News in February 2009
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2009-03-03

General

Conventional Crop Breeding May be More Harmful Than GM
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, Feb. 4, 2009 http://www.newscientist.com/

A herbicide-resistant variety of oilseed rape (canola) unveiled last week has raised questions about whether its use by farmers in Europe could be as damaging to farmland wildlife as some genetically modified crops. The development also challenges the effectiveness of Europe's regulations governing the sale of new crop varieties produced by conventional breeding.

The new variety of oilseed rape like the existing Clearfield varieties, is resistant to weedkillers imidazolinones. Analysis of farms in Canada and Australia that have been growing existing Clearfield varieties suggest that imidazolinones can linger in soil for longer than glyphosate. Another potential problem is that the resistance could jump from the crops to weeds that the herbicide is designed to kill, such as wild radish. "Resistance to the imidazolinone herbicides occurs quite quickly in weeds, much faster than resistance to glyphosate," says Christopher Preston of the University of Adelaide in South Australia.
Les Firbank, who led the farm-scale trials in the UK said: "It raises the interesting question of whether we over-regulate GM crops, or under-regulate the others," he says.
Global cereal output in 2009 is estimated to be less than that of 2008 says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report Crop Prospects and Food Situation. Smaller plantings and adverse weather as well as high input costs are the main culprits. Planted area in Europe and the United States declined while prolonged dry weather adversely affected crop prospects in Asia. Drought and persistent dry weather were also problems in South America.

For more of the FAO report visit http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/10127/icode/

Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building
http://km.fao.org/gipb/

The Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB) is a multi-party initiative of knowledge institutions around the world that have a track record in supporting agricultural research and development, working in partnership with country programmes committed to developing stronger and effective plant breeding capacity.

As a partnership of stakeholders from the public, private and civil society sectors, the initiative is aimed at catalyzing and supporting national, regional and global action among relevant international organizations, foundations, universities and research institutes, corporate and business sector, civil society associations, and national and regional bodies.

Books & Articles

The 2008 annual report – EU research

This Annual Report covers developments and activities during 2007. The report is accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Document, which provides more detailed reporting and statistics. The main chapters are on the activities and results achieved in 2007 and on developments in research and technological development activities in the Member States of the European Union.

Genetic Glass Ceilings - Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity
by Jonathan Gressel, 2008, 488 pp. $65.00, 978-0-8018-8719-2
http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/9174.html
(Jonathan Gressel is professor emeritus of plant sciences at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.)

In this revolutionary and controversial book, Jonathan Gressel argues that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a "genetic glass ceiling": no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their agricultural value.

Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by advocating transgenics-a technique where genes from one species are transferred to another. He maintains that with simple safeguards the technique is a safe solution to the genetic glass ceiling conundrum. Analyzing alternative crops-including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat, tef, and sorghum-Gressel demonstrates how gene manipulation could enhance their potential for widespread domestication and reduce our dependency on the Big Four. He also describes a number of ecological benefits that could be derived with the aid of transgenics. A compelling synthesis of ideas from agronomy, medicine, breeding, physiology, population genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology, Genetic Glass Ceilings presents transgenics as an inevitable and desperately necessary approach to securing and diversifying the world's food supply.
Fungal and Mycotoxin Contamination in Bt Maize and Non-Bt Maize Grown in Argentina
G. Barros, et al. World Mycotoxin Journal, Vol. 2(1), Pages 53-60; February 2009

A Bt maize hybrid and its non-transgenic counterpart harvested during 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 harvest seasons from different locations within the maize-growing area in Argentina were compared for fungal and mycotoxin contamination. Fusarium species were the most prevalent on both genotypes with an isolation frequency >60% across all locations. The percentage of infection was lower in Bt maize than in non-Bt maize (P<0.05).

