News in December 2008
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2009-01-04

Global

FAO: ALMOST 1 BILLION PEOPLE ARE STARVING, FOOD PRICES STILL HIGH

High food prices have pushed an additional 40 million people into hunger this year, increasing the total number of starving people to 963 millions worldwide or 14 percent of the world’s population, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The UN agency reports that although prices of major cereals fell by more than half from their peaks earlier this year, they are still 28 percent higher on average than two years ago. The world hunger situation may further deteriorate as the financial crisis hits the real economies of more and more countries. For more information, read http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/8836/icode/  FAO's The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 is available for download at http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0291e/i0291e00.htm

INCREASED INVESTMENT IN AGRICULTURE WILL YIELD HIGH BENEFITS

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in Maputo, Mozambique, CGIAR chair Katherine Sierra noted that cuts in funding for research or programs for implementing new discoveries would be catastrophic for millions of smallholder farmers and their families throughout Africa and much of Latin America and Asia.

A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) revealed that increase in public investment in agricultural research in developing countries would cut by more than half the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than $1 a day by 2020. For more information visit, http://www.cgiar.org/. The report can be downloaded at http://www.ifpri.org/PUBS/agm08/jvbagm2008.asp

The first results of the standard Eurobarometer 70 at http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm

Call for Proposals

The Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has opened the Call for Proposals under the Benefit-sharing Fund of the Treaty for its first biennial cycle (2008-2009) and invites applications from entities and institutions based in the countries which are Contracting Parties to the Treaty. The priority areas for funding are: information exchange, technology transfer and capacity building; managing and conserving plant genetic resources on-farm; and the sustainable use of plant genetic resources. The deadline for the submission of pre-proposals is 15 January 2009 and the maximum grant size for projects is 50,000 USD.

Visit the Website of the Treaty for detailed information on the Call.(http://www.planttreaty.org/funding_en.htm)

Books & Articles

'Tomorrow's Table - Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food' by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak; Oxford University Press, New York, 2008. 226 pp. $29.95, ?17.99. ISBN 9780195301755.
Organic and GM - Why Not?
Mark Tester, Science, Vol. 322, page 1190; Nov. 21, 2008

To increase harvests and efficiency. The authors propose that combining genetic engineering with organic farming offers the best path to sustainable food production. The authors describe the possibilities for GM to assist organic agriculture with examples drawn from their own and others' research. Pest control is a particular focus. The false dichotomy that has been constructed between GM crops and organic farming can be illustrated with numerous examples. The organic movement's sustained rejection of current application of GM with Bt toxin appears increasingly illogical as evidence continues to accumulate that it does reduce pesticide use. In fact, this reduction is the principal reason farmers pay more for the biotech seeds-their lowered expenditures on pesticides are saving them money.

The authors marshal many additional examples to support their thesis that GM technologies and organic agriculture are quite compatible. Their discussion of these two topics exposes the complexity of the biological systems in which the issues surrounding them have to be addressed.

OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Turkey 2008

Now available from the Online Bookshop

Events

Czech Academy of Sciences in the frame of EU Presidency:
24.25.2.2009 EUFORDIA 2009
21.–27.3.2009 CHEP´2009 – Computing in High Energy and Nuclear Physics, Inst. of Physics, CAS
24.–26.3.2009 Strengthening the ERA through Research Infrastructures, Conference Centrum CAS, Liblice
2.–3.4.2009 COMPASS Programmatic Conference, Inst. of Plasma Physics CAS
16.–18.4.2009 The role of basic research in the structure of ERA
20.4.2009 Conference of National Representatives of ETP–ICT, ISTAG
21.–23.4.2009 European Future Technologies Conference – FET09 and exhibition
21.–24.4.2009 10th Central European Workshop on Soil Zoology¨, Biology Centrum CAS, České Budějovice
13.–15.5.2009 Stocktaking of 10 years of Women and Science activities – Helsinky Group, Smíchov
19.–23.5.2009 World Biodiversity: Aspects of the European Responsibility, Průhonice
2.–5.6.2009 EURONANOFORUM 2009, Congress Centrum
7.–11.6.2009 PERMEA´2009 – The Fourth Visegrad Conference on Membrane Science and Technology, Inst. of Macromolecular Chemistry CAS, Hotel Pyramida
28.6.–1.7.2009 ENHR 2009: Changing Housing Markets: Integration and Segmentation
Inst. of Sociology CAS
A second call for proposals has also been published.
7-8 May 2009 - Prague

This call targets participants willing to propose and organise a 'Forum' session. About 12 'Forum' sessions will be organised on a 'bottom-up' basis by the participants themselves. http://ec.europa.eu/research/conferences/2009/rtd-2009/index_en.cfm?pg=calls-forum

Practical conditions

bulletConference rooms will be provided (capacity ranging from 50 to 200 seats), and events will take place during the 2 days of the conference. All events will be announced in the final programme as well as on the conference web site..
bulletParticipants willing to organise an event are invited to submit a proposal to the Commission. Preference will be given to proposals involving at least one New Member State [1]
bulletProposals should be submitted to the Commission no later than 28 February 2009 using the form below. The results of the Commission’s selection will be announced in Spring 2009.
IOBC/WPRS Working Group ‘GMOs in Integrated Plant Production’
Ecological Impact of Genetically Modified Organisms (EIGMO)
14-16 May 2009, Rostock, Germany

Key-note speakers

bulletEmilio Rodriguez Cerezo (European Commission-Joint Research Centre, Sevilla, Spain) - Agronomic and economic impacts of Bt maize in Spain:evidence from a large survey of commercial farms
bulletBehzad Ghareyazie (Agricultural Biotechnology ResearchInstitute, Karaj, Iran) - Biosafety concerns of the worlds first commercialized Bt rice
bulletBryan Griffiths (Teagasc, Environment Research Centre, Ireland) - Effects of Bt-maize within a GM-farming system on soil populations and processes: A review of the ECOGEN project

Next week Tuesday (16 December) the local organizer Thomas Thieme will activate a website (http://www.eigmo-rostock.de/) which will provide you all necessary information regarding the meeting. The website will be updated regularly.

Please note that the deadline for abstract submission is February 28, 2009

Deadline for registration is March 15, 2009

Please distribute this announcement to colleagues who are possibly interested to attend the meeting.

Proteomic Forum, March 29 – April 2, 2009, Freie Universität, Berlin
www.ctw-congress.de
Microbial Stress: from Molecules to Systems 7-10 May 2009 | Semmering, Austria
http://microbial-stress.fh-campuswien.ac.at/Website/Registrationform_files/YSMGApplicationForm.pdf
ACHEMA 29th International Exhibition-Congress on Chemical Engineering, Environmental Protection and Biotechnology – 11-15 May, 2009, Frankfurt am Main. www.achema.de
14th European Congress on Biotechnology – Symbiosis
13-16 September 2009, Barcelona. Deadline Abstracts submission 1st April 2009
www.ecb14.eu
European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology 2009 (EFIB)

Following the sell out success of the inaugural European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology which attracted more than 260 international leaders in white biotechnology, EuropaBio is pleased to announce that preparation is already under way for the follow up event in 2009. EFIB 2009 will take place in Lisbon from 20-22 October 2009 For more information or to register, please visit: www.efibforum.com.

BioNanoMed2009; 26-27 January; Krems, Austria

The congress will provide a forum for local as well as international students, researchers, technologists, entrepreneurs as well as decision maker of health care organisations and public organisations  to interact on the latest developments and the current, emerging and future trends in the converging fields of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Medicine. Exciting lectures by leading international scientists and invited talks, contributed oral and poster presentations will offer delegates a good opportunity to get informed and to discuss new and pioneering developments and to initiate cooperation projects.

Europe - EU

New approach to animal testing

Janez Potočnik speech to open the annual EPAA (European Partnership for Akternative Approaches to Animal Testing) Conference. The European Commission will table its long-awaited proposal for a revision of the directive of 1986 on the use of animals in research. Our proposal will be to modernise and further harmonise rules in Europe in order to minimise the use of animals in research, to strictly regulate their use and to replace as much as possible animal testing by alternative methods. The EPAA's research Working Group 2 has become an important element in implementing the '3Rs' of Reduction, Refinement and Replacement in many scientific and industrial areas.

