News in April 2009
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2009-05-03

An Open Letter by Scientists to German Minister

Dear Federal Minister Aigner,

We learn with amazement, that scientifically unfounded calls from a range of CSU politicians for an outrageous ban on GM crops, even on research field experiments for so called safety reasons. This really astounds the signatories below and actually will lead to a massive blockade of research in crop biotechnology.

It is unfortunately not new, that politicians completely ignore the results of extensive field research, which is supported by the German government. It is therefore not surprising that the public still believes that the possible negative impact of the cultivation of genetically modified plants are still unknown. Instead of countering these unfounded opinions with solid facts, it seems that CSU politicians are now strangely/oddly arguing that the research activities on GM safety are too risky. This is the unanimous opinion of the specialists of genetic engineering, united in the WGG.

We sincerely urge you not to sacrifice a technology with great potential for shortsighted political posturing. Please make sure that you start a dialogue with the experts in their relevant research areas and make use of their scientific knowhow both for your political decisions and to allow for the fact based education of the population

The pen letter initiated by Wissenschaftlerkreis Grüne Gentechnik e.V. signed more than 1,600 scientists.
Startseite, Wissenschaftlerkreis Grüne Gentechnik E.v.  April 15, 2009
http://www.wgg-ev.de/
http://www.gruene-gentechnik-online.de

General

Too many people living on Planet Earth

Nina Fedoroff told the BBC One Planet programme that humans had exceeded the Earth's "limits of sustainability". "We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can't support many more people," Dr Fedoroff said, stressing the need for humans to become much better at managing "wild lands", and in particular water supplies.

Dr Fedoroff has been the science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state since 2007, initially working with Condoleezza Rice. Under the new Obama administration, she now advises Hillary Clinton.
Pontifical Academy of Sciences

is preparing a study "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development". The preparatory booklet can be found on the vatican website: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2009/booklet_transgenic_19.pdf

New Study: Governments Prolonging Global Food Crisis
http://www.policynetwork.net/uploaded/pdf/feedtheworld_southgate_april2009.pdf

Study author Professor Southgate, of Ohio State University, said that governments' responses - such as bans on food exports in emerging economies, coddling of biofuels development and needless restrictions on agricultural biotechnology - have made the food crisis worse. "Meddling by politicians makes food more expensive for millions of the world's hungry. It is a wholly preventable tragedy. That is just unacceptable." (The World Bank says that 28 countries still maintain export bans on agricultural goods.).

Professor Southgate observed that "Modern agriculture can feed the world - if only governments would stop standing in the way."  The agriculture ministers are due to release their own report this weekend, but Professor Southgate is sceptical that it will lead to anything substantive: "Governments are good at blaming others. It's time they take responsibility. And frankly it's time for action, not words. If governments are serious about solving the food crisis, they should eliminate the barriers to food production and distribution that they have created", he said.

Books & Articles

Rebuttal re Erroneous Analysis on Transgenic Insecticidal Crops
Crop Biotech Update, www.ISAAA.org

An article by Lövei et al. (Transgenic nsecticidal crops and natural enemies: a detailed review of laboratory studies, Environmental Entomology 38(2): 293-306 (2009)) purports that insect-protected crops based on the Cry proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis may have substantial negative impacts on non-target organisms.

A group of experts in this area strongly disagreed with this April, 2009 publication and felt that a rapid response was required but, because of production schedules of this bi-monthly journal, it could not accommodate a rapid rebuttal. Thus, A. M. Shelton and 14 colleagues published their Letter to the Editor in Transgenic Research (Setting the Record Straight: A Rebuttal to an Erroneous Analysis on Transgenic Insecticidal Crops and Natural Enemies).

Among the many concerns Shelton and colleagues describe in their rebuttal are the inappropriate and unsound methods for risk assessment that led Lövei et al. to reach conclusions that are in conflict with those of several comprehensive reviews and meta-analyses. Shelton summarized the concerns of the 15 authors by stating, "The Lövei et al. article advocates inappropriate summarization and statistical methods, a negatively biased and incorrect interpretation of the published data on non-target effects, and fails to place any putative effect into a meaningful ecological context." What was also troubling to this international group of 15 experts is the potential for the Lövei et al. article to be accepted at face value and impact some regulatory agencies.