There were no statistical differences in infection percentage due to genotype, fungicide treatment and their interactions. Fumonisins were detected in all of the samples from all locations and genotypes. Total fumonisin levels (fumonisins B1, B2 and B3) in the Bt and the non-Bt hybrid were significantly different (P<0.001), with lower toxin levels in the Bt maize in all locations but one evaluated during the two harvest season. There was no significant difference in deoxynivalenol levels between Bt and non-Bt maize. Application of the fungicide tebuconazole did not alter either the infection or the toxin levels in the Bt and non-Bt maize hybrid.
Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?
http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/16/

In Making Sense of GM, scientists and agriculturalists are launching a fresh public discussion about GM: one that puts GM back into the context of developing plant breeding and that responds to the public's questions and misconceptions. Publicly funded work in particular has struggled against misconceptions about Frankenstein foods, vandalism and a costly regulatory burden.

There have been more Google searches on genetically modified crops in the past two years in the UK than anywhere else in the world. While there have been over a trillion GM meals consumed and nearly 120 million hectares of GM crops grown, hardly any of that was in Europe, still less in the UK. It's not surprising that people have questions about why that is, what GM is, what it does, whether they are eating it and what would happen if they did.

The guide Making Sense of GM is published by Sense About Science with the kind assistance of the BBSRC, Genetics Society, Institute of Biology, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and The Lawes Agricultural Trust. Download the Making Sense of GM guide (pdf) at http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/PDF/MakingSenseofGM.pdf
"Emerging Consequences of Biotechnology: Biodiversity Loss and IPR Issues"
Author: Krishna Dronamraju, With a Foreword by M.S. Swaminathan, New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2008. pp. xxiv + 460, $58.00
- Reviewed by Ananda M. Chakrabarty, AgBioView, Feb 11, 2009 (Distinguished University Professor, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago )

This is an exceptionally informative and lucidly written book on modern day biotechnology approaches to plant and agricultural sciences and the potential loss of biodiversity.  Not industry. Nevertheless, the author, a well-known geneticist trained under the internationally-renowned British scientist Professor J. B. S. Haldane, has conducted extensive literature survey and provided ample documentation in some areas of genetically-engineered plants and foods having an adverse impact on the environment and on the lives of poor farmers in developing and least developed countries.

A New Book on Bt Brinjal - A Review
by T. M. Manjunath, Ph.D., Consultant, Bangalore, India; manjunathtm@gmail.com

"Choudhary, B. and Gaur, K. 2009. The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine). ISAAA Brief everybody will agree with all the conclusions that may often appear to be one-sided and anti-No.38, ISAAA, Ithaca, NY, 102 pp."

The above book recently published by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) provides a comprehensive review on all aspects of brinjal (eggplant) cultivation and also describes the efforts made in developing Bt brinjal to control its major lepidopteron pest, the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) - Leucinodes arbonalis, which has been responsible for heavy economic losses. This 102-page, peer reviewed, document is made available, free of charge, on its websites www.isaaa.org and www.isaaa.org/kc.
Green biotechnology and climate change is the document issued by EuropaBio.
http://www.europabio.org/documents/EuropaBio_GBE_Climate%20change%20and%20biotech.pdf
Biotechnology in development - Experiences from the south.
Guido Ruivenkamp. Book and dvd €40, ISBN 978-90-8686-070-8. Wageningen Academic Publishers, www.wageningenacademic.com.

Don't make the farmer fit the technology; make the technology fit the farmer. That is the idea behind alternative applications of biotechnology in developing countries that Guido Ruivenkamp of Wageningen University has recorded in four documentaries, accompanied by a theoretical book.

Ruivenkamp and his cameraman went to projects where scientists and farmers are developing technologies that fit local practices.
Biosafety of Transgenic Plants -  (Proteomics confirms it!)
Steve Down, Proteomics, February 1, 2009
http://www.spectroscopynow.com/coi/cda/detail.cda?id=20385&type=Feature&chId=10&page=1

Recent comparative studies on the proteome and transcriptome of several transgenic plants, including the tomato, potato and soybean, have found very few differences between the modified and wild-type forms. In fact, fewer differences were found than between plant varieties. However, a group of Italian researchers recently reported that the introduction of a foreign gene coding for the signalling peptide systemin into tobacco plants brought about marked changes in the tobacco proteome. So, each transgenic modification should be examined case by case.