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/08/574&type=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

RR 2 YIELD SOYBEAN GETS EU APPROVAL

The European Union has approved Monsanto’s Roundup Ready2Yield soybean for use in feed and food across its 27 nations for the next 10 years. The glyphosate-resistant soybean, however, is not intended to be grown in Europe's fields. The approval follows the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific opinion concluding that the GM soybean "is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human and animal health or on the environment". EU laws allow GMO approvals if Council Ministers fail to reach a consensus under a complicated weighed voting system.

EU COURT FINES FRANCE FOR DELAYING GMO LAW

The European Union Court of Justice has ordered France to pay a 10 million euros (US $13 million) fine for failing to update its laws on genetically modified organisms and foods. France’s refusal to implement the European Union’s GMO law is “unlawful” says the Luxembourg-based court and that it “finds that the breach serious, especially in the light of its impact on the public and private interests involved”.

France argued that it couldn’t adopt the GMO laws because of “internal difficulties” including violent anti-GMO demonstrations. The EU court, however, rejected those arguments. The country has begun implementing the GMO rules in July this year, nearly six years after the October 2002 deadline that the EU had set.

The press release is available at http://curia.europa.eu/en/actu/communiques/cp08/aff/cp080087en.pdf

Animal Testing: Launch of a new website to inform about the development of alternative methods

The European Commission has launched today a new website, the so-called 'Tracking System for Alternative test methods Review Validation and Approval (TSAR)', designed to track the development of new alternative test methods which should replace, reduce and refine current animal testing.

"The launch of this website is good news: it proves that we are serious about our commitment to develop alternative methods to animal testing and to be transparent about progress being made" said European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. "It is in all our interests to avoid the use of animals in testing, for both ethical and animal welfare reasons. We also need fast, reliable and cost-effective test methods which ensure the safety of products for users, to help European industry, and which satisfy regulators."

The purpose of TSAR is to enable citizens and other interested parties to track progress of the review, validation and approval of alternative test methods, ensuring greater transparency of the process. The ultimate aim will be to cover each and every step of the validation route, from submission of a new method for pre-validation through to final adoption by its inclusion in EU legislation and/or related Guidance Documents. It will also explain the decisions that have been made at every step of the process. When the final decision on a proposed test method is negative, TSAR will clearly indicate the reasons why this decision has been taken. The website will be updated whenever a phase in the process is completed, ensuring the latest information is always available. However, to enable a rapid launch, the initial version covers only the part of regulatory approval of methods in the field of chemicals.

New alternative tests are subject to a process involving several stages of development, from proposal for validation to final inclusion in the EU regulatory framework. By consulting the website, it will be possible to check whether an alternative test exists, for example, to test for "skin irritation and corrosion" and to know if that method is already accepted in the EU legislation or for other regulatory use. Detailed information on each method will also allow interested users to know which domain of the 3Rs the method applies to - i.e. if it reduces, replaces or refines testing on animals - and which legislation refers to the method (in case of methods already adopted for regulatory use).

The website is managed by the Joint Research Centre's Institute for Health and Consumer Protection. Website address: http://ihcp.jrc.ec.europa.eu/tsar

For more information, see also: SPEECH/08/574

EFSA'S OPINION ON PIONEER'S GM MAIZE

Following its intended use, Pioneer's 59122 x NK603 maize is as safe as its non-GM counterparts with respect to potential effects on human and animal health or the environment. This is the conclusion of the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms on its assessment of the insect-resistant, glyphosate- and glufosinate-tolerant genetically modified maize line. The scientific assessment included molecular characterization of the inserted DNA and expression of the new proteins, comparative analysis of agronomic traits and composition, and evaluation of the new protein and the whole food/feed with respect to nutritional quality, potential toxicity and allergenicity.

Pioneer's 59122 x NK603 maize has already been approved in seven countries to date. In the European Union, both individual traits have already been approved for import, food and feed use; 59122 in October 2007 and NK603 in March 2005.

