News in March 2009
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2009-04-07

General

AS SCIENCE JOURNALISM DECLINES,
SCIENTISTS MUST RISE UP AND REACH OUT

Editorial, Nature 458, 260 (March 19, 2009)

Science journalism is one of the numerous casualties in media meltdown. Many science journalists are losing their jobs, and those who remain are being asked to provide content for blogs, podcasts, online videos and other new media. Although it is difficult to know what effect these cutbacks have had on the public's understanding of science, the general feeling is that the quality of science coverage in the conventional media is declining - as is the media's ability to play a watchdog role in science, ferreting out fraud or other misconduct.

True, there is no shortage of scientific information on the web. In principle, anyone with an Internet connection now has access to more, and better, scientific coverage than ever before.

In practice, however, this sort of information reaches only those who seek it out. An average citizen is unlikely to search the web for the Higgs boson or the proteasome if he or she doesn't hear about it first on, say, a cable news channel.

Scientists are blogging in ever increasing numbers, and the most popular blogs draw hundreds of thousands of readers each month. These blogging scientists not only offer expertise for free, but have emerged as an important resource for reporters. A Nature survey of nearly 500 science journalists shows that most have used a scientist's blog in developing story ideas.

Sadly, blogging will not help, and could even hurt, a young researcher's chances of tenure. Many of their elders still look down on colleagues who blog, believing that research should be communicated only through conventional channels such as peer-review and publication. Indeed, many researchers are hesitant even to speak to the popular press, for fear of having their carefully chosen words twisted beyond recognition.

But in today's overstressed media market, scientists must change these attitudes if they want to stay in the public eye. Even if they are reluctant to talk to the press themselves, they should encourage colleagues who do so responsibly. Scientists are poised to reach more people than ever, but only if they can embrace the very technology that they have developed.

Successes and Failures with Ag Biotech in Developing Countries in the Past
FAO Biotechnology Forum; e-mail conference, April 20 to May 17, 2009  http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp

The aim of the e-mail conference is to analyse past experiences of applying different agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries, to document and discuss what has succeeded or failed and to determine and evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their success or failure.

As usual, the conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated. To join the Forum (and also register for the conference), send an e-mail to mailserv@mailserv.fao.org leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two lines

subscribe BIOTECH-Lsubscribe biotech-room4

For more information, contact biotech-mod4@fao.org
Vatican Cheers GM
Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology 27, 214 (2009) http://www.nature.com

A closed door meeting to be held at the Vatican in Rome in May will see leading scientists gathering to discuss a campaign backing agricultural biotech. The study week has been organized by Ingo Potrykus, co-inventor of the fortified Golden Rice technology and president of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The Vatican has long been concerned about food security, and advisors from the academy, which holds a membership roster of the most respected names in twentieth-century science, have recognized that plant biotech has the potential to benefit the poor.

Global Crisis 'to Strike by 2030'
Christine McGourty, BBC News, March 19, 2009
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7951838.stm

Growing world population will cause a "perfect storm" of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned. By 2030 the demand for resources will create a crisis with dire consequences. "It's a perfect storm," Prof Beddington told the Sustainable Development UK 09 conference.  "There's not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don't tackle these problems." Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London. Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added.

Prof Beddington said the looming crisis would match the current one in the banking sector. "My main concern is what will happen internationally, there will be food and water shortages," he said. "We're relatively fortunate in the UK; there may not be shortages here, but we can expect prices of food and energy to rise."

The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025. The amount of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to decline sharply in that time. The issue of food and energy security rose high on the political agenda last year during a spike in oil and commodity prices.

At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested. Professor Beddington said: "We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures. "Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity - a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding.

He wants policy-makers in the European Commission to receive the same high level of scientific advice as the new US president, Barack Obama. One solution would be to create a new post of chief science adviser to the European Commission, he suggested. ''
Rogue's Gallery Opposes Golden Rice
Andrew Apel, GMOBelus, March 21, 2009

It appears that Golden Rice will be released to farmers in the Philippines by 2012. Already, deaths worldwide from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) are over 16 million. By 2012, the number of deaths will be millions greater -- perhaps more than those who died from Stalin's intentional food-deprivation policies during 1932-33.

Opponents of Golden Rice, like those who oppose GM crops generally, have complained for at least a decade about the ethics of feeding GM foods to humans without human testing. Now, they're complaining about human testing.

Who are these people, who are willing to sacrifice human lives for the sake of elusive, contradictory principles, in the face of historical experiences universally regarded as misguided, and more often, contemptible?

In an open letter to Tufts University, the organization which is sponsoring three feeding trials of Golden Rice, these people describe themselves as "all senior scientists/academics with a professional interest", who view the work as "woefully inadequate" and "completely unacceptable".

More at http://www.gmobelus.com/news.php?viewStory=358

Books & Articles

Socio-economic Impacts of Non-GM Biotechnologies: Micropropagation
FAO-BiotechNews, http://www.fao.org/biotech

FAO's Research and Extension Division has just published "Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa". The 75-page publication comprises three papers.

See http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0340e/i0340e00.htm or contact charlotte.lietaer@fao.org to request a copy, providing your full postal address
Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops
Edited by N Ferry, University of Newcastle; A Gatehouse,University of Newcastle; CABI, Hardback ; February 2009; ISBN: 9781845934095; 432 pages

The genetic modification of crops continues to be the subject of intense debate, and opinions are often strongly polarised. Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops addresses the major concerns of scientists, policy makers, environmental lobby groups and the general public regarding this controversial issue, from an editorially neutral standpoint.