Perceptions, Knowledge and Ethical Concerns with GM Foods and the GM Process
Andrew J. Knight, Public Understanding of Science, March 1, 2009; Vol. 18, No. 2, 177-188 (andrew.knight@ns.sympatico.ca , Food Safety Policy Center,  Michigan State University).

Compared to their European counterparts, the American public has been characterized as relatively unknowledgeable and indifferent about genetically modified foods. To evaluate these claims, six focus groups were held in three Arkansas cities to:

(1) determine the extent of knowledge the public possesses about genetically modified foods;
(2) detail perceived benefits and risks associated with agricultural biotechnology applications; and
(3) explore lay perceptions about the genetic modification process itself.

Participants demonstrated partial knowledge, and tended to overestimate the number of genetically modified foods. However, participants tended to be familiar with debates surrounding benefits, risks and moral issues associated with agricultural biotechnology applications. Findings also showed that while participants were not overly concerned about combining genes between plants, they were concerned about inserting animal genes into plants. If these results are any indication, moral and ethical issues will dominate any discussion of foods derived from a mixture of animal and plant genes.
Overreacting to Perceived Risks: Fear and Intimidation Distort the Accurate Assessment of Available Information
Henry I. Miller, M.D. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News Feb 15 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 4)

From rubber duckies and plastic bottles to pesticides used in agriculture, the world often seems full of lethal hazards. Many of these concerns are completely bogus, however, while most of the others represent only de minimis- that is, negligible risks. Moreover, the attention paid to them and the wrong-headed (and often very costly) actions taken to prevent or ameliorate them, can themselves, be harmful. Why are such misunderstandings common? One reason is the emotional dimension of concerns about a technology's potential risk to public health or the environment. A case in point is the use of the most precise, state-of-the-art gene-splicing technology to craft new varieties of microorganisms, plants, and animals, which has been abusively and excessively regulated.

Events

BioVision - The World Life Sciences Forum - March 8-11, 2009 - Lyon, France

BioVision is the leading international platform for debating how Life Sciences and its associated technologies can change our world. This unique forum fosters debate and discussions on the latest advances in Life Sciences by bringing together Nobel Prize Laureates, governments and industry leaders, renowned scientists, senior international officials and NGOs delegates from all over the globe. Information and Registrations available at: www.biovision.org

BioSquare will be held March 9 -11, 2009 at the Congress Centre in Lyon, France. The event gathers more than 1300 top level participants. This is a unique opportunity to meet industry decision makers, VCs and international biotechs and pharmas.

Register now to benefit from the high profile networking, panels and workshops.

Registration opened for conference "Sustainable development: a challenge for European research"

Registration is free of charge and is now open. More information on the conference – programme, speakers, registration, etc. – will be available soon. If you are interested in receiving updates on the conference when they become available, please send an email to rtd-sd-conference@ec.europa.eu.

3rd International Congress on Food and Nutrition
22-25 April 2009, Antalya, Turkey

Building up on the successes of the first two events, the 2009 Congress will be aiming at highlighting the most important and emerging areas of food and nutrition sciences, as well as exploring relevant topics that will be the most interesting and useful for the future. Providing accurate and updated scientific information from the most recent R&D activities on the selected disciplines is also targeted.

Research Connection 2009

The draft programme for this conference and exhibition, which will take place in Prague from 7 to 8 May 2009 under the Czech Presidency of the European Union, has been updated. http://ec.europa.eu/research/conferences/2009/rtd-2009/index_en.cfm?pg=programme

International Scientific Conference on Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods - 9-11 June, 2009 - Zilina, Slovak Republic

The conference will focus on the current advances in the research of nutraceuticals, functional foods and their present and future role in maintaining health and preventing diseases.

