News in January 2009
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2009-01-04

General

New Light on a Hidden Treasure, FAO's report warns that the economic crisis threatens to reduce flows to developing countries of investment and development assistance, including the support to agriculture that has helped many countries strengthen their potato sectors. Developed countries may be tempted to raise trade barriers, which already apply stiff tariffs on imported potato products, while the banking crisis will leave many farmers with no credit to invest in production in 2009.

FAO and the International Potato Center (CIP) call for "potato science at the service of the poor" to strengthen potato farming in developing countries. FAO noted that potato growers urgently need better quality planting material, varieties that are more resistant to pests, diseases, drought and climate change, and farming systems that make more sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/8901/icode/. New Light on a Hidden Treasure can be downloaded at http://www.potato2008.org/pdf/IYPbook-en.pdf

UN CALLS FOR CONTINUED EFFORTS TO FIGHT HUNGER

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned that the global economic crisis could push more people into poverty and urged rich nations to step up their commitments against hunger and malnutrition. "The underlying trends show that global agricultural production cannot keep up with rising demand. The world's 450 million smallholder farms can increase production, lifting millions of poor farm families out of poverty, while helping to feed the world, if they get the support and investment they need." FAO Director General Jacques Diouf called for an investment of US $30 billion per year in agriculture of developing countries to double food production by 2050 and ensure the basic right to food for all people.

For the full article, read http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/9904/icode/ and http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sgsm12067.doc.htm

World Facing 'Enormous' Food Challenge As Water Scarcity Looms
Alex Morales, Bloomberg, Jan 29, 2009

Governments need to boost spending on agricultural research and reconsider options such as genetically-modified foods, which have been historically rejected by consumers in Europe, John Beddington told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. e have at the global level a genuine issue of world food shortage," Beddington told lawmakers. "Can you feed 9 billion people by 2050 in some form of equitable and sustainable way?"

Books & Articles

NPG announces a free website for biology classes... Scitable by Nature Education. Scitable is designed to expand students' knowledge of genetics by providing expert, evidence-based content. To learn more about this exciting, new educational product visit http://www.nature.com/scitable/whatisscitable.
"How have opinions about GMOs changed over time? The situation in the European Union and the USA" published in CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources 2008. Sylvie Bonny of INRA, Grignon, France.

Views of Americans and Europeans about biotechnology have shifted over time.  A review of surveys and opinion polls reveal that US opinions are less favorable in the first half of 2000 than they were in the previous decade, and there is less optimism towards the effects of biotechnology and genetic engineering. On the other hand, it is the opposite in Europe. Views improve in the first half of 2000 compared to the previous decade.

See the abstract of the article at http://www.cababstractsplus.org/cabreviews/Reviews.asp?action=display&openMenu=relatedItems&ReviewID=91678&Year=2008 or email Sylvie Bonny at bonny@grignon.inra.fr

YALE RESEARCHERS RELEASE TRANSCRIPTOME OF 40 RICE CELL TYPES

Researchers at the Yale University have published a cellular atlas of genetic activity in rice that documents with unprecedented detail how and when genes are turned on or off. The atlas is the product of a 5-year, mammoth project. It is composed of cell-specific transcriptomes for 40 specific cell types. Transcriptome refers to the set of all messenger RNA transcripts produced in a cell. It provides information on the relative activity of each of rice's 30,000 genes for a particular cell type. The transcriptomes released in this study permit the comparison of any gene's activity among each of 40 cell types, including different stages of the development of roots, shoots and embryos.

Read the complete article at http://opa.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=6294 The complete paper published by Nature Genetics is available to subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng.282

World's Greatest Techno Challenge
The Press Association, Jan 21, 2009
http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/thevitalingredient.asp

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), both of the U.K., have prepared a report saying that the world is heading for a food crisis caused by climate change and competition for land use. In the long term, only technology can guarantee global food sustainability, according to the report. The title of the report is "The Vital Ingredient - Chemical Science and Engineering for Sustainable Food." The report calls for the development of more genetically modified (GM) pest and drought resistant crops and nutritionally enhanced crops. GM regulations, it says, must be "based on an evaluation of the risk, using sound evidence, and not on a socio-political fear of new technology."