Details and Intro plus sample chapter at http://www.cabi.org/bk_BookDisplay.asp?PID=2087
Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops within IPM Programs
Edited by Jörg Romeis, Anthony M. Shelton, George G. Kennedy; Hardcover: 441 pages;  Springer; 1 edition (September 11, 2008); ISBN-10: 1402083726

Insect pests remain one of the main constraints to food and fiber production worldwide despite farmers deploying a range of techniques to protect their crops. Modern pest control is guided by the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) with pest resistant germplasm being an important part of the foundation. Since 1996, when the first genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant maize variety was commercialized in the USA, the area planted to insect-resistant GM varieties has grown dramatically, representing the fastest adoption rate of any agricultural technology in human history.

The goal of our book is to provide an overview on the role insect-resistant GM plants play in different crop systems worldwide. We hope that the book will contribute to a more rational debate about the role GM crops can play in IPM for food and fiber production.
Three-Year Field Monitoring of Cry1F,
Event DAS-O15O71, Maize Hybrids for Nontarget Arthropod Effects
Higgins, Laura S. et al.  Environmental Entomology; Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 281-292(12); February 2009 http://esa.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/

Results of these studies confirm earlier laboratory testing and support the hypothesis that Cry1F maize does not produce adverse effects on nontarget arthropods occurring in maize fields.

iPlant Collaborative
http://www.iplantcollaborative.org

The iPlant Collaborative will bring together researchers in every plant biology discipline-from those working at the microscopic level, such as molecular biologists, cellular biologists and geneticists, to those working on the ecosystem and planetary level-in partnership with computer scientists and engineers, information scientists, mathematicians and social scientists, in order to facilitate communication and collaboration across all of these disciplines and provide tools so that these specialists can work together more effectively than they have in the past.

Agricultural Productivity, Food & Nutrition Security

In the recently concluded 5th World Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia, Joachim Von Braun, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute highlighted three important strategies that policy makers, development practitioners, donors and private sectors need to engage into, to combat hunger and poverty in the coming decades. These are: Increase investment in agricultural productivity, facilitate trade in regional and global grain reserves, and invest in social protection and child nutrition. He said he was optimistic that these measures accompanied with national policies and international cooperation, and commitment by the global community will help significantly in reducing the number of poor, hungry, and malnourished people.

For details see the press statement of the director general at: http://www.ifpri.org/pressrel/2009/20090303.asp
US: Compendium of Transgenic Crop Plants, 10 volume set
Wiley-Blackwell (Via Agnet)
http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405169249.html

The Set offers a comprehensive review of the commercially relevant transgenic plants developed and presently utilized. Volumes 1-9 cover around 100 plant species, from crops to forest trees. Volume 10 is the master index volume.

Each chapter covers one particular species (or sometimes group of closely related species) and the transgenic versions developed for that particular species.
Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World
New book by NAS, 206 pages, 2009, $47.00 ISBN-10: 0-309-13217-7
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12602#description

During the next ten years, colleges of agriculture will be challenged to transform their role in higher education and their relationship to the evolving global food and agricultural enterprise. If successful, agriculture colleges will emerge as an important venue for scholars and stakeholders to address some of the most complex and urgent problems facing society.

Lines of Communication
Editorial Nature Methods 6, 181 (2009)
http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/v6/n3/full/nmeth0309-181.html

The increasing impact of science on society calls for improved communication between scientists and the public via dedicated science media centers as well as nontraditional personal blogs.

Events

Ecological Impact of Genetically Modified Organisms (EIGMO)
14-16 May 2009, Rostock, Germany
ACHEMA 2009 29.

Internationaler Ausstellungskongress für Chemische Technik, Umweltschutz und Biotechnologie Frankfurt am Main, 11. - 15. Mai 2009 www.achema.de

3rd European Course for Biobusiness Development,

June 24 – 28, 2009
Hotel Bildungszentrum 21, Basel, Switzerland

8th International Symposium in the Series
RECENT ADVANCES IN PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY
NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN GREEN GENE TECHNOLOGY
1-4 September, 2009 – Szeged, Hungary
http://prof-congress.hu/2009/biotech-8
European Congress on Biotechnology (ECB-14)
which will be held in Barcelona from 13 to 16 September, 2009.

Abstracts submission deadline is April 1. Early bird fees deadline is June 14. Check out the congress programme on the website (www.ecb14.eu) to see all the details – and register.

THE CO-EXTRA  INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
(3-5 JUNE 2009, PARIS, FRANCE)
CONFERENCE  REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!
http://www.coextra.eu/conference/registration
African Crop Science Society Conference
http://www.acss2009.up.ac.za/

The 9th African Crop Science Society Conference is scheduled to be held on 28 September 2009 at Cape Town, South Africa. The theme of the conference will be "Science and Technology Supporting Food Security in Africa". Aspects such as agronomy, horticulture, crop improvement and physiology, post harvest handling and food sciences and rural socio-economics and agricultural extension will be covered.

Agriculture: Africa's Engine for Growth
http://www.aab.org.uk/contentok.php?id=83&basket=wwsshowconfdets

The Association of Applied Biologists is organizing an international conference that will be held at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts, UK on 12-14 October 2009. With the theme Agriculture: Africa's Engine for Growth - Plant Science & Biotechnology Hold the Key, the international symposium is designed to bring together scientists from Africa, Europe and the USA to examine how new advances in plant science research and developing technologies can be used to the benefit of African agriculture.

Europe - EU

EU regulation as a Barrier
Cisgenesis Boosts Apple Disease Resistance
Brian Lovelidge,  HorticultureWeek via www.checkbiotech.org

Apples are being genetically modified in the Netherlands to make them resistant to scab and in due course other diseases, too. The technique being used should be more acceptable to environmentalists and consumers because the resistance genes being used come from wild apple species rather than a foreign source.