ABIC 2009: Bangkok, Thailand
September 22 - 25, 2009
http://www.abic.ca/abic2009.html

ABIC 2009 will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, September 22 - 25, 2009. The Conference host for the 2009 event is the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC). (see below under Asia)

Europe - EU

A Review of Regulatory Issues Raised By Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture
Celina Ramjoue, CAB Reviews, Nov 17, 2008
http://www.cababstractsplus.org/cabreviews *
(European Commission, Directorate-General for Research,  Brussels, Belgium.)
celina.ramjoue@ec.europa.eu

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture has been controversial since the late 1990s, and the question of how to regulate the products of modern agricultural biotechnology is central to that debate. Aside from potential impacts on human health and the environment, regulators must consider and are influenced by a range of issues that go beyond scientific evidence.

This paper reviews these regulatory issues, using the case studies of GMO regulation in the USA and the European Union for illustration. It first discusses approaches to technology and nature as fundamental choices associated with the use of GMOs in agriculture. It then moves on to socioeconomic issues, which form the context in which regulatory decisions are made. On the basis of these two first sections, the review turns to a discussion of ways in which regulators frame GM crop and food policies. Finally, it addresses possible challenges to regulation, in particular critical public opinion or trade clashes resulting from conflicting regulatory approaches.

This paper concludes that, when there is perceived scientific uncertainty concerning the potential impacts of a new technology on the part of certain stakeholders and actors in the debate, non-scientific regulatory considerations, for example relating to ethical, social and economic issues, are of crucial importance in shaping regulation.
Approving a new GM crop for growing is almost impossible in the EU's current climate
http://www.farminguk.com/news/European-Union-The-GM-Food-debate.12223.asp

A meeting of EU biotech experts ended in deadlock yesterday (25 February) after failing to agree on whether to allow more cultivation of genetically-modified crops, which are hugely controversial in Europe.

The applications for two GM maize types will now be sent to EU ministers for a decision. The GM maize types considered at the meeting were Bt-11 maize, engineered by Switzerland's Syngenta, and 1507 maize, jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a unit of DuPont Coand Mycogen Seeds) and a unit of Dow AgroSciences.

Farmers have been growing Bt11 maize safely and successfully for over 10 years in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, the Philippines, Uruguay and the United States.

While diplomats say approving a new GM crop for growing is almost impossible in the EU's current climate, if ministers also fail to agree, the applications would then return to the Commission. If that happens, the Commission would - probably - end up issuing standard ten-year licences by default. But that may take some time.
The SABRE project:

bringing advanced genetics to the farmyard EU-funded scientists are applying the latest genetic techniques to aid in the development of profitable farming systems that produce safe, high quality food while reducing their environmental impact and maintaining high animal welfare standards. Almost 200 researchers from 33 organisations in 14 countries are involved in the SABRE ('Cutting edge genomics for sustainable animal breeding') project, which is financed under the 'Food quality and safety' Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) with EUR 13.9 million.

http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_09_02_05_en.html&item=Infocentre&artid=9933

Europe

No time for rhetoric (Editorial)
Nature 457, 636 (5 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/457636b; Published online 4 February 2009

In a speech on 22 January French president Nicolas Sarkozy lambasted the country's university system as "infantilizing" and "paralysing for creativity and innovation". Sarkozy implied that French researchers were fainéants (layabouts) with cushy jobs, and no match for their supposedly more industrious British counterparts. The speech was a typically melodramatic example of la méthode Sarkozy and, if it contained some home truths, it was largely a caricature. His harsh rhetoric in this case (see http://tinyurl.com/av7flg) can only reinforce the resistance he has set out to overcome. In 2000, the incumbent science minister, Claude Allčgre, saw his plans for sweeping reforms dashed after scientists united against him, weary of his unnecessary provocations and sceptical of reforms imposed from on high with little consultation. Sarkozy is tempting a similar fate.

But a massive strike across French universities that began this week (see page 640) suggests that, applied to the research community, la méthode Sarkozy has reached its limits. Sarkozy should heed Allčgre's earlier mistakes and understand that he cannot modernize France's research system unless he has scientists on board. To arrive at their destination, science minister Valérie Pécresse and Sarkozy need to consult on reforms with the navigators in the research community who know this airspace best. And Sarkozy, a speedy man, may have to accept that throttling back can sometimes avoid unwelcome accidents.
Strike threatens to undermine Sarkozy's overhaul of universities.
Nature 457, 640-641 (2009) | doi:10.1038/457640b, News
Declan Butler

University lecturers and researchers in France began a national strike on 2 February over a draft decree that would change their job descriptions and procedures for promotion. The row has brought to a head simmering resentment among many researchers over ongoing broader reforms of research and higher education.

News in France

Reversing an earlier decision, the food agency known by its French initials AFSSA concluded recently that Monsanto's MON 810 maize poses no health risks. The change of heart corrected not only an error of science but one of intellectual honesty: Twelve of the 15 scientists who wrote the original report protested that politicians had misused their work. Yet AFSSA didn't deign to make its latest findings public until Le Figaro published a story about them. Predictably, Prime Minister Francois Fillon promised to maintain the government ban on GM crops as a "precaution."

September 2007 biotech acceptance survey of 400 maize farmers showed that:

• Farmers representing 62% of the total French maize hectares said farmers should have the option to plant or not plant approved biotech crops.
GM Poplars to Grow Next Door
- Hayley Birch, Nature Biotechnology 27, 107 (2009)

Researchers at the Ghent, Belgium-based Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) have gained ground in a long-running battle over the planting of genetically modified (GM) poplar trees by applying for permits to plant the trees across the border. The Belgian government initially refused VIB's application to run field trials on home turf, but now the Dutch government, which has already issued a 'positive opinion', may grant them permission.

The transgenic poplars are deficient in the enzyme cinnamoyl-CoA reductase, which reduces the lignin content making them more suitable for bioethanol production, although so far their benefits have only been demonstrated in the lab. The VIB had hoped for a green light from the Belgian Biosafety Council to run the trials closer to its research facilities and pilot-scale biorefinery. Instead, researchers will be forced to make regular trips to neighbouring Holland to monitor and harvest the trees.
PROJECT TO MAP AND ANALYZE FIVE WHEAT GENOMES

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded the University of Liverpool and the John Innes Center a 1.7 million pounds (US $2.4 million) grant to analyze the genomes of five wheat varieties. The work will help scientists understand the genetic basis of differing levels of yield and environmental stress tolerance between wheat varieties. The press release is available at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/media/releases/2009/090211_wheat_genome_food_security.html

GERMAN STATES IMPLEMENT BIOTECH SEPARATION DISTANCE

Several German states are implementing an 800-meter separation requirement between biotech corn fields and recognized ? environmentally sensitive areas.? Authorities based this requirement on the regulations of the German nature protection law and not on the Genetech law. Farmers who want to plant biotech corn within the protection area have to provide an environment impact report assuring that no endangered species will be at risk. They have taken the requirement to court as no similar restrictions exist for other plant protection technologies.

See the full report at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200902/146327219.pdf

Africa

KENYAN PRESIDENT SIGNS BIOSAFETY BILL

After years of discussion, Kenya’s Biosafety Bill has now been signed into law by President Mwai Kibaki. The President’s action gives the go signal for authorities to draw up regulations to facilitate the implementation of the Biosafety Act. A Biosafety Bill was drafted as early as 2005 when Kenya signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Kenya has several research activities related to genetically modified organisms. Hence, the law is much anticipated by those involved in the development of crop biotechnology in the country. Neighbouring countries who have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude to biosafety regulation are looking at Kenya to take the next appropriate steps. So far, South Africa, Egypt, and Burkina Faso in Africa have approved commercialization of biotech crops.