"We are more intelligent together": EU citizens value science and call for more cooperation at European level
Released on 08-01-2009

According to a new qualitative study published today regarding the image of science and the perceptions and attitudes on the European research policy of the EU citizens, science is highly valued and intimately linked to the idea of progress. However, science also gives rise to some fears and reservations – mostly of possible misuse by mankind. The study shows that the predominant hopes and fears are concentrated on subjects that are perceived as concretely affecting peoples’ daily lives or likely to affect them. Participants in this study gave their views on a number of potentially controversial areas of science, such as experiments on animals, work with stem cells and biofuels. People are generally positive about the developments in the medico-pharmaceutical field, research into solutions to energy, environment and climate problems, and the invention or improvement of products that make life easier. Concerns are more likely to be voiced about the risks of genetic manipulation, GMOs, other issues related to health, preoccupations linked to the environment, and the use of science for destructive purposes such as nuclear and chemical armaments.

European research policy is not widely known about although the principle was very positively accepted by most. The most enthusiastic were the French, Italian, Belgian, Slovene and Slovakian interviewees, as well as the Irish, Portuguese, Greeks, Hungarians and Romanian. An almost complete consensus prevails in favour of the principle of European action in scientific research, and in favour of its being strengthened. http://ec.europa.eu/research/index.cfm?pg=press&lg=en

Heat May Spark World Food Crisis
James Morgan BBC News, Jan 8, 2009

As the summers get hotter, said Dr Hawtin: "We can't just move all our crops north (or south) because a lot of crops are photosensitive. Flowering is triggered by day length - so you would run into all sorts of problems if you tried that. "And even if Russia and Canada turn out to be the world's bread baskets, the cost of transporting the food to Africa will be too much. People in these areas can't afford food now."

Researchers at CIAT are part of the global Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) network, aiming to create new, improved crop varieties able to survive the extreme growing seasons predicted throughout the coming century. Approaches range from conventional crop breeding to genetic modification. A number of other public research institutions and commercial companies are also working on drought- and heat-tolerant varieties. Agrichemical giant Monsanto said this week it had made a "significant step" in creating a drought-tolerant maize which could be available as early as 2010.

Biotech Life Sciences Outlook Report.

This document provides details of the contents and discussion in Biotech 2008 -Life Sciences: A 20/20 Vision for 2020, the 22nd annual report on the biotechnology industry from Burrill & Company. For more information please click on: http://www.researchandmarkets.com/product/70debc/biotech_life_sciences_a_2020_vision_to_2020

Events

Fostering Good Bioethical Practices among the European Biotechnology Industry: From GMP to GBP”

EuropaBio is pleased to announce the conference 9 February (14:00 – 18:00) ; Residence Palace, Brussels

Participation is free of charge. For more information or to register, contact Rebecca Weaver,  r.weaver@europabio.org

26-27 January; BioNanoMed 2009; Krems, Austria

6th International Conference on Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology, March 4 - 6, 2009   —   Charité, Berlin, Detailed information and online registration form are available at http://nm09.nanoevents.de.

18 February 2009; BIA seminar: Risk Management Across the Product Life Cycle; London, UK

Biotech Nanotech for Sustainable Agriculture
February 13-14, 2009; New Delhi, India 
http://www.assocham.org/6thbionano2008

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM ) of India will hold the 6th Global Knowledge Millennium Summit, "Biotechnology and Nanotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture: Eradicate Global Hunger and Ensure Food Security,". The program will showcase different nanotechnologies and biotechnologies that could "revolutionize" agriculture and agro-based enterprises. Indian Minister for Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Sharad Pawar will deliver the opening speech at the summit. 2007 World Food Prize Laureate Philip Nelson will also speak.