This type of genetic modification, called cisgenesis, was described by Henk Schouten of Plant Research International, based at Wageningen University, at Agrovista's spring fruit meeting, which took place on 11 February at Ashford, Kent. He explained that with conventional breeding the production of scab-resistant varieties of good eating quality and suitability for commercial production takes as long as 50 years. This has been done using a crab apple, Malus floribunda, as the source of scab resistance. The trouble is that only one resistance gene is involved and in Holland this resistance has broken down within 10 years of the resistant variety being introduced.

The big advantages of cisgenesis, Schouten claimed, are that it is a much quicker process; several resistant genes can be used, making the breakdown of resistance unlikely; and the genes are inserted into the genomes of good-quality, established varieties, so no lengthy cross breeding is required to get commercially acceptable varieties.

"Science now knows how to isolate genes (for resistance) and introduce them into the DNA of existing varieties," said Schouten. "Once we've got the right gene in our hands it will cost about EUR500,000 (Ł440,000) to get it into a variety."

However, he admitted that there is a potential problem in getting a cisgenesis variety approved by the EU Commission for commercial production. This is because EU laws do not differentiate between varieties containing genes introduced from foreign and same-species sources and to get a GM variety approved is very time-consuming and costs around EUR 6.8m.
Test Failures A Threat for Organic Pesticides
William Surman, Farmers Guardian (UK), March 26, 2009
http://www.farmersguardian.com

Nearly half of the pesticides specially approved for use in organic farming have failed EU safety tests and more could follow as the rules are tightened, according to the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).

Most organic food is produced without the use of pesticides but farmers are allowed to use a limited range as a last resort on particular crops. Some pesticides approved for organic farming failed safety tests 'based on good science' and more could be removed when rules tighten.

As part of the ongoing assessment of all pesticides, the European Food Safety Authority has approved just 14 of the 27 organic pesticides put before it since the EU's Plant Protection Products (pesticides) regulations came into force in 1996, although many have received a derogation for continued use. The ECPA said the pesticides had failed the safety tests 'based on good science' but warned tighter rules on pesticides due next year could remove more organic pesticides from farmers' armoury.

It said new pesticides regulation could result in reduced yields and force organic prices up for no good reason. "Our concern is that pesticides could be removed from organic farmers under the new regulation that is not based on rational science or risk analysis," said an ECPA spokesman. "Organic farmers already have limited options for crop protection and if more products are removed productivity could fall and prices could increase."

He added the organic industry would find it increasingly difficult to meet food production targets and supply the growing organic market. "We are concerned about sustaining Europe's ability to maintain a sufficient and affordable food supply if too many pest management solutions are lost too quickly," he said.

See Also http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/ScientificPanels/PRAPER/efsa_locale-1178620753812_Conclusions494.htm

Europe

EuropaBio calls on EU political leaders to offer EU farmers the freedom to cultivate GM crops

The number of EU farmers wanting the choice to cultivate biotech crops is on the increase reported EuropaBio; a recent set of surveys carried out across Europe echo the ever increasing worldwide demand for biotech crops.

http://www.europabio.org/documents/PR_Right%20To%20Choose%2012%2002%2009.pdf
Water-Wise Solutions from Agricultural Biotechnology
EuropaBio, Brussels, March 20, 2009

Fresh water is one of the world's most valuable resources and in the future it is going to be even more precious. Agriculture accounts for 70% of all human water use and, if current trends continue, water shortages will be the single most significant constraint on crop production over the next 50 years.

"Worldwide, agricultural biotechnology could play a significant role in providing farmers yield stability during periods when water supply is scarce by mitigating the effects of drought - or water stress - within a plant" said Nathalie Moll "We already know that areas of high water stress in Europe are likely to dramatically increase in the coming years1. Yet what is less certain, is if and when EU farmers, whose land is currently 80% rain-fed, will be offered the choice of growing crops which can reduce water loss and improve drought tolerance"

Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds expected to be commercialized by 2012. Field trials for drought-tolerant maize conducted last year in the Western Great Plains in the United States have met or exceeded 6-10 percent target yield enhancement over the average yield of 70-130 bushels per acre (equivalent to approximately 4.4-8.1 metric tons per hectare). In addition, agricultural practices have already been developed that reduce the amount of ploughing required before planting
Germany’s minister considering the ban of genetically modified Bt maize

Germany’s minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner (CSU), annouced that she will be considering a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified Bt maize in Germany, has brought forth intense reactions. Please read the whole text: "It undermines the credibility of biosafety research."
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/news/679.docu.html

Ecologist Dr. Stefan Rauschen, who has for many years been actively conducting research into issues relating to the environmental safety of Bt maize, has written an open letter to Aigner and the Bavarian environment and health minister, Markus Söder (CSU).
GERMANY GIVES € 1.35 MILLION TO DEVELOP NITROGEN EFFICIENT RICE

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has awarded Freie Universität Berlin and China Agricultural University a € 1.35 million (US$ 1.74 million) grant for a project that could speed up the development of nitrogen use efficient rice varieties. The scientists working on the project will focus on deciphering the molecular structures responsible for urea's absorption and metabolism in the crop. Urea is the nitrogenous fertilizer most commonly used in agriculture around the world, particularly in Asia where it accounts for more than half of the fertilizers used. Availability of nitrogen use efficient rice varieties can significantly reduce the amount of fertilizers farmers apply to fields. This can increase farm productivity and reduce the ecological impacts associated with nitrogen fertilizers.

The press release at http://www.fu-berlin.de/presse/fup/2009/fup_09_043/index.html
BULGARIA SUPPORTS HUNGARY'S ANTI-GM STANCE

Bulgaria's Environment Ministry announced that the country is backing up Hungary's decision to stay GMO free, according to a report by Bulgaria's national English-language newspaper the Sofia Echo. The announcement was made by Ministry of Environment secretary Djevdet Chakurov during a visit by Hungary's ambassador to the country.

http://www.sofiaecho.com/2009/02/27/682827_hungary-has-bulgarias-support-in-saying-no-to-gmos
Bioethics conference in Brussels attracts over 50 people from industry, research and EU institutions

Over 50 participants attended the February 9th bioethics conference in Brussels (held as part of the EU FP6 project “From GMP to GBP”) jointly organized by EuropaBio and France Biotech. Lively discussions were held around a number of topics, including bioethics and clinical trials, bioethics and genetic testing, bio-banking and gene and cell therapy.

Irish agriculture
Dr Ewen Mullins, Sunday Times (UK) March 15, 2009
http://www.timesonline.co.uk
(Dr Ewen Mullins is a senior research officer at the Teagasc Crops Research Centre in Carlow.

This is an excerpt from recent research published in Annals of Applied Biology.)

When the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was in place, Ireland concentrated on boosting crop yields by increased use of pesticides and fertilisers. Between 1985 and 2006, Irish cereal production increased by 4.6%, yet the area under cereals declined by 29%, from 380,000 hectares to 270,000. But these dramatic efficiencies came with a significant social and environmental cost. The number of agricultural workers in Ireland has declined to approximately 40% of what it was in 1973 and there has been an enormous deterioration in water and soil quality. There has been a noticeable reduction in biological diversity on farms. Equally dramatic changes are expected to occur in agriculture between now and 2030.

The principle reason is the current suite of EU-approved GM crops is not suited to Ireland's agri-environment. But this will change in the near future as new varieties with increased disease resistance, elevated protein content and improved bioenergy potential come on stream.

The relevance of these crops is all the more real in light of the challenges facing Irish agriculture. Climate change will be hugely demanding for tillage farmers. By 2040, temperatures in Ireland are predicted to increase by 1.25-1.5C, with rainfall expected to increase by up to 15% in the winter months and to decrease by up to 20% over the summer.

Reducing the use of fungicides and herbicides is a critical goal. In 2004, total chemical inputs for arable crops in Ireland totalled 1,520 tonnes, including 663 tonnes of herbicide, 619 of fungicide, 29 of insecticide and 209 of other products. New crops that are modified to resist disease will give Irish farmers the opportunity to reduce use of fungicides.

Potato varieties resistant to blight have been created and are now being tested. Potato farmers currently spray their crop with fungicides up to 14 times per growing season; a blight-tolerant variety could eliminate this. That would save the farmer up to €200 a hectare and reduce the crop's environmental impact. The introduction of GM crops has been greeted with scepticism, especially among the public. But the increase in food and feed prices, and the shortages of both experienced last year, may eventually change the public's opinion.
Randomly against Biosciences
Thomas Deichmann, Novo, Feb. 24, 2009
http://www.novo-argumente.com/magazin.php/novo_notizen/artikel/000116

A recent demonstration, which took place in Vienna backed the Austrian government's position against Green Biotechnology. Vienna has obstructed the cultivation of genetically engineered plants for years, even though this is legal according to EU-law. In a voodoo-like appeal, genetic engineering is linked with "a drastic increase in allergies and cancer".

in Germany, the anti-GM-activist Vandana Shiva tours the country again. The Bavarian government has recently announced, to put even more obstacles in the way for the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

More than ten years ago, the (Green) Federal Minster of Agriculture, Renate Künast has turned GM technologies into a projection surface for irrational anxiety and anti-americanism. Her successor, the Christian Democrat Horst Seehofer kept these principles, because he realized quickly, how easy Bavarian crackerbarrels can be conquered with hollow greenish slogans. Now Ilse Aigner, also Christian Democrat, followed Seehofer to the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, being quick to announce, to review this year's Bt-corn cultivation anew, just because GM-technology had "no significant benefit for the people in this country".

Africa

MALAWI'S AGRICULTURE MINISTRY RELEASES DROUGHT-PROOF MAIZE VARIETIES

The country's Agriculture Ministry has recently released two drought-proof maize varieties in the Balaka District, a drought-prone region in Southern Malawi. The varieties, developed by the Agriculture Ministry in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), can tolerate the region's dry, infertile soil. Both are open pollinated varieties. They are also resistant to an array of diseases that plague maize crops in sub-Saharan Africa, including the maize streak virus and the gray leaf spot.

According to Africa News Science, the new maize varieties will be included in Malawi's national agricultural input subsidy program. This program is credited as being the force behind the country's food self sufficiency. Agriculture Secretary Andrew Daudi said,  "Farmers have embraced these new varieties and have even given them local names, meaning that they appreciate them, especially ZM 309, an early maturing, dwarf and disease-resistant variety."

The complete article is available at http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php/News/Latest/administrator/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1104&Itemid=2
MOU TO STRENGTHEN BIOTECH AWARENESS IN AFRICA SIGNED

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter  to strengthen biotechnology and biosafety awareness creation and knowledge-sharing in Africa through the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB).

For more information contact Daniel Otunge of ISAAA AfriCenter at d.otunge@cgiar.org or visit http://www.ofabafrica.org.
Mauritius to Implement Biosafety Framework
African Press Agency, Port Louis (Mauritius) http://www.apanews.net/

Mauritius will implement a national biosafety framework on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to ensure that the health of the population and the environment are not put in danger, Agro-Industry and Food Production Minister Satish Faugoo announced on Thursday.