The Biosafety Bill 2008 sees the East African nation join Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa as African nations which permit genetically modified farming, following years of fine-tuning to the proposed regulations and mechanisms to monitor and regulate GM technology, and protect farmers and consumers. View the full article at http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1001&Itemid=1
GM Crops Aid Food Security in South Africa
Wilma den Hartigh,
www.MediaClubSouthAfrica.com,
Feb 25, 2009

South Africa's adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops continues to expand at an impressive rate. According to Dr Kobus Laubscher, CEO of Grain SA, this is an important development for sustainable food production in South Africa.

South Africa has maintained an impressive eighth position in the world ranking of biotech crop countries, planting more than 1.8-million hectares of genetically modified crops. A survey funded by the Maize Trust indicated that in 2008 GM maize plantings in South Africa increased by 10 000 hectares, even with an almost eight percent decline in commercial maize area planted. Soya beans increased by 40 000 hectares and cotton by 2000 hectares.

Smallholder and resource-poor farmers are also benefiting. GM maize produced a 31 percent higher yield than conventional maize and 134 percent more than conventional open-pollinated varieties.

Although there is a certain amount of resistance to GM products, the benefits outweigh the perceived disadvantages. Laubscher said every year 40-million South Africans, in one way or another, consume GM food without a single medical or scientifically-substantiated adverse effect on humans, animals or the environment.

GM production gains of 32-million metric tons in 2007 would have required 10-million extra hectares, had biotech crops not been used. Production gains from biotech crops between 1996 and 2007 were 141-million tons. At 2007 average yields, this would have required 43-million additional hectares without biotech crops.
Other advanced biotech research in South Africa includes: drought tolerant and streak virus resistance in maize, biofortied GM sorghum, increased insect and herbicide resistant maize, tuber moth and virus resistant potatoes, drought-tolerant soybeans and groundnuts and maize with tolerance to two herbicides.

America

Ecoterorists sentenced in Lansing, Michigan.

On New Year's Eve 1999, Mason and Ambrose caused an explosion and fire at Michigan State's Agriculture Hall to protest research on genetically modified crops. It grew out of control, causing more than $1 million in damage. No one was injured, but a third-floor window landed on a bike rack.

More than nine years later, the case of a New Year's Eve explosion and fire at Michigan State University will end with punishments for an environmental activist and two other people. The government wants a 20-year prison sentence for 47-year-old Marie Mason of Cincinnati. Prosecutors say it would be the toughest federal punishment ever imposed in a case of so-called eco-terrorism.
Cuba's First GM Corn
Veronica Guerrero, Nature Biotechnology 27, 110 (2009)

Cuba will be planting its first genetically modified (GM) corn to help reduce its dependence on costly food imports. The Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) of Havana will begin the experimental plantation of 125 acres with the GM corn, provisionally called FR-Bt1. This corn is currently undergoing regulatory approval for its environmental release.

"Cuban rules are very strict --- but in Cuba there is a political will for employing the technology," explains Carlos Borroto, deputy director of the state-run center, and head of the Cuban National Program of Agricultural Biotechnology. The FR-Bt1, whose technical details cannot be revealed due to confidentiality clauses in the registration process, is aimed at animal feed and will be used exclusively in Cuba. The GM crop is engineered to resist the country's main pest: the lepidopteron Spodoptera frugiperda. The FR-Bt1 corn was developed by a large CIGB team, led by Camilo Ayra, in collaboration with other research bodies.

The entire project was financed with public funds from the Cuban Council of State.

China

SYNGENTA PARTNERS WITH ANHUI ACADEMY ON DROUGHT, NITROGEN RESEARCH

Syngenta has entered into an eight-year research collaboration with Anhui Rice Research Institute (ARRI) of Anhui Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China. The collaboration will focus on drought tolerance and nitrogen utilization optimization in key crops such as sorghum and soybean. ARRI researchers will use rice as a model to study novel gene functions.