8-11 March; BioVision 2009, and 9-11 March; BioSquare 2009, Lyon, France

Food, Famine and Future Technologies: Ethical Dilemmas in a Hungry World
New York, May 22-23, 2009
http://www.humanistbioethics.org/appignani-upcoming-events.html

The Appignani Bioethics Center in collaboration with the University of Montreal, Canada is organizing a conference entitled: Food, Famine and Future Technologies: Ethical Dilemmas in a Hungry World from May 22 to May 23, 2009 under the auspices of the United Nations Headquarters in NYC.

Research Connection 2009, A major event on EU research initiatives
Prague, 7-8 May 2009

7 May morning Press conference, afternoon Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology

 
 
 

Europe - EU

France fined 10 million EUR for failing to implement EU biotech law

The European Union's highest court has fined France 10 million Euros for failing to update the country's laws on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods. In a statement, the European Court of Justice said the "unlawful conduct repeatedly engaged in by France in the GMOs sector is of such a nature as to require the adoption of a dissuasive measure, such as a lump sum payment". The European Court of Justice said France's conduct was "unlawful".

France has refused to apply a 2002 law which set out how biotech crops could be planted in areas where other conventional crops were being grown. Paris has said internal opposition by environmentalists is too strong for it to press ahead with the new measures.

The Luxembourg-based court said its ruling would act as a warning to others that ignoring EU rules had a price. In 2004, the European Commission won a court order against France, but Paris only began implementing the rules in July this year.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7773591.stm

More GM maize in EU

The EU Commission's recommendation breaks ground for use of Bt-11, developed by Syngenta AG, and TC-1507, developed by a joint venture between Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Mycogen Seeds, a unit of Dow Chemical Co. The EU has not allowed the cultivation of any new genetically modified crops since it approved a strain of corn developed by Monsanto Co. in 1998.

EU Ethics Group Recommends Adoption of 'Modern' Technologies
Pro Farmer Editors,  Jan. 21, 2009

The European Group on Ethics (EGE)  today met with Mariann Fischer Boel, the commissioner responsible for Ag and Rural Development, to present recommendations which include the adoption of "modern developments" in agriculture technologies. Among them, the group says the EU should revise their policies on genetically modified crops.

"In this opinion the EGE shows its awareness for the need for promoting innovation in agriculture in order to be able to feed the growing world population. It adds that technologies alone cannot provide final solutions to the challenges modern agriculture is facing in the EU and worldwide," states the EGE.

Ag Biotech Can Help Mitigate Climate Change, But Will Europe Benefit?

Brussels, 27 January 2009 - Agricultural biotechnology has a key role to play in helping Europe reach its ambitious carbon reduction targets and assisting farmers to better adapt to a shifting climate, according to a briefing (1) released today by the European Association for BioIndustries during a round table on climate change at the European Parliament.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Member of the European Parliament, and one of the speakers at the roundtable, said, "Agriculture biotech definitely has a role to play in Europe's fight against climate change. With over ten years experience of commercial biotech planting, it is very important to have an open and balanced debate in Europe on the contribution that modern agriculture technologies could make to help European farmers face today's challenges."

EFSA FUNDS STUDY ON VANISHING BEES

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has awarded a grant of €100,000 (US $140 thousand) to a consortium of European scientific institutes led by the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) to study the colony collapse disorder in honey bees (CCD). CCD was first used in 2006 to describe the rapid loss of adult bees from a bee colony. Since they play an important role in the pollination of crops, decline in bee populations could have a serious impact on agricultural production. The cause of CCD is not known, although various factors are thought to be responsible including starvation, viruses, mites, pesticide exposure and climate change.

The nine-month project, which is being coordinated by EFSA's Assessment Methodology Unit, aims to identify factors which may contribute to CCD and to highlight gaps in scientific knowledge in order to help guide future research. Existing bee surveillance programs will be analyzed to assess the suitability of the data for measuring CCD across Europe.

More information is available at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902229389.htm

Europe

Environmentalists see red over maize harvest in formerly GM-free Wales.
Published online 26 January 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.59

In what may be the first example of direct action in favour of genetically modified (GM) crops, a farmer has defied the Welsh government by growing modified maize.

Farmer and agricultural consultant Jonathon Harrington says he grew small amounts of two kinds of GM maize on his farm near Hay-on-Wye, and also gave seeds to two local farmers.

Following the Environment Council meeting on December 4th, EuropaBio calls for end to de facto moratorium on biotech approvals

While EuropaBio welcomed the Environment Council’s support for ensuring that the EU biotech approval process works as designed, the association cautioned against further delays to EU approvals for cultivation applications. See EuropaBio press release

EuropaBio calls for Europe to translate its research excellence into commercial reality

EuropaBio welcomed the outcomes of the EU Council of 1–2 December which agreed Vision 2020 and updated the European Research Area (ERA). EuropaBio called for innovative research to be linked to economic policy that stimulates and supports the commercialization of innovation. See EuropaBio press release

FIELD TRIALS OF GM RAPE IN SWEDEN

Plant Science Sweden AB has been granted approval to field-test rape lines (Brassica napus) genetically modified for improved seed oil composition. The GM lines contain increased levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition to fungal genes coding for desaturase enzymes, the transgenic plants also contain the gene ahas as selectable marker (tolerance to Imidazolinones) to identify transgenic cells in tissue culture. For more information, visit http://gmoinfo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/gmp_browse.aspx

Norway discusses biotech crisis package

The Norwegian government is discussing a €300m rescue package for the biotech industry as part of a national financial rescue plan. The proposal for the plan was put forward by the academic institutes, hospitals and businesses

UK REPORT SAYS TECHNOLOGY CAN GUARANTEE GLOBAL FOOD SUSTAINABILITY

Modern biotechnology should be used to develop crops that are resistant to environmental stresses, have higher yields, and have nutritionally enhanced traits. Only technology can guarantee global food sustainability. This was stressed in a report "The Vital Ingredient - Chemical Science and Engineering for Sustainable Food" prepared by the United Kingdom's Royal Society of Chemistry and Institution of Chemical Engineers. Commissioned by the British House of Commons, the report also said that "regulations must be based on evaluation of the risk, using sound evidence, and not a socio-political fear of new technology."

Download a full copy of the report at http://www.rsc.org/images/FoodReport_tcm18-142397.pdf

GM May Help Feed Growing Population
James Murray, BusinessGreen, Jan 22, 2009
http://www.businessgreen.com/

Bob Watson to argue research is needed to determine whether GM crops can help feed growing population in world affected by climate change.

One of the government's chief scientific advisers will wade into the debate on genetically modified (GM) foods later today, by arguing that they could make a valuable contribution to feeding the growing global population as the climate continues to change.

Speaking as part of a debate on the role of GM to mark the opening of the Science Museum's new Future Foods exhibition, Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at Defra, will make the case for further scientific trials to gauge the risks and benefits GM crops could deliver. "People are asking how we will be able to feed the world's growing population during a time of dangerous climate change," he will say. "While GM food is clearly not the whole answer, it may contribute through improved crop traits such as temperature, drought, pest and salinity tolerance. Hence additional scientific studies will allow us to assess the risks and benefits."

GM POPLAR RESEARCH AT A PERIL

Belgium's Council for State, the highest judicial court, has suspended the refusal of some federal ministers to allow field trials for genetically modified poplars being conducted by the VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology). VIB requested a permit for a field trial but this request was denied. Poplars possess a modified wood composition, which makes them more suitable for the production of bio-ethanol.

The Council of State said that the refusal of the filed tests "can endanger the further financing and even existence of VIB", that the investment in ten years of top research "threatens to become nullified", and that the refusal of the field test can have negative consequences for the Belgian biotech-sector and for the investments in that sector."