Ghana to Undertake Field Trials on GM Crops
http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=158358

Ghana will soon begin field trials with Genetically Modified crops, which, when successful, will help enhance agricultural modernization and productivity. This follows the coming into force of a legislative instrument in May 2008 allowing research into GM crops pending the passage of the Biosafety Bill. A secretariat is to be set up to ensure the smooth administrative implementation of the field trials.

Bill Gates to Fund $47m Anti-drought GM Maize Study
Halima Abdallah K The East African, Feb 28, 2009
http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G Buffett Foundation are to sponsor a five-country study on a drought-resistant maize variety to a tune of $47 million. The five-year research programme, to be carried out through the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, will kick off in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Uganda under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project in June.

It is estimated that maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20 to 35 per cent under moderate drought compared with current varieties. This should translate into an additional two million tonnes of maize during drought years, capable of feeding about 21 million people.

America

OBAMA SIGNS MEMORANDUM ON SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY

"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and work to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology." With this pronouncement United States President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity.

The Memorandum aims to "restore scientific integrity in government decision making." Hence, the Administration's decisions about public policy will be guided by the most accurate and objective scientific advice available. "The public must be able to trust that advice, as well, and to be confident that public officials will not conceal or distort the scientific findings that are relevant to policy choice," the Memorandum noted.

Read more on the Memorandum at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Fact-Sheet-on-Presidential-Memorandum-on-Scientific-Integrity/
MSU ARSONIST SENTENCED TO 21 YEARS

Marie Mason, an environmental activist, was sentenced to 21 years and ten months in prison for her role in an Earth Liberation Front arson at the Michigan State University (MSU) in 1999. Mason's group protested the University's involvement in transgenic research. Aren Burthwick and Stephanie Fultz were also indicted and charged with assisting in a cover-up related to the case and failing to report the arson to authorities. Read more at http://www.mediamouse.org/news/2009/02/marie-mason-sentence-elf.php

China

CHINA GIVES USD 30 MILLION TO BOOST AGRICULTURE IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

China's Ministry of Agriculture has signed a USD 30 million cooperation deal with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve agricultural productivity in developing countries, particularly in Africa. "This historic agreement underlines the importance of the role which China has come to play in the global arena today," said FAO Assistant Director-General José Maria Sumpsi. Sumpsi signed the agreement in Beijing with Chinese Vice-Minister for Agriculture Niu Dun.

The FAO-China fund will have a strong focus in Africa, but will not exclude other regions, the UN agency said, with Beijing releasing USD 10 million a year. China will provide experts to developing countries for technical assistance and training as well as agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds. Read the press release at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/10802/icode/
Chinese Academy of Sciences and Agrobiological research

Professor Lu Yongxiang, vice head of the National People's Congress Standing Committee and president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said: "Agro-biological research must rely on the innovation of science and technology. We need to upgrade our agriculture industry framework, and develop a high quality and effective agricultural ecosystem. Establishing a high value bioindustry that guarantees food and agriculture product security is imperative." He made these remarks during a visit to the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) where he also discussed activities of the Plant Gene Research Center, Molecular Agro-biology Center, Developmental Biology Center and National Plant Gene Platform of IGDB.

Dr. Xue Yongbiao, director of IGDB, said that there is a need to set up the science and technology innovation system for modern agriculture. Dr. Zhang Zhibin, Director of Bureau of Life Science and Biotechnology, CAS and Director Pan Jiaofeng of Bureau of Planning and Strategy, CAS also attended the meeting.

For the Chinese version of the press release,  visit http://www.cas.ac.cn/10000/10001/10010/2009/131896.htm

India

India outshines China
Sudhir Chowdhary, Financial Express (India), March 9, 2009
http://www.financialexpress.com

An interesting game of research might is being played out between India and China in the realm of biotech crops. After years of extensive field trials, China is getting ready to launch biotech (Bt) rice for commercial use within 24 months. The development is significant as rice is the most important food crop in the world, especially for the poor. Therefore, it could answer the current food security problem.

Not to be left far behind, researchers at various government and private institutes in India are conducting extensive field trials on, not only biotech rice but, a host of other biotech crops before they are made available for cultivation on a commercial scale. Specifically to biotech rice, field trials are being conducted at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, Mahyco, Mumbai, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Hyderabad and Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad.

However, biotech eggplant (brinjal) may be made available as the first biotech food crop in India within the next 12 months. In total, there are now 10 biotech crops in field trials in India. These include cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn, groundnut, okra, potato and tomato. Clearly, India's increased public and private sector investments including government support for crop biotechnology has helped it outshine China.
Scientists to Develop Hybrid Cotton Varieties At Lower Cost
Jacob P. Koshy,  livemint.com, March 2, 2009 via www.checkbiotech.org

NEW DELHI, India - Indian scientists plan to launch hybrid varieties of genetically modified cotton seeds at nearly one-third the price charged by most seed companies in the country, said a scientist on condition of anonymity.

The hybrids will be developed from a genetically modified variety of cotton-Bt Bikaneri Narma, which has been developed by a consortium of research institutions and universities, including the Central Institute for Cotton Research, or CICR, Nagpur, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka.

Other Asia

BAYER INVESTS IN HYBRID RICE IN THAILAND

Germany-based Bayer Group plans to invest 100 million baht (approximately US$2.8M) between 2008 and 2012 on hybrid rice development in Thailand. It expects to commercialize hybrid rice seed under the Arize brand in 2011. Currently, Charoen Pokphand Group, the country's largest agriculture company, is one of a handful of active players in hybrid rice technology. Thailand is the world's sixth-largest rice producer but the biggest exporter, shipping 60 percent of output abroad.

For more information from the Biotechnology and Biosafety Information Center (BBIC-Thailand) visit  http://www.safetybio.agri.kps.ku.ac.th/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5015&Itemid=42
INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT AND PIONEER HI-BRED ENTER AGREEMENT

For the first time, the Indonesian government will team up with a multinational company to breed and market hybrid rice. DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred was granted access by the Indonesian Center for Rice Research (ICRR) to test and commercialize its rice hybrids in Asia. The hybrid rice varieties will primarily be exported to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and India. ICRR and Pioneer Hi-Bred signed a memorandum of agreement last Monday at the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

For more information, read http://www.pioneer.com/web/site/portal/menuitem.5dda3a9104ca5ef086738673d10093a0/ and http://bbpadi.litbang.deptan.go.id/ (article in Bahasa Indonesia)
Enabling Bio-innovations for Poverty Alleviation in Asia:

Call for proposals http://www.bioinnovationpolicies.ait.asia/submission-guidelines

Enabling Bio-Innovation For Poverty Alleviation in Asia" is a competitive research grants awarding program supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Asia Regional Office Singapore) in partnership with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT,Thailand). The project aims to stimulate and enable research on bio-innovation in Asia that addresses poverty alleviation, and to initiate and support the building of a network of researchers and scholars committed to understanding and enhancing bio-innovation towards economically progressive and socially responsible goals.
IRRI TO CELEBRATE 50TH YEAR IN 2010

Fifty years of rice research by 2010. The International Rice Research Institute celebrates its golden anniversary as Asia's largest and oldest international agricultural research organization. IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler said IRRI's celebrations will focus on the "enormous challenges faced by poor rice farmers and consumers."

Among the scheduled events include the launch of IRRI's 50th anniversary by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand on November 17, 2009 at IRRI in Los Bańos, Philippines. She will also open the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium in Manila that same month. The 3rd International Rice Congress is set to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam In November 2010 with the theme Rice for Future Generations. The congress will  include the 28th International Rice Research Conference, 3rd World Rice Commerce Conference, and 3rd International Rice Technology and Cultural Expo.

Email Sophie Clayton for details of the anniversary activities at s.clayton@cgiar.org.
BIOTECH MINISTERS SUPPORT THE USE OF BIOTECH FOR FOOD SECURITY

A three day International Conference on Plant Breeding and Seed for Food Security was recently held at the  Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Dhaka, Bangladesh with both Ms. Matia Chowdhury, Minister for Agriculture and Dr. M. A. Razzaque, Minister for Food and Disaster Management supporting the use of biotechnology as the prime option for food and nutritional security for Bangladesh.

Ms. Chowdhury assured that the government will continually support initiatives for food security using high tech agriculture. Dr. Razzaque on the other hand, emphasized the development of world class biotech laboratories and research institutions that will conduct significant research to address agricultural problems such as salinity, waterlogging, drought, diseases and pests. He further suggested to develop varieties for improved water/nutrient use efficiency and more photosynthetic ability like converting C3 to C4 plants.

Similarly, Bangladesh Food and Agriculture Organization representative Ad Spijkers expressed his support to biotech and basic research especially for developing saline tolerant crops and other varieties of crops with important traits for food security. The conference was attended by 600 scientists, seed growers, farmers, researchers and was chaired by Dr Kazi Badruddoza, National Scientist Emeritus.

For details of the conference, contact Dr. K. M. Nasiruddin of Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at nasirbiotech@yahoo.com

Australia

Field trials of GM Projects Yield 'Promising' Results
Philip Hopkins, Business Times, March 29, 2009
http://business.brisbanetimes.com.au

Preliminary trials in Victoria show that genetically modified wheat could lift production yields by about 20 per cent and GM pastures could economically boost the dairy, beef and wool industries. Molecular Plant Breeding CRC chief executive Glenn Tong said trials of its drought-tolerant wheat in 2007 and last year were "very promising" - with yields of the GM wheat up to 20 per cent higher than non-GM wheat under drought stress.

"We have to be very cautious about the interpretation of these preliminary results and bear in mind that there are many field trials to come," Dr Tong said. Similarly, he said CRC modelling indicated dairy cows eating GM varieties of perennial ryegrass could produce 20 per cent more milk.

Dr Tong showed the preliminary results of the various trials and economic impact modelling to the annual conference of the Victorian Farmers' Federation Grains Council last week. Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, based at Bundoora in northern Melbourne, is conducting the $28 million, seven-year GM drought-tolerant wheat project in partnership with BASF Plant Science, a plant biotechnology subsidiary of German chemical giant BASF.

'The GM drought-tolerant wheat is not expected to be released to the market for at least another eight years. "There will be another four or five years of trials," Dr Tong said, followed by three or four years to gain regulatory approval, for example from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in Australia and similar authorities overseas.

Dr. Tong said a big side-benefit could come from animals producing less methane. "If the grass is more digestible, this could translate to more efficient fermentation, which in turn could translate to less methane being produced," he said. "But this hypothesis needs to be tested in animal trials in the future." Dr Tong said he estimated the ryegrass project should create a commercial product by about 2015.
CLIMATE CHANGE MAY PROMPT WEED ATTACK

Scientists from Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) warned that climate change could spell big trouble for Australia. The country has suffered an epic drought in 2006 and 2007, attributed to Global Warming. Now CSIRO scientists believe that climate change will cause some of Australia's potential weeds to move south by up to 1000 km. Weeds cost Australia some 4 billion AUD (2 billion USD) either in control or lost production annually.

The CSIRO researchers looked at what effects climate changes anticipated for 2030 and 2070 might have on the distribution of 41 weeds that pose a threat to agriculture and the natural environment.
South east and south west Australia are the regions most threatened by weeds, according to CSIRO researcher John Scott. Weeds found to pose the greatest threat under climate change include: karroo thorn (Acacia karroo), rosewood (Tipuana tipu) and kochia (Bassia scoparia).

For more information, read http://www.csiro.au/news/Climate-change-may-wake-sleeper-weeds.html
CSIRO PLANS LIMITED RELEASE OF GM WHEAT VARIETIES

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has submitted an application to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) for the limited and controlled release of up to 16 genetically modified wheat varieties. Grain characteristics, particularly carbohydrate and protein composition, were altered in the transgenic lines. These characteristics influence baking qualities and nutritional characteristics, such as glycemic index and metabolic health. The GM wheat lines also contain a selectable marker gene (nptII) which confers resistance to certain antibiotics.

If approved, the release will take place in the Australian Capital Territory on a total area of up to 1 hectare between 2009 and 2012. OGTR has prepared a Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) which concludes that the release poses negligible risks to people and the environment. OGTR seeks comment on the prepared RARMP.

For more information, contact ogtr@health.gov.au or http://www.ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/dir092

News in Science

Global Wheat Crop Threatened by Fungus:
David Biello, Scientific American, March 20, 2009
(Full interview at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=global-wheat-crop-threatened-by-fungus)

'A new strain of a devastating fungus could impact wheat crops the world over--and scientists are scrambling to nip it in the bud'

Ten years ago we identified a new stem rust race in Uganda-that's why it's called Ug99. More than 90 percent of the world's wheat varieties are susceptible to it. Clearly, this represents a major threat to production because, historically, stem rust was the most important wheat disease.

In the late 1950s stem rust was the first disease for which agricultural scientists developed resistant wheat strains. Resistance was so good that for 50 years, we didn't worry. Norman Borlaug [1970 Nobel Peace Prize-winner and developer of resistant wheat] saw the susceptibility to Ug99 and he rang the alert bell. The Global Rust Initiative was established then to fight stem rust on a global level.

Some 300 to 350 people involved in wheat breeding, and particularly rust resistance, gathered this week [at the international symposium] to discuss the latest progress in developing varieties resistant to stem rust.

How big is the problem?

Stem rust has been confirmed in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan and Iran. Historically, central and eastern Africa is a big center for new rust races. We know that it spreads very fast from East Africa to Asia, southern Africa, even Australia.

Will farmers plant these new strains?

We must provide farmers with varieties that are better than what they currently grow. Farmers haven't seen stem rust for 50 years so they will just ignore [the threat]. We have to have strains with 10 percent higher yield, otherwise they won't change.

Will these new strains offer benefits for other problems, like drought?

We cannot develop a cultivar only for one specific trait. They have to have a package. That package includes drought tolerance, yield, ability to withstand nutrient deficiency, and resistance to a wide spectrum of disease.
SUGAR-ENRICHED CORN

By enhancing the expression of the Glossy 15 gene, scientists at the University of Illinois developed transgenic corn plants that produce more biomass. The gene was originally identified for its roles in giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen to protect the young plant. The gene is also responsible for slowing down shoot maturation.

Stephen Moose and colleagues observed that amplification of Glossy 15 in corn resulted to bigger plants. Although there is less grain, the transgenic plants produce more sugar in the stalks. This makes the corn suitable as biofuel feedstock and livestock feed.

The original article is available at http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/news/stories/news4683.html
Hybrid pigeonpea

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) js looking forward to the introduction of  a new variety of pigeonpea called Pushkal, the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world.

The new hybrid pigeon pea is resistant to drought conditions and has a strong root system that aids in nitrogen fixation. In addition, the new hybrid was found to be highly resistant to diseases such as Fusarium wilt.

For details of the features of the new hybrid, how it was developed and the strategies on its distribution, see then news release at: http://www.icrisat.org/Media/2009/media4.htm
PLANTS AS SOLAR-POWERED BIOFACTORIES

Scientists at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands achieved a major advance by developing transgenic potato plants producing itaconic acid, a valuable raw material used in the production of high-quality synthetic materials such as resins and acrylic latexes. Iatonic acid serves as a starting material for production of methacrylate, building blocks for PMMA or polymethyl methacrylate acrylic plastic (known also as Lucite, plexiglass or perspex), with a global production volume of 3 million. PMMA is used as a glass substitute, radiation shield, and optical media storage and in bone implants and dentures.

For more information, read http://www.pri.wur.nl/UK/newsagenda/news/itaconzuur050309.htm
INTERLEUKIN-10 FROM GM TOBACCO

When you think of tobacco, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You won't think of health benefits, of course. Tobacco use has been associated with numerous diseases, including certain forms of cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular illnesses. But that's about to change. Scientists at the University of Verona, led by Mario Pezzotti, have developed transgenic tobacco plants accumulating high levels of interleukin 10 (IL10). IL10 is a regulatory cytokine (signaling protein) that plays a central role in mediating immune responses. Oral administration of IL10 can prevent the onset of several autoimmune diseases. IL10 also has the potential to treat numerous human diseases such as type-1 diabetes and many types of cancer.

The transgenic tobacco plants were able to produce the correct, pharmaceutically active form of IL10. The compound was produced in high levels (up to 37 microg/g fresh leaf), making it possible to use tobacco leaves without the costly and tedious extraction and purification processes. The IL10 gene was specifically expressed in the endoplasmic reticulum of plant cells. The scientists will next test the effectivity of the tobacco-derived IL10 by feeding it to mice with autoimmune diseases.