Their rebuttal can be accessed using the following link:  http://www.springerlink.com/content/q7hk642137241733/.
Union of Concerned Scientists report on GM crop performance is misleading
PG Economics Limited, April 17, 2009.
see full critique at http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk

PG Economics  has reviewed the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) latest release Failure to yield: evaluating the performance of genetically modified crops, and concluded that the public, policy makers, stakeholders and media need to be aware of its misleading nature through a combination of inappropriate use of data and omission of representative, relevant analysis.

PG Economics concludes that the UCS report title does not reflect the report findings. Fundamentally, the UCS report confirms that GM crop technology has improved crop yields and productivity in the US.
An Analysis of "Failure to Yield" by Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists
by Wayne Parrott, Professor. Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, University of Georgia
at http://mulch.cropsoil.uga.edu/~parrottlab/GMOResources.htm
New Journal: Food Security
http://www.springerlink.com/content/1876-4517

A new journal Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food' was launched in February of this year.

The foreword in the inaugural issue is authored by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug. Authors of other articles include Per Pinsturp-Anderson, chairman of the Science Council for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and Joachim von Braun, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IPPRI).

Read papers from the first issue http://www.springerlink.com/content/k7817jh51g88/?p=9db28b8f17ed4a79ae534aafd05eb057?=0
New Journal: GM Crops
http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/
Editor-in-Chief: Dr. Naglaa A. Abdallah, Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt

In July of 2009 we will launch GM Crops, the first international peer-reviewed journal of its kind to focus exclusively on genetically modified crops.

We believe that this is an excellent time to start the journal because of the increasing focus on GM crops and improved agronomic traits. Genetic engineering techniques and applications have developed rapidly since the introduction of the first genetically modified plants in the 1980s. There has been a rapid increase in GM crop R&D by academia, government and industry around the world. GM crops are useful to consumers, farmers and the environment, and are growing in popularity worldwide.
OECD Environment, Health & Safety News
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/23/48/42470554.pdf

This Newsletter provides an update on the main events and activities of the OECD Environment, Health and Safety Programme. Information on new publications arising from the Programme as well as dates and venues of upcoming events and meetings are given.

Role of ag biotech in sustainability is "unfortunately a very well kept secret"
Dr. Wayne Parrott of the University of Georgia:
http://agbiotechblog.com

Dr. Wayne Parrott is a Professor in the Department of Crop & Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia in Athens. He teaches plant genetics courses at the University as well as a course that focuses on agricultural sustainability. He also runs a laboratory research program which uses biotechnology to improve crops. He will be a presenter on the "Environment, Economy and Society: Plant Biotechnology's Role in Advancing Sustainable Development" panel Thursday, May 21, 2009 at the BIO Convention.

Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine).
B. Choudhary and K. Gaur. ISAAA Brief No. 38, ISAAA, Ithaca, NY, USA. 2009. 102 pp. reviewed by T. M. Manjunath, Current Science, vol. 96, NO. 7, 10 APRIL 2009
http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/apr102009/992.pdf

This book recently published by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) provides a comprehensive review on all aspects of brinjal (eggplant, Solanum melongena) 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. This peer-reviewed document is available from the ISAAA South Asia Office at New Delhi and is also accessible, free of charge, on its websites www.isaaa.org and www.isaaa.org/kc.

OECD Factbook 2009’ provides a global overview of today’s major economic, social and environmental indicators, covering more countries than ever. Direct comparisons can now be made for many indicators between OECD Members and Brazil, Russian Federation, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa. In addition, StatLinks below every table and graph contain further data in Excel™ about the other countries currently going through the OECD accession process – Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia. This year’s special focus is on Inequality and OECD Factbook 2009 is available in a range of formats.
Prince Charles, the next Al Gore?
http://www.monstersandcritics.com/

" Britain's Prince Charles is to release a book and documentary warning of the negative impact big businesses are having on the environment."

"The book will feature Charles' views as an organic farmer and will include his thoughts as a campaigner against genetically modified crops and modern architecture The project is already being likened to former US Presidential candidate Al Gore's  film 'An Inconvenient Truth', which looked at the issue of global warming."

Events

Research Connection 2009: 30+ Speaker presentations added

Even though the conference has not yet begun, more than 30 presentations have already been added to the site. Look out for more next week!

European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology 2009

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

8-9 May; 5th International Greek Biotechnology Forum (IGBF); Athens, Greece

29 June - 1 July; Euro-Biotech Forum; Barcelona
AgriGenomics World Congress 2009
2nd-3rd July 2009, London, United Kingdom  http://www.agrigenomics.eu

Select Biosciences is proud to announce their second AgriGenomics World Congress. This year's event will take place at the Centre Point Tower in London.