Know more about the suspension case at http://www.vib.be/VIB/EN/News+and+press/Press+releases/

US LEADS CELLULOSIC ETHANOL QUEST WHILE EUROPE LAGS

The United States continues to lead the quest to develop second-generation biofuels while European legislators continue to drag their feet. A recent US$ 12 million US Department of Energy (DoE) grant to Denmark-based Novozymes for the development of improved cellulase enzymes underscores the country's commitment in ethanol sourced from biomass.

This is in stark contrast with Europe. Inertia still prevails in the continent. Author Cormac Sheridan noted the backlash over the environmental and economic sustainability of first-generation biofuels appears to have paralyzed progress in establishing definitive European legislation and biofuel targets. The energy policy of Europe and the US could not be more different. Sheridan pointed out that energy security has been the main driver of US biofuels policy, whereas in Europe, reducing greenhouse gas emissions has received more focus.

The abstract of the article is available at http://10.0.4.14/nbt1208-1319 Subscribers to Nature Biotechnology can download the full paper using the same link.

Africa

Developing Drought-Tolerant Maize
U.S.-African Partnership: African-led project using biotechnology to increase grain harvest
Nancy Pontius, January 26, 2009.
America.gov http://www.america.gov/st/scitech-english/2009/January/20090126135419abretnuh0.9448206.html?CP.rss=true

The partnership - known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) - was formed because crop yields are reduced greatly by frequent droughts in Africa, leading to hunger and poverty.

"This project, conducted mostly in Africa for Africans, will result in improved maize hybrids, yielding an additional 25 percent more grain under moderate drought conditions, compared to the best African seed currently available," Vanessa Cook, U.S. agricultural company Monsanto's WEMA project lead, told America.gov. "Approximately 0.8 million metric tons of additional grain would be produced if 1 million hectares of maize showed this increase in a moderate drought year," Cook said. "This would feed an additional 4.8 million people, providing the equivalent of $320 million in food aid and increased income to farmers."

America

BRAZIL APPROVES HERCULEX CORN FOR CULTIVATION

The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture has given Dow AgroSciences the green light to sell genetically modified corn hybrids with Herculex I insect protection technology. The authorization was given for 2B710HX, 2B688HX, 2B707HX, 2C520HX and 2A525HX corn hybrids. Herculex I corn varieties are resistant to the fall armyworm (Spodoptora frugiperda) and sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), serious corn pests  that cause yield losses of more than 40 percent in Brazil. The Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Committee (CTNBio) approved the cry1F-expressing transgenic corn for commercial release in December. Herculex I corn hybrids have been cultivated in the U.S. and Canada since 2001 and in Argentina since 2005.

Read more at http://www.dowagro.com/newsroom/corporatenews/2009/20090128a.htm

An article on CTNBio's approval is available at http://agenciact.mct.gov.br/index.php/content/view/50013.html

 

China

CHINA'S FOOD ECONOMY BENEFITS SMALL HOLDER FARMERS

A study recently published in the Review of Agricultural Economics reveals that the recent changes in China's food economy have contributed to an improvement in poverty reduction of small farmers. The authors, however, warned that there exists a great challenge to ensure delivery of a safe product.

To describe the emergence of production and marketing structures, Jikun Huang, Scott Rozelle and colleagues used a dataset collected in 2007 from representative sample of fruit farmers in Shandong province. The researchers found that small and poor farms are able to sell into traditional marketing channels. There is no evidence that poor households are getting less access to horticultural markets.

However, the researchers acknowledged that ensuring the safety of China's fruits, particularly apples and grapes, is a daunting task. Since almost all transaction are in cash and done on a spot-market basis, it is very difficult to track fruit shipments back to the farm. After selling their output into the market, farmers in China's horticulture economy are literally free from all accountability.