The paper published by BMC Biotechnology is available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6750/9/22/abstract
BT COTTON DOES NOT AFFECT COTTON APHIDS

Jörg Romeis from Agroscope ART in Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues assessed the performance of cotton aphids, Aphis gossypii, when grown on three Indian Bt (Cry1Ac) cotton varieties and their corresponding non-transformed near isolines. While plant transformation did not influence a range of aphid life-table parameters, some variation was observed among the three cotton varieties. Furthermore, the authors examined whether aphids pick up the Bt protein and analyzed the sugar composition of aphid honeydew to evaluate its suitability for honeydew-feeders. None of the aphid samples contained Bt protein. As a consequence, natural enemies that feed on aphids are not exposed to the Cry protein. A significant difference in the sugar composition of aphid honeydew was detected among cotton varieties as well as between transformed and non-transformed plants. However, it is questionable if this variation is of ecological relevance, especially as honeydew is not the only sugar source parasitoids feed on in cotton fields.

The study allows the conclusion that Bt cotton poses a negligible risk for aphid antagonists and that aphids should remain under natural control in Bt cotton fields.

The article is published online by PLoS ONE. For the full article, visit http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0004804;jsessionid=FC4FF3BE190D1B36FEBF697EC09312E1
ANTI-CANCER DRUG FROM TRANSGENIC MOSS

Scientists at the Southern Illinois University and Washington University in the U.S. have developed transgenic moss (Phsycomitrella patens) accumulating high levels of paclitaxel, a potent anti-cancer drug. Paclitaxel, or more commonly known by its brand name Taxol, is widely prescribed to patients with lung, breast and ovarian cancer as well as to patients with advanced form of Kaposi's sarcoma. First isolated from the bark of Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), paclitaxel inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells by disrupting microtubule disassembly during cell division.

Extremely low levels of paclitaxel in Pacific yew prompted researchers to develop chemical methods to synthesize the anti-cancer agent. Transgenic expression systems, especially using bacteria and yeasts, have also been used to produce paclitaxel precursors. But none of these methods are suitable for large-scale commercial production of paclitaxel. Currently, the drug is manufactured from a precursor compound isolated from the needles of European yew.

Compared to other plant expression systems, the transgenic moss that  the scientists developed accumulated higher levels of the paclitaxel precursor taxa-4(5),11(12)-diene (up to 0.05% fresh weight of tissue).  Although this is lower than what can be achieved when yeasts and bacteria are used, the scientists noted that microbes have different post-translational modification mechanisms which may affect the activity of the paclitaxel precursor.

The complete article published by Transgenic Research is available for download at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11248-009-9252-5
Cyanophycin potatoes: Plastic form potatoes

A field trial at the University of Rostock is developing methods for assessing the safety of 2nd and 3rd generation GM plants long before they are potentially brought onto the market. One prototype for such plants is a potato that has been genetically modified so that its tubers and leaves produce cyanophycin, which can be used to obtain a biodegradable plastic. Two current biosafety research projects are studying the potential environmental impacts of cyanophycin potatoes.

Cyanophycin is a protein produced by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and some other bacteria. They use it to store nitrogen, among other things. One component of cyanophycin is polyaspartate, which can be used as a biodegradable plastic. Polyaspartate binds calcium and therefore has potential applications in e.g. detergents as a water softener.

Polyaspartate can also be obtained through chemical synthesis, but is currently produced only in small quantities. It is more biodegradable than comparable polyacrylates, but not totally biodegradable like the polyaspartate produced in cyanophycin.

As well as producing cyanophycin in plants, it is possible to produce it in bioreactors (fermenters) using biotechnology methods with bacteria or cell cultures. However, this produces genetically modified bacteria like GM E.coli bacteria, instead of cyanobacteria. An advantage of producing cyanophycin in plants instead of in fermenters is that cyanophycin can be produced cheaply as a by-product. Potatoes grown for starch production can be used to produce cyanophycin at the same time. No additional fields would be needed. Years of research.

Researchers have been studying the production of cyanophycin in plants for years. In a joint project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), scientists at the Universities of Rostock, Berlin, Bielefeld and Tbingen have developed cyanophycin potatoes and examined them in detail in the greenhouse.

http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/potato/nutrition/675.docu.html
MAIZE WAS DOMESTICATED IN THE LOWLANDS OF MEXICO 8,700 YEARS AGO

Maize was domesticated from its wild weed ancestor, teosinte, some 8,700 years ago, according to two papers published this week by PNAS. The scientists place maize domestication in the lowland areas of southwestern Mexico about 1,500 years earlier than previously reported.

The scientists found maize remains, as well as ancient stone tools used to grind and mill the plants, in an archaeological site near the Balsas Valley. The region is home to the Balsas teosinte, a large wild grass that molecular biologists identified as the ancestor of maize. The findings confirmed the hypothesis that maize was domesticated in lowland areas, as opposed to being domesticated in the arid highlands, which many researchers previously believed.

Scientists have been interested in the evolutionary history of domesticated crops. But it took them until 2005 to include the Balsas River Valley in their search for the roots of maize domestication. In 2005, the researchers found evidences, in the form of pollen and charcoal in lake sediments, that forests were being cut down and burned in the Central Balsas River Valley to create agricultural plots by 7000 years ago.

Read the complete article at http://www.temple.edu/newsroom/2008_2009/03/stories/balsas_teosinte.htm.  The papers published by PNAS are available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0812525106 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0812590106.
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