The paper is available for download at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902200229.htm

Study shows Europeans understand food labels

Are Europeans knowledgeable about nutrition information? A pan-European study by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) says they are. The study on consumer knowledge of food labels has shown that the majority of European consumers recognise and understand the improved forms of nutrition information on labels including the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) plan. More than 17 000 people from Germany, France, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and the UK, in particular, took part in the study. It should be noted that while many consumers recognise and understand food labels, on average, only 18% of the participants regularly check the nutrition information found on food packaging. http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_08_12_16_en.html&item=Infocentre&artid=9373

Bring young people back to science

Young Europeans are shunning science degrees in greater numbers than ever before. If this trend continues, the EU will start to lag behind China and India in scientific research and development, threatening European competitiveness and prosperity. A workshop held in Maastricht earlier this year looked at ways of improving the appeal of a scientific career and what the scientific professions must do to attract and retain top quality staff. http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_08_12_03_en.html&item=Infocentre&artid=9193

The flow of graduates in engineering and the hard sciences such as physics and chemistry continues to dwindle. At the same time that demand for science degrees declines in the EU, the opposite is happening in China and India. China is producing 300 000 graduates in the sciences every year — three times the number that EU universities are producing. And India is having similar success; 450 000 engineering graduates every year are filing out of Indian universities.

There is a pressing need now in the EU to attract students back to the sciences. EU companies are even starting to recruit science graduates from China and India to replace the shortfall. The move away from the sciences is a general trend that is not only happening among undergraduates, but also among young researchers. There is a need to understand globally what is happening in the science and engineering labour force, and the European Science Foundation (ESF) has taken action by organising a workshop that took place in May 2008 entitled 'The Labour Market for Scientists and Engineers'.
Environment: major additional effort needed to halt biodiversity loss by 2010

The EU will fail to meet its target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 unless there is significant additional effort over the next two years. This is the key conclusion of the first comprehensive assessment of progress in implementing a Biodiversity Action Plan to halt biodiversity loss in the EU. Despite some encouraging results, notably with the further extension of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas and important investments in biodiversity, the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem concerns into other sectoral policies remains an important challenge. The new Communication from the Commission identifies priorities for further action.

"This continuing loss of biodiversity is critical, not just because of the intrinsic value of nature, but also because of the resulting decline in vital ‘ecosystem services.’ We have set an ambitious biodiversity target for 2010, we know what needs to be done and we have the tools to achieve this. I therefore call on all Member States to redouble their efforts to sustain the variety of life, and the health of the ecosystems that underpin our prosperity and well being” said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Given the critical importance of knowledge to support the development of biodiversity policy there is a continuing need to ensure that adequate funding levels are provided at both Community and Member State level. The Commission also supports the proposal to establish an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES), to strengthen independent scientific advice to global policy making.

For more details visit: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/comm2006/index_en.htm

Africa

KENYA APPROVES BIOSAFETY LAW

After rigorous and extensive stakeholder consultations since 2002, the Kenyan Parliament overwhelmingly passed the Biosafety Bill on December 9, 2008. The Bill was supported by Cabinet ministers and other parliamentarians who debated it from a highly informed perspective. The Bill is a fundamental instrument to comply with requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and safeguard Kenyans against unintended use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) especially transboundary movements. Minister for Agriculture William Ruto said that "The benefits arising out of the Bill are enormous. It gives this country a comprehensive and coordinated manner in which to tap benefits from research and enhance self sufficiency in food production”. For more information on the Biosafety Law, contact Mr. Harrison Macharia,Chief Science Secretary, The National Council for Science and Technology at harrison@ncstnbo.or.ke or harimacharia@yahoo.com

NEPAD WORKSHOP DISCUSSES CHALLENGES FOR NORTH AFRICA

Over 130 scientists from North African countries (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Chad) attended the NEPAD biotechnology workshop in Ezzahra City, Tunisia to discuss the challenges for North Africa and the possibility for a regional integrated research program. NEPAD or the New Partnership for Africa's Development is a program of action of the African Union for the redevelopment of the African Continent.

For further information, contact Ismail AbdelHamid of the Egypt Biotechnology Information Center at ismail@isaaa.org or ismail@egypt-bic.com.

A Fruitless Campaign
Editorial, Nature 456, 421-422 (27 November 2008) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7221/full/456421b.html

'Another protracted fight over genetically modified crops in Africa will be costly and wasteful' 'Africa's nations cannot afford to do without new technologies in agriculture'.

The African Union eventually brought together a group of key individuals and institutions.

The group included Tewolde Egziabher, head of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, who is a leading environmental campaigner and a vocal critic of multinationals in developing countries. Sat next to him was Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University and a passionate proponent of technology's role in economic development. And next to him was Cheick Modibo Diarra, chairman of Microsoft in Africa.

The group eventually came to a consensus that Africa's nations cannot afford to do without new technologies in agriculture - but that all new technologies would need appropriate safeguards to protect human health and the environment. This seemingly obvious statement was, in fact, a rare example of successful collaboration between multinationals and environmentalists.

The fragility of that consensus is illustrated by the fate of a much larger initiative, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. That effort attempted to forge a similar consensus among the major players in world agriculture, but fell apart in January when industry representatives chose to walk away from the table (see Nature 451, 223-224; 2008). They felt unable to sign a document that did not list biotechnology as a high enough priority.

From the other side, meanwhile, GM opponents are trying to rekindle the controversy. A new opposition campaign - http://www.bangmfood.org - was endorsed in the November issue of The Ecologist magazine, an influential voice in the global environmental movement.

KARI LAUNCHES INSECT-PROOF BIOSAFETY GREENHOUSE

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Biotechnology Center (KARI-Biotech) has unveiled a state-of-the art insect-proof biosafety greenhouse for research into the impact of transgenic crops on insects. KARI Biotech is currently conducting trials on various biotechnology crops such as Bt cotton, Bt maize, cassava, sorghum and sweet potatoes.

Construction of the greenhouse was funded by the Danish government through the BiosafeTrain Project at a cost of about USD 40,000. The facility is an addition to the center's existing level-II biosafety greenhouse. While launching the facility, Dr Jamleck Mutugi, Chairman of KARI Board of Management, said Kenya being a severely food deficit country needs to expedite the process of biotech crop adoption to boost agricultural productivity. BiosafeTrain Project's aims to build capacity in East Africa for biosafety and ecological impact assessment of genetically modified organisms.

For more information, contact Daniel Otunge (d.otunge@cgiar.org) of ISAAA AfriCenter.

America & Caribbean

Cuba Ready to Authorize GM Corn Crop:
Esteban Israel Reuters, Dec. 2, 2008
http://www.reuters.com/

Havana - Cuba could soon authorize the planting of 124 acres of genetically-modified corn for the first time to help reduce its dependence on costly food imports, Cuban scientists said on Tuesday. Regulators are expected to approve this initial crop of biotech corn, which would provide enough seed to expand to 14,830 acres next year, said Carlos Borroto, deputy director of state-run Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Borroto said biotech corn similar to the Cuban type had already passed strict controls in Japan, Canada and Europe. Cuban laboratories are also in the development stages of producing genetically modified soy, potatoes and tomatoes.

CUBA SET TO EMBRACE BIOTECH

Genetically modified plants may soon take roots in Cuba, according to Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Director Carlos Borroto. The country hopes that by adopting GM crops, it will free itself of agricultural imports. Cuba currently has to import more than 50 percent of its food. Insect and herbicide-resistant transgenic maize varieties developed by Cuban scientists are currently in the farm trial phase in the provinces of La Habana, Santa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba, according to a report by Granma Internacional. Cuban research institutes are also working hard to develop genetically modified soy, potatoes and tomatoes.

Read the original article at http://www.granma.cu/ingles/2008/diciembre/juev11/corn.html

Asia

FAO: GLOBAL WARMING THREATENS PACIFIC FOOD SECURITY

According to the report "Climate Change and Food Security in Pacific Island Countries", jointly published by FAO, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program and the University of the South Pacific, climate change-related disasters are already imposing serious constraints on development in the islands, which appear to be in a constant mode of recovery.

Read the press release at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/8658/icode/

The report can be downloaded at http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0530e/i0530e00.htm

Food Crunch Opens Doors to Bioengineered Crops
Elaine Kurtenbach, Associated Press,  December 1st, 2008

After delaying the long-expected commercialization of GM grains for years, China's leaders in July endorsed a 13-year, $2.9 billion program to promote use of genetically altered crops and livestock. Beijing is on the verge of releasing an insect-resistant rice variety.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is a champion of the new agriculture. "I strongly advocate making great efforts to pursue transgenic engineering. The recent food shortages around the world have further strengthened that belief," Wen recently told Science magazine. Even in China, despite its hefty investments in the research, few are familiar with genetic modification. Some who have heard of it remain cautious.

Besides papayas, China allows farmers to grow GM varieties of green peppers and tomatoes, along with several nonfood crops. But genetically modified rice and wheat are still in field tests. Those test facilities are kept under high security, both to prevent contamination of non-GM crops and to protect the country's own GM technology. Beijing seems determined not to cede its potentially huge local markets to big agribusinesses like the U.S. company Monsanto and Switzerland's Sygenta AG.

Vietnam is pushing ahead with an ambitious program to develop commercial GM crops to reduce reliance on imports. In May, South Korea, which already imports GM soybeans, began importing bioengineered corn to help bridge shortfalls of conventional corn after China began limiting its exports.

PHILIPPINES ALLOWS IMPORT OF BT COTTON SEEDS FROM INDIA

Cotton varieties genetically modified to resist pest infestation may soon take roots in the Philippines after the Bureau of Plant Industries (BPI) issued a permit to import Bt cotton seeds from India for greenhouse trials. The permit was issued in response to the request made by the Philippine Cotton Development Authority (CDA), an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture. CDA was earlier able to secure permission from the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines to test Bt cotton lines.

Read more at http://www.commodityonline.com/news/India%E2%80%99s-Bt-Cotton-to-spin-success-in-Philippines-12917-3-1.html.

The FAS GAIN Report is available at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200811/146306584.pdf.

For more information on biotechnology in the Philippines, contact Jenny Panopio at jap@agri.searca.org

Bt Brinjal (Egg plant) in India
http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/default.html#Pocket_K_No._35.htm

Brinjal is grown on nearly 550,000 hectares in India, making the country the second largest producer after China with a 26% world production share. It is an important cash crop for more than 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers. Brinjal, being a hardy crop that yields well even under drought conditions, is grown in almost all parts of the country. Major brinjal producing states include: West Bengal (30% production share), Orissa (20%), and Gujarat and Bihar (around 10% each). In 2005-2006, the national average productivity of brinjal was recorded around 15.6 tons per hectare. In spite of its popularity among small and resource-poor farmers, brinjal cultivation is often input intensive, especially for insecticide applications. Brinjal is prone to attack from insect pests and diseases, the most serious and destructive of which is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) Leucinodes orbonalis. FSB feeds predominantly on brinjal and is prevalent in all brinjal producing states. It poses a serious problem because of its high reproductive potential. FSB larvae bore into tender shoots and fruits, retarding plant growth, making the fruits unsuitable for the market and unfit for human consumption. Fruit damage as high as 95% and losses of up to 70% in commercial plantings have been reported.

Farmers resort to frequent insecticide applications and biological control measures to counter the threat of FSB. However, since FSB larvae are concealed within shoots and fruits, the pest normally escapes insecticide sprays. Threfore farmers tend to over-spray insecticides, because they rely mainly on the subjective assessments of the visual presence of the pest. In addition to the financial cost associated with indiscriminate insecticide applications and its negative effects on the environment, high pesticide residues in vegetables and fruits pose serious risk to consumers' health and safety.

FSB-resistant brinjal or Bt brinjal was developed using a transformation process similar to the one used in the development of Bt cotton, a biotech crop that was planted on 6.2 million hectares in India in 2007. Bt brinjal incorporates the cry1Ac gene expressing insecticidal protein to confer resistance against FSB. The cry1Ac gene is sourced from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). When ingested by the FSB larvae, the Bt protein is activated in the insect's alkaline gut and binds to the gut wall, which breaks down, allowing the Bt spores to invade the insect's body cavity. The FSB larvae die a few days later.

Bt Brinjal was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco). The company used a DNA construct containing the cry1Ac gene, a CaMV 35S promoter and the selectable marker genes nptII and aad, to transform young cotyledons of brinjal plants. A single copy elite event, named EE-1, was selected and introduced into hybrid brinjal in Mahyco's breeding program. Mahyco also generously donated the Bt brinjal technology to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore and University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad. The event EE-1 was backcrossed into open-pollinated brinjal varieties. Mahyco also donated the technology to public research institutions in the Philippines and Bangladesh

INDIAN MINISTER CALLS FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY IN POTATO IMPROVEMENT

Mr. Sharad Pawar, Indian Minister of Agriculture, said that biotechnology can play a key role in the improvement of potato while inaugurating the Global Potato Conference (GPC) on 9-12 Dec 2008 at New Delhi. The conference was organized by the Indian Potato Association (IPA) along with Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The conference complemented FAO’s efforts which had earlier identified potato crop as “Food of the Future” and also declared 2008 as the “International Year of the Potato”. Mr. Pawar added that India is a partner in the multinational “Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium” to understand and utilize the genome based knowledge in potato improvement. He also said that the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) has already developed promising potato transgenics for late blight resistance and better nutritional qualities. Transgenics for better processing qualities, and viral and bacterial wilt resistance are also in progress. The rules for regulation of GM crops in India are well in place and ICAR has also prepared guidelines for registration and commercialization of plant varieties, he said. For additional details about the Global Potato Conference (GPC) visit  http://www.gpc2008.in/. For more information about biotech development in India contact b.choudhary@cgiar.org or k.gaur@cgiar.org

BANGLADESH AG MINISTER CALLS FOR GENE REVOLUTION AFTER GREEN REVOLUTION

Bangladesh Minister of Agriculture CS Karim urged scientists and other stakeholders of biotechnology to work on various aspects of this new science to achieve food security in a country facing increasing population. He explained that the Green Revolution has ended and "we need to find more powerful gene revolution tools for food, feed, medicine, renewable energy and other human needs."  During the inauguration of the three-day long “International Symposium on Regulatory and Safety Issues on Biotech Research in Developing Countries” in Dhaka, he also lauded the role of scientists and policy makers in working towards regulatory mechanisms and the on-going trial of three GM crops in Bangladesh at various levels by both public and private sectors.

Dr. MHA Hassan, TWAS Executive Director, President Shamsher Ali of the Academy of Sciences, Vice Chancellor Jamilur Reza Choudhury of the BRAC University, and Minister (in charge) Manik Lal Samaddar of the Ministry of Science and Information & Communication Technology also spoke on the development of regulatory and safety capacity for biotechnological applications in Bangladesh. The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and BRAC University in addition to other sponsors organized the symposium which was attended by around 50 foreign and 500 local participants.

Additional information about the workshop can be obtained by emailing Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin of the Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at nasir@yahoo.com.

Other

CONTROLLED RELEASE OF GM MAIZE IN AUSTRALIA

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has received an approval from Australia's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) for the limited and controlled release of up to 11 maize lines genetically modified to investigate gene functions. The trial is authorized to take place at a research facility in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on a total area of 750 m2 between December 2008 and May 2013. The GM lines express modified versions of a transposable genetic element. In the presence of the enzyme transposase, the modified transposable element can move within the maize genome resulting to the over expression of certain genes. The transgenic maize lines also contain the antibiotic and herbicide selectable marker genes hph and bar.

For more information, visit http://www.ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/dir086-2008

News in Science

SEMBIOSYS BEGINS PHASE I/II CLINICAL TRIAL OF PLANT-PRODUCED INSULIN

Genetically enhanced safflower producing insulin? That's what Canada-based biotechnology company SemBioSys Genetics Inc. is developing. The company announced that it has initiated a phase I/II clinical trial of its safflower-derived insulin with the first injection of its drug in humans. The trial will take place in the United Kingdom and will include up to 30 volunteers in a three-arm study. The study aims to demonstrate the bioequivalence of plant-produced insulin to commercially available insulin products. The company expects that results will be available as early as first quarter of 2009.

Read more at http://micro.newswire.ca/release.cgi?rkey=1612036526&view=36078-0&Start=0

Scientists have developed purple tomatoes which they hope may be able to keep cancer at bay.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7688310.stm

The fruit are rich in an antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin which is thought to have anti-cancer properties.

A team from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, created the tomatoes by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower, which is high in anthocyanin.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, found mice who ate the tomatoes lived longer.

DOE JOINT GENOME INSTITUTE COMPLETES SOYBEAN GENOME

Soybean is an important agricultural commodity next only to corn. Hence, the research community stands to benefit from the complete draft assembly of the soybean (Glycine max) genetic code released by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI). This information is important to advance new breeding strategies for the crop that accounts for 70 percent of the world’s edible protein. Soybean is also an emerging feedstock for biodiesel production. See the DOE news release at http://www.jgi.doe.gov/News/news_12_08_08.html

ARCADIA AND AATF TO DEVELOP HARDY RICE VARIETIES FOR AFRICA

California-based Arcadia Biosciences and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) announced an agreement in which Arcadia will perform technology development activities for nitrogen use efficient (NUE) and salt-tolerant African rice. Under the agreement, Arcadia will perform plant transformation, greenhouse trials and field trials in the United States, and will work alongside AATF-contracted researchers in Africa to facilitate a rapid technology transfer process. Read the press release at http://www.arcadiabio.com/pr_0032.php

RUSSIAN WHEAT APHIDS ARE NO MATCH FOR NEW BARLEY

Troublesome Russian wheat aphids hoping to feed and live comfortably on barley plants are in for bad news. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a new barley variety that is highly resistant to the insect pest. Russian wheat aphids, or Diuraphis noxia, are major pests of cereal crops. In the first 20 years after its introduction into the US, the pest has caused wheat and barley farmers billions of dollars in losses. Read the article at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081208.htm

PATHOGEN DISABLES PLANT'S 'INTRUDER ALARM' TO GAIN ENTRY

Thanks to cell surface receptors, plants can protect themselves from pathogen invasions. These cell receptors act as the plants' intruder detection system. Once activated, they will trigger a cascade of signals that will ultimately lead to production of antimicrobial compounds to ward off or kill the bacterial invaders.

Scientists from Imperial College London, Max Planck Institute in Cologne and Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center studied the pathogen that causes bacterial speck disease in tomato plants. They found that the pathogen is very effective at attacking tomato plants because it deactivates and destroys the cell surface receptors- pretty much how an intruder would deactivate the burglar alarm before gaining entry to a house. The researchers studied the mechanism of pathogen entry using Arabidopsis, the laboratory rat of the plant world. The findings may help scientists develop ways to tackle the bacterial speck pathogen, and other plant diseases, without the need for pesticides.

The paper published by Current Biology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.063.

For more information, contact Danielle Reeves at danielle.reeves@imperial.ac.uk

EPIGENETICS: FORGETTING MIGHT BE AS IMPORTANT AS REMEMBERING

Expression of a gene depends as much on its location as its primary DNA sequence. Epigenetic modifications, or the changes to the protein around which DNA is wound, can also alter gene expression patterns. Epigenetic changes can be passed on from parent cell to daughter cell, ensuring each cell line has the proper characteristics consistently over many generations. Transposons or jumping genes are quite distinct from other genes, because they are nearly always epigenetically inactivated. Silencing transposons is important to retain the integrity of the genome, since these mobile genetic elements can insert themselves randomly, causing deleterious mutations and gene silencing.

Scientists have known that once triggered, the maize plant "remembers," and keeps the transposons "silenced" generation after generation, even after the trigger is lost. Researchers at the McGill University and University of California, Berkeley, found that this is not always the case. At certain positions in the genome, the transposon reawakens when the trigger is lost. The discovery suggests that the epigenetic landscape of plant genomes may be more subtle and interesting than previously thought, with the ability to remember epigenetic silencing varying depending on position. Erasure of heritable information might prove to be an important component of the epigenetic machinery.

Read the complete article at http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/news/item/?item_id=103077. Download the paper published by PLoS Genetics at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1000216

GENES THAT GOVERNS TOXIN PRODUCTION IN GRAY MOLD FOUND

The fungus Botrytis cinerea, also known as the gray mold, is regarded as one of gardeners' worst enemies because of the damage it can cause to a range of plants.

Scientists at the Brown University in the U.S., University de Cadiz in Spain and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research have figured out how the fungus's deadly toxin is made and how it might be disarmed naturally.

Led by Muriel Viaud and David Cane, the researchers identified a cluster of five genes that is responsible for production of botrydial, the toxin the mold uses to kill and invade plant cells. Introduction of a mutant gene that suppresses the function of sesquiterpene cyclase, the mastermind enzyme for botrydial production, resulted to molds that cannot produce the toxin. The discovery will allow scientists to devise ways to control the mold without using fungicides.

For more information, read http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2008/12/mold. The paper published by ACS Chemical Biology is available at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/cb800225v

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