Read the complete article at http://www.wiley.com/bw/press/pressitem.asp?ref=2017 Subscribers to the journal can access the paper at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9353.2008.00421.x

India

Bt Brinjal: Coming Soon in India?
CropBiotech Net, http://www.isaaa.org/kc

Bt brinjal (Eggplant) is likely to be the first biotech food crop to be approved and adopted in India in the near term. Bt brinjal has been under development by Mahyco in collaboration with public sector institutions in India for the last 8 years. It has undergone a rigorous science-based regulatory approval process in India and is currently at an advanced stage of consideration for deregulation by the Indian regulatory authorities which approved the experimental seed production of Bt brinjal hybrids by Mahyco in 2008-2009. Studies on food and feed safety, including toxicity and allergenicity tests, have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows; these studies have confirmed that Bt brinjal is as safe as its non-Bt counterpart. Similarly, environmental impact assessments to study germination, pollen flow, invasiveness, aggressiveness and weediness, and effect on non-target organisms were completed, and it was confirmed that Bt brinjal behaves in a similar way to its non-Bt counterpart.

Asia

NEW INITIATIVE TO BOOST FOOD SECURITY IN SOUTH ASIA

Six million small, resource-poor South Asian farmers are expected to benefit from the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), a new project that aims to substantially boost crop yields and farmer income in the region within 10 years. The project will bring together a range of public- and private-sector organizations, including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to enable sustainable cereal production in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. CSISA will be led by IRRI with a three-year US$ 19.59 million support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$10 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information, visit http://beta.irri.org/news/index.php/200809084903/frontpage/pr/Latest-Press-Release/Page-2.html

News in Science

DROUGHT TOLERANT CORN BY NEXT YEAR?

Trials of the corn conducted last year in the Western Great Plains in the United States have met or exceeded the 6 to 10 percent target yield enhancement over the average yield of 4.4 to 8.1 metric tons per hectare in some of the key drought-prone areas in the US. Scientists from public research institutions and agricultural companies are racing to develop new crop varieties that can thrive when water is in short supply amid fears of global climate change.

Read the press release at http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=676 or http://www.basf.com/group/corporate/en/content/news-and-media-relations/news-releases/2009/P-09-101

Drought-resistant Grass Genes Could Spur 21st Century Crops
Brandon Keim, Wired Blog Network, January 29, 2009 via Checkbiotech.org

Future generations of drought-resistant food and biofuel crops may have their roots in the genome sequence of sorghum, a tropical grass that's able to thrive in hot, dry conditions.

Having transcribed its DNA, scientists can now set about connecting genes to hardiness, then applying their insights to the development of crop strains suited to a 21st century climate. "It can grow on marginal land. A lot of our own crops can't," said Joachim Messing, a Rutgers University plant geneticist and co-author of the study published Wednesday in Nature. "A year ago I was in Mozambique, and the corn looked terrible, but the sorghum was strong and tall. It doesn't need all these things that other plants need."

Messing and his colleagues didn't analyze the function of the genes assembled by sorghum's 750 million base DNA pairs, but they did notice that sorghum possesses extra copies of a previously-identified family of drought resistance-related genes. These genes, he said, could prove central to regulating sorghum's metabolism. "The regulation of drought tolerance is very complex, involving many genes," said Messing. "Harsh conditions trigger a lot of other metabolic functions in the plant."

"The Sorghum bicolor genome and the diversification of grasses." By Andrew H. Paterson et al.
Klaus F. X. Mayer, Joachim Messing and Daniel S. Rokhsar. Nature, Vol. 457 No. 7229, Jan. 28, 2009
"Sorghum in sequence." By Takuji Sasaki and Baltazar A. Antonio. Nature, Vol. 457 No. 7229, Jan. 28, 2009
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-01/ru-sos012609.php

Fighting Hunger with Flood-Tolerant Rice
Peter Ornstein, CNN, Jan 29, 2009

University of California-Davis professor Pamela Ronald and her colleagues have bred a new strain of flood-tolerant rice that could help feed millions.

As sea levels rise and world weather patterns worsen, flooding has become a major cause of rice crop loss. Scientists estimate 4 million tons of rice are lost every year because of flooding. That's enough rice to feed 30 million people. Rice is grown in flooded fields, usually to kill weeds. But rice plants do not like it when they are submerged in water for long periods, Ronald said. Normal rice dies after three days of complete flooding. Researchers know of at least one rice variety that can tolerate flooding for longer periods, but conventional breeding failed to create a strain that was acceptable to farmers.  Mackill identified a flood-resistant gene 13 years ago in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety. He passed along the information to Ronald, who isolated the gene, called Sub1, and introduced it into normal rice varieties, generating rice that could withstand being submerged in water for 17 days. Using precision breeding, scientists introduced the Sub1 gene three years ago into test fields in Bangladesh and India. The subsequent rice harvests were a resounding success. "The farmers found three- to five-fold increases in yield due to flood tolerance. They can plant the normal way. They can harvest the normal way and it tastes the same.

"In Bangladesh, for example, 20 percent of the rice land is flood prone and the country typically suffers several major floods each year. Submergence-tolerant varieties could make major inroads into Bangladesh's annual rice shortfall." The researchers anticipate that the flood-tolerant rice plants will be available to farmers in Bangladesh and India within two years. Because the plants are the product of precision breeding, rather than genetic modification, they are not subject to the same regulatory testing that can delay release of genetically modified crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conferred one of its highest research awards last December on Ronald, Mackill and Bailey-Serres for their work on submergence-tolerant rice.

SCIENTISTS DECODE SORGHUM GENOME

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a close relative of sugarcane, originates from tropical Africa where it is a staple food and is now grown in dry areas in the U.S. and India. Worldwide production of sorghum is estimated at 60 million tons annually.

An international team of researchers have deciphered the genetic blueprint of sorghum, a hardy crop and important food, fodder and biofuel source. Scientists believe that the breakthrough could eventually lead to the development of drought-resistant crops for arid regions with rapidly burgeoning population, such as West Africa. Sorghum is the second grass to have its genome sequenced, after rice. The comparative analysis of the sorghum genome appears in the recent issue of the journal Nature.

With approximately 730 million nucleotides and 30,000 genes, the crop's genome is 75 percent larger than the size of rice. Comparisons of the genome with rice shed light on the evolution of grasses and of C4 photosynthesis, a carbon fixation pathway found in plants growing in conditions of high temperature and light intensity and low water availability. The scientists also found evidences that recent gene and microRNA duplications contributed to sorghum's drought tolerance. For instance, the rice miRNA 169g, upregulated during drought stress, has five sorghum homologs.

Subscribers to Nature can read the full article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature07723 For more information, read http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v457/n7229/full/nature07723.html and http://www.jgi.doe.gov/News/news_09_01_28.html

PLANTS WITH ALTERED LIGNIN STRUCTURE MAY YIELD MORE BIOFUEL

Genetically modified plants expressing 'wood-breaking' enzymes or those with altered lignin content could be the key to a cheaper and greener way of making ethanol, according to researchers from the Pennsylvania State University. The approach also could help turn agricultural waste into food for livestock.

Read the complete article at http://live.psu.edu/story/36682

BUZZING BEES PROTECT PLANTS FROM VORACIOUS CATERPILLARS

Jurgen Tautz and colleagues realized that these sensory hairs are not fine-tuned and caterpillars cannot distinguish between hunting wasps and harmless bees. If a flying object approaches, generating air vibrations in the proper range, caterpillars stop moving or drop from the plant. Fruiting trees, heavily laden with blossoms, get frequent visits from foraging honeybees. And caterpillars, stressed with the bees' buzzing eat a lot less, Tautz explained. The paper published in the recent issue of Current Biology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.038.

SELENIUM-FORTIFIED SOLANACEOUS CROPS

Researchers from the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research developed transgenic tobacco accumulating increased MeSeCys. Introduction of a gene that encodes for an enzyme necessary for MeSeCys synthesis resulted to 2- to 4-fold increase in selenium accumulation. MeSeCys production was increased (up to 20% of total selenium) without toxicity effects on growth. The approach used by the scientists might be applicable in increasing selenium content of other solanaceous plant species such as potato, tomato, pepper and eggplant.The paper published by Transgenic Research is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11248-008-9233-0

LECTIN PROTEIN IN ARABIDOPSIS CONFERS RESISTANCE AGAINST PATHOGENS

Researchers from the Biology Department of Pelita Harapan University, Indonesia and University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Australia, worked together to characterize the Lectin 3.1 (At3g15356) protein in the plant model, Arabidopsis thaliana. Its structure and function were also studied using CD spectra and X-ray crystallography. The Lectin 3.1 protein has been shown to be  highly-expressed in the plant's defense pathway, especially in response to methyl ester jasmonate (MJ). Molecular analysis of genetically modified Arabidopsis that contain the gene for increased Lectin 3.1 production were found to contain the two forms of the protein. These lines were found to have reduced number of nematode (Meloidogyne incognita) eggs in an assay involving non-GM and GM lines. This data provides evidence that lectin 3.1 improves plant resistance against M. incognita infection and that the nematode gut lining contains fucose, the receptor of the lectin 3.1 protein.

For more information on this research, visit http://www.biotechindonesia.org/ or email Maria P. Omega at prihtamala_omega@yahoo.com. For information on biotechnology in Indonesia, contact Dewi Suryani of Biotrop at dewisuryani@biotrop.org.

Fundamental concepts in genetics: Genetics and the understanding of selection
Laurence D. Hurst

Nature, February 2009 Volume 10 Number 2 p83 | doi:10.1038/nrg2506
Looking back over the relationship between natural selection and genetics highlights the important role of genetics in understanding the implications of Darwin's concept. Looking to the future, understanding the reach and role of selection also has profound implications for genetics.

GM PLANTS OFFER NEW SOURCE OF ANTICANCER DRUGS

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have successfully developed periwinkle plants accumulating novel compounds, some of which could be used as drugs against cancer and other diseases.

Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) produces many compounds of pharmacological interest, including the alkaloid vinblastine which is used to treat cancers such as Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, anticancer agents called serpentines and ajmalicine, a substance used to treat hypertension. Almost all of the compounds produced by periwinkle, however, are too toxic for use in humans.

Sarah O'Connor and colleagues modified an enzyme involved in an early step of the plant's alkaloid synthesis pathway. The enzyme was also altered to accept substrates it would not normally use. This allows plants to make new compounds that they would normally never produce.

Read the complete article at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/plant-drug-0118.html. The paper published by Nature Chemical Biology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nchembio.141

Erythropoetin from tobacco

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production. A team of researchers from Canada developed transgenic tobacco plants accumulating high levels of EPO (up to 0.05% of total soluble protein in leaves). The scientists found that higher accumulation levels of EPO can be achieved in the endoplasmic reticulum than in the apoplast or chloroplasts. More importantly, the team also demonstrated that plant-derived EPO had enhanced receptor-binding affinity and was able to protect kidney epithelial cells from cytokine-induced death in vitro. The tobacco-produced EPO does not possess the potentially harmful side-effects associated with excessive haematopoietic activity.

The paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal is available for download at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2008.00389.x

Small silencing RNAs: an expanding universe
Megha Ghildiyal & Phillip D. Zamore

Nature, February 2009 Volume 10 Number 2 p94 | doi:10.1038/nrg2504

Small RNAs — including miRNAs, siRNAs and piRNAs — differ in their biogenesis, modes of target regulation and biological functions. There are also interconnections between these pathways, which compete and collaborate in some of their regulatory and protective roles.

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