View the press release at http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_090210.html

India

The 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in New Delhi.

More than 1000 delegates representing the scientific community, international organizations, farmers’ organizations and other stakeholders from 48 countries attended the congress jointly organized by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar stressed: Enhancing agricultural production, increasing farm income, accelerating agricultural growth and conserving natural resources are the major challenges facing the world today. India needs to raise its food grain productivity by almost 40 percent from the present level to feed its huge population. Hence, agricultural scientists should introduce innovative technologies.

For more details contact http://www.icar.org.in/news/wcca06-02-2009.htm. A copy of the Minister's speech is at http://www.icar.org.in/AM_Speech_on_Conservation.pdf. More information about crop biotech in India can be obtained by emailing b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org.
Mahyco Gets Ready to go Commercial for Bt Rice, Wheat
http://www.fnbnews.com/article/detnews.asp?articleid=24968§ionid=1

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco in short), specialized in genetically modified (GM) crops, is all set to go commercial with the Bt varieties of staple crops such as rice, wheat and some vegetables in India. Bt rice, work on which began in 2002-03, is now expected to be granted approval by the GEAC soon, according to Dr. Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director, Mahyco. "In fact, we hope to have approval for the Bt wheat as well Farmers in North India are eager to adopt new wheat cultivation technologies," she added.

Research Platform For Transgenic Crops Launched.
The Hindu (India), Feb 9, 2009
http://www.icrisat.org/Media/2009/media3.htm

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, have together launched the project for establishing a Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC). The foundation stone for the PTTC was laid by M.K. Bhan, Secretary, DBT, and William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, at the Patancheru campus of ICRISAT, near Hyderabad, on Monday.

The DBT-funded Platform is a $6.2 million project that will translate transgenic technology and harness its products to meet the needs of agricultural growth and serve as a facility of reference to strengthen national, regional and international linkages in transgenic R&D, exchange of materials and information, as well as support training, consultation and technology commercialisation.
TRUST IN THE SEED IN HINDI

"Trust in the Seed", a publication of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, is now available in Hindi. The monograph highlights the significance of the seed and new crop technologies.  It captures the experiences of three key developments in Indian agriculture that sustained growth in agriculture, contributed to increased food production and the alleviation of poverty and hunger. In essence, ‘Trust in the Seed’ encapsulates the willingness of small resource-poor farmers to embrace improved seeds and adopt the new crop technologies in order to quickly overcome production constraints and to increase their income.

Other Asia

Golden Rice On Target For Release In 2011
http://www.agbios.com/static/news/NEWSID_10435.php

GENETICALLY modified (GMO) Golden Rice may be available to farmers as early as 2011, possibly helping to save millions of children threatened with blindness or premature death due to Vitamin A deficiency. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said that it expected to release the GMO rice, enriched with Vitamin A, by 2011. It was conducting its first field trials in the Philippines this year.

Golden Rice, which includes three new genes, including two from daffodil, is yellowish and contains beta-carotene, a substance that human bodies convert to Vitamin A. Its research has been seen as a model for cooperation between public and private sectors in pursuit of human welfare. Its inventors are claiming no property rights for the rice. Neither are the companies that own the technology involved.

Zeigler was talking early this week after IRRI received a grant of US$20 million for three years - equivalent to 17 per cent of its budget - from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

IRRI says the fund will help it reach 18 million households, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with better rice varieties and raise yields by about 50 per cent in the next 10 years.

IRRI calculated the world needed to increase the annual rice output by nearly 70 percent to 880 million tonnes by 2025 from 520 million tonnes currently to meet projected global demand. We are focusing on more difficult rice growing areas that do not have irrigation, Zeigler said. Drought tolerance and flood tolerance is the key for very impoverished areas.
EDUCATION EXPERTS IN BANGLADESH CALL FOR BIOTECH INSTITUTE

Academics led by Prof. Nazrul Islam, chairman of the University Grants Commission, and Vice Chancellor Sattar Mondal of the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) urged the upgrading of BAU?s Department of Biotechnology into an Institute. They proposed that it be designated as a center of excellence for teaching, research, training, and outreach activities for modern biotechnology. The academicians gave this recommendation during a university orientation at the BAU. In addition, they suggested that biotechnology education should be offered at the university level.

For more news about crop biotechnology in Bangladesh email Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin of the Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at nasirbiotech@yahoo.com
ABIC 2009: Bangkok, Thailand
September 22 - 25, 2009 http://www.abic.ca/abic2009.html

ABIC 2009 will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, September 22 - 25, 2009. The Conference host for the 2009 event is the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC).

BIOTEC is an autonomous institution under the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), part of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). BIOTEC's mission is to provide financial support to strengthen the research capacity of Thai scientists in biotechnology, and to develop infrastructure in order to promote R&D in the private sector. BIOTEC currently has over 10 research units, which act as a hub for scientific exchange and support centers for graduate student research. The largest of the in-house research facilities in the BIOTEC Central Research Unit located at the Thailand Science Park, Pathumthani. The Central Research Unit focuses on bioresource utilization, the discovery of drugs to find treatment for tropical diseases, plant biotechnology and food biotechnology.

Other

CSIRO SUBMITS APPLICATION FOR CONTROLLED RELEASE OF GM WHEAT AND BARLEY

Australia's CSIRO has submitted a license application to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator for an intentional release of genetically modified (GM) wheat and barley into the Australian Capital Territory. CSIRO will conduct a field trial at its research facility of 17 wheat lines and ten barley lines that have been genetically modified to improve the plants' ability to use nutrients from the soil.

Visit http://www.ogtr.gov.au/ for details of the application.

News in Science

RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY FROST TOLERANCE GENES IN WHEAT

An international team of researchers, led by Jorge Dubcovsky from the University of California-Davis, have pinpointed the genes in wheat that are responsible for the plant's tolerance to freezing temperature. The discovery may boost the efforts of wheat breeders to breed hardier varieties.

The research team had previously identified a group of 11 genes on wheat chromosome 5AL. These genes play a major role in regulating a large number of other genes that confer tolerance to cold temperatures. The team found out that frost-tolerant wheat varieties activated two of these genes earlier that frost-susceptible varieties when exposed to decreasing temperatures.

http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/impact/2009/nri/02091_wheat_frost.html
DNA fingerprinting techniques uncover cheese microbes

Most people connect DNA fingerprinting with humans, but an international team of researchers has successfully used DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify microbes on a 'smear-ripened' cheese.

Link between missing genes and psoriasis risk found

Psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition, affects 1% to 5% of the population in each European country. Prevalence is higher in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Setting their sights on identifying who is more likely to suffer from this chronic condition, a group of genetics experts at the University of Nottingham in the UK found that people lacking the genes LCE3B and LCE3C have a greater chance of being affected.

Super Cassava' to Enter Field Trials
Aisling Irwin, Scidev.net, Feb. 19, 2009

Some 250 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa - and 800 million people globally - rely on cassava as their main source of energy. But it is low in nutrients, vulnerable to plant viruses, and it lasts only two days without processing.

The genetically modified cassava contains 30 times as much beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, as its normal counterpart. Ultimately it is hoped the cassava will contain increased levels of iron, protein, zinc and vitamin E that will meet the minimum daily allowance in a 500 gram meal.

Richard Sayre of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis, Missouri directs the BioCassava Plus programme, which began in 2005 under the Grand Challenges for Global Health Programme. The challenge is to provide complete nutrition in a single staple crop.

If those succeed, there will be nutrition trials, first in animals and then in humans. Nigeria's approval is the first it has granted for a GM confined field trial, said Sayre - though the document awaits the signature of the country's environment minister. The Nigerian National Root Crops Research Initiative will oversee the trials.
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