Alongside an exhibition of selected scientific posters and service providers, Select Biosciences is organizing a two day event gathering some of the most influential players in the field from Europe, America and across the globe.

19-22 July; The World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, Montreal, Canada

23-25 September; EuroBio; Lille, France
Agriculture: Africa's "Engine for Growth" - Plant science & biotechnology hold the key
October 12-14, 2009 Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts, UK
http://www.aab.org.uk/contentok.php?id=83&basket=wwsshowconfdets

This international meeting is designed to bring together approximately 75 motivated/innovative Africa scientists with another 75 leading researchers and their teams from other countries working on basic science and areas related to the improvement of African agriculture.

Europe - EU

EC Publishes Coexistence Report
http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/coexistence/index_en.htm
David Hemming,  http://www.agbiotechnet.com/, April 2,2009

The European Commission has published a new report on national strategies to ensure coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming. In view of further enhancing the efficiency of national coexistence measures, the European Coexistence Bureau (ECoB), created by the Commission, is developing, in collaboration with the Member States, crop specific Best Practice Documents.

Measures ensuring coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic agricultural production provide for choice of consumers and agricultural producers and, thus, reconcile individual preferences and economic opportunities. (Except for Membr states where politicians ban GM maize).
FIELD TRIALS OF GM MAIZE, BARLEY IN EUROPE

Several genetically modified crop varieties are scheduled for limited, non-commercial release in Iceland, Romania and Spain this month. These include:

bulletFive transgenic maize lines developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred AgroServicios Spain. The maize lines were modified to resist important insect pests in Spain such as the western corn rootworm and the European corn borer. Some lines are also resistant to glyphosate, glufosinate and acetolactate synthase (ALS)-inhibiting herbicides.
bulletSyngenta's Bt11 and Ga21 maize and their hybrids also for release in Spain, as required for the registration of the maize varieties in the country's Official Commercial Varieties Register.
bulletInsect resistant maize varieties developed by Monsanto Company and Pioneer Hi-Bred, NK603 and DAS-59122-7 respectively, in Romania.
bulletA growth-factor expressing transgenic barley in Iceland developed by ORF Genetics.

Certain measures, such as maintaining an isolation distance of 200 meters and destruction of GM plant materials after trials, will be adopted by the applicants to prevent transgene escape. Environmental risk assessments have shown that the release pose no harmful effects to human and animal health or to the environment.

The detailed list is available at http://gmoinfo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/gmp_browse.aspxx

Europe

GERMANY SUED OVER GM MAIZE BAN

Monsanto Company is suing the German government for banning its genetically modified insect resistant maize. Germanys Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner last week announced that German farmers will not be able to grow MON810 maize varieties this planting season. According to Reuters, Germany was set to have 3,600 hectares of the pest-resistant maize this year. MON810 is the only genetically modified crop approved for cultivation in the European Union. The lawsuit was filed in the administrative court in Branschweig in northern Germany.

Monsanto´s press release is available at http://www.monsanto.co.uk/news/ukshowlib.phtml?uid=13858.

For more information on the Germany maize ban, read http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090414/full/news.2009.364.html
Opposition Decreasing or Acceptance Increasing?
An overview of European consumer polls on attitudes to GMOs. Full Report at
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/stories/415.an_overview_european_consumer_polls_attitudes_gmos.html

In the field and on the plate, gene technology is seen as controversial, particularly in Europe. The European Commission, as well as national institutes and agencies, regularly conduct polls in order to assay the general tendencies of consumers. This overview attempts to capture this plethora of opinion representation and identify common trends and indicators.

Facts and Fiction of Genetically Engineered Food

Batista R, Oliveira MM. Trends Biotechnol. 2009 Mar 24.
For reprint contact:  rita.batista@insa.min-saude.pt (National Institute of Health, Portugal)

The recent increase in the number of GE foods approved for import into the European Union and the increasingly global commercial food trades justify revisiting the facts and fiction surrounding this technology with the aim of increasing public awareness for well-informed decisions.

Techniques that have recently become available for assessing food quality and its impact on human health, as well as the wealth of scientific data previously generated, clearly support the safety of commercialized GE products.
NEW NATIