidogyne responsible for approximately six percent of global crop loss. The varieties will grow well in Midwestern American states like Indiana, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois where the presence of the parasite has recently been confirmed. In the United States alone, the nematode is responsible for a loss of more than 93,000 tons of soybeans annually. The researchers are now trying to identify nematode-resistant cover crop varieties. Cover crops are being used during winter to prevent soil erosion but can also provide habitat for the parasite. Another concern is that soybean, watermelon and maize - crops that are being cultivated in rotation in midwestern states, are all susceptible to root-knot nematodes.

Read more at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008a/080320WestphalNematode.html

BT MAIZE HAS NO EFFECT ON LADYBIRDS

One of the major concerns regarding genetically modified crops is their possible effects on non-target arthropods. A group of researchers from Spain monitored the effect of the Bt toxin Cry1Ab from the transgenic maize MON810 and Bt176 on the biology of the ladybird Stethorus punctillum. Ladybirds are important biological control agents of spidermites in agricultural crops.

Although the Cry1AB toxin was detected in ladybird populations, the scientists found out that neither MON810 nor Bt176 had any negative effects on S. punctillum fitness. There are no significant differences in the abundance of ladybird larvae in both transgenic and non-transgenic maize plots. Feeding trials showed that while ladybirds can process the Cry1Ab prototoxin, they lack the midgut receptors for the active toxins to bind to. Binding to the receptors in the midgut epithelial cells is a prerequisite for Cry protein toxicity.

Small helpers in the genome coordinate defence strategies in plants
PhysOrg.com, Mar. 20, 2008
http://www.physorg.com/news125240204.html

Not only are ribonucleic acids (RNA) active as transmitters of genetic information between DNA and proteins, but they also have an impact on gene expression in the form of small segments, 18-26 nucleotides long. These nucleic acids, called small RNAs (smRNAS), regulate developmental processes in animals and plants. Scientists in Prof. Ian Baldwin's group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena [Shree P. Pandey, Ian T. Baldwin: RNA-directed RNA polymerase1 (RdR1) mediates the resistance of Nicotiana attenuata to herbivore attack in nature The Plant Journal 50, 40-53 (2007)] have now found that smRNAs are also involved in plant defences against herbivores. After sequencing the whole smRNA vocabulary in tobacco plants, they found about 110,000 "words" consisting of RNAs, each with a length of 15 to 30 letters.

A bioinformatics analysis of the smRNA sequences showed that some of these "words" directly influenced the expression of those genes that regulate enzymes involved in the metabolism of plant hormones, especially jasmonate. Jasmonate is a signalling compound that regulates plant defence against insect herbivores. When the RdR1 gene is switched off in transgenic plants, jasmonate metabolism genes are down-regulated. This is easily observed because unlike other plants, transformed plants are heavily attacked by insects.

Using this "dictionary," they showed in subsequent experiments that the smRNA transcriptome and therefore the "word choice" changed after insect attack; as a result, certain defence genes were regulated differently. Small RNAs (smRNAs) play different roles in organisms. Their role in defending plants against viruses is particularly important. RdR1, was ten times more active than usual in the plants that had been induced with the spit of insect larvae. Genetically modified plants in which the expression of RdR1 had been deactivated were nearly defenceless against herbivore attack.

Recently it has been shown that when insect larvae ingest double-stranded RNA produced by the plants that target genes in the insect, these insect genes are silenced. In this way, the smRNAs could function post-ingestively as direct defenses that target digestion or detoxifications systems in the insect. (Pandey S.P., Shahi P., Gase K., Baldwin I.T.: Herbivory-induced changes in the small-RNA transcriptome and phytohormone signaling in Nicotiana attenuata, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, online first, March 14th, 2008. at http://www.mpg.de)

Natural genetic variation will enable breeding of maize with higher provitamin A levels.

A team of plant geneticists and crop scientists has pioneered an approach to breed maize with high levels of provitamin A, the precursors that are converted to vitamin A upon consumption. The team used association analysis, linkage mapping, expression analysis, and mutagenesis, to show variation at the carotenoid pathway promoting up to threefold difference in provitamin A compounds. Selection of favourable alleles with inexpensive molecular markers will now enable breeding of maize with higher provitamin A levels. The breakthrough has been published in the January 18, 2007 edition of Science.

Gene 'knockout' floors tobacco carcinogen
North Carolina State University (press release) via EurekAlert, Mar. 18, 2008 http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-03/ncsu-gf031808.php

In large-scale field trials, scientists from North Carolina State University have shown that a knock out a gene known to turn nicotine into nornicotine in burley tobacco plants significantly reduces harmful carcinogens in cured tobacco leaves. Nornicotine is a precursor to the carcinogen N-nitrosonornicotine (NNN). Varying percentages of nicotine are turned into nornicotine while the plant ages; nornicotine converts to NNN as the tobacco is cured, processed and stored. The field tests in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina compared cured burley tobacco plants with the troublesome gene silenced and "control" plant lines with normal levels of gene expression. The researchers found a six-fold decrease in carcinogenic NNN in the genetically modified tobacco plants, as well as a 50 percent overall reduction in the class of harmful compounds called TSNAs, or tobacco-specific nitrosamines. TSNAs are reported to be among the most important tobacco-related compounds implicated in various cancers in laboratory experiments,

Highly Specific Gene Silencing Successful In Rice
ScienceDaily, Mar. 21, 2008
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080319093106.htm

Using inactivated genes for rice breeding might sound far-fetched, but is not unusual. For example, the main change enabling the green revolution in rice resulted from loss of a gene that normally makes rice grow tall (and hence prone to toppling over if a plant makes many heavy rice grains). Thus, transferring inactivated genes is something rice breeders are indeed very much interested in.

MicroRNAs are 20-22 bp long RNA molecules. In animals as well as in plants they have important functions in regulating gene activity. In plants, they cause highly specific degradation of sequence-matched messenger RNAs, which encode enzymes, regulatory factors or other proteins. The end effect is that the corresponding gene is silenced. With artificial miRNAs (amiRNAs), this natural silencing pathway can be harnessed to inactivate genes of interest to the breeder, with unprecedented specificity.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, have now generated a tool that should greatly speed up this particular aspect of rice breeding: A team led by Norman Warthmann (MPI) successfully demonstrated highly specific gene silencing using so-called artificial miRNAs in rice (Oryza sativa).

One of the rice genes they targeted is called Eui1. When Eui1 is inactive, flowers tend to be fertilized by pollen from other plants, rather than being self-fertilized. While this trait, which essentially means male sterility, would be harmful to a wild rice plant, breeders use this genetic trick for hybrid seed production.

With an artificial miRNA targeting the Eui1 messenger RNA, the researchers at the International Rice Research Institute obtained within weeks plants with the desired property in two different rice varieties, including the agronomically important indica variety IR64, the most commonly grown strain in South-East Asia. Similarly, the researchers also report successful silencing of two other genes, Pds and SPl11.

Potential applications in rice breeding are manifold and they don't stop at rice genes. By targeting pathogen-derived genes, for example, it should be possible to enhance virus and insect resistance. In addition, because they act dominantly, they are also perfectly suited for hybrid breeding.

Journal reference: Warthmann N, Chen H, Ossowski S, Weigel D, Hervé P (2008) Highly Specific Gene Silencing by Artificial miRNAs in Rice. PLoS One 3(3): e1829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.000182

US PATENT OBTAINED FOR INCREASE IN AROMA COMPOUND IN THAI RICE

The research team at Kasetsart University in Thailand that elucidated the compound responsible for aroma in rice and the method to increase the aromatic fragrance has obtained a US patent. This invention is based on their discovery that the inhibition of Os2AP gene can result in the production of aromatic compound, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2AP), the major potent flavor component of aromatic rice. The patent was applied in the US in January 2005 and granted on 13 November 2007. This patent has also been filed in Australia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, India, France and the European Patent Office (EPO).

Rice Gene Discovery Unit is a collaborative research unit between BIOTEC and Kasetsart Univerity.

To find out more, visit the University official website at http://dna.kps.ku.ac.th/rice/ or contact Supat Attathom of Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center at safetybio@yahoo.com

Female sex hormone helps protect against hearing loss

Our hearing is one of the wonders of the human body which is all too often taken for granted. Like many things in life, we don’t really appreciate our ability to hear clearly until we begin to lose it. As we age, our ability to discern sounds begins to deteriorate. Therefore, new innovative therapies to guard the hearing of patients are eagerly sought after. Sometimes these treatments can come from unexpected sources, such as the 'female sex hormone' estradiol.

Team of researchers from Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute studied the role of estradiol in hearing loss recovery by examining mice with deficiencies in various estrogen receptors. They found that mice of both sexes deficient in only one estrogen receptor had reduced recovery from auditory trauma and that treatment with estrogen receptor drugs protected the animals against auditory damage. Their findings have recently been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_08_03_26_en.html&item=&artid=6894

Ants — Eusocial insects of the family Formicidae — are renowned for their extremely organised colonies and nests. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at Leeds University and the University of Copenhagen shows that despite their organisational skills, ants are quite capable of cheating and being corrupt, regardless of whether they are workers, drones or queens. The findings of the study, funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

'The accepted theory was that queens were produced solely by nurture,' comments Dr Hughes. 'Certain larvae were fed certain foods to prompt their development into queens and all larvae could have that opportunity,' he goes on to say. 'But we carried out DNA fingerprinting on five colonies of leaf-cutting ants and discovered that the offspring of some fathers are more likely to become queens than others.' According to Dr Hughes, these ants have a 'royal' gene or genes that push them to the top, thus putting potential contenders out of the running. 'If there were too many of one genetic line developing into queens in a single colony, the other ants would notice and might take action against them,' explains Dr Hughes. 'So we think that the males with these royal genes have evolved to somehow spread their offspring around more colonies and so escape detection. The rarity of the royal lines is actually an evolutionary strategy by the cheats to escape suppression by the altruistic masses that they exploit.' Ant colonies produce males and new queens several times each year, and they leave their nests to go to other colonies to meet and mate. While the males die soon after, females thrive and establish new colonies.

http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_08_03_27_en.html&item=&artid=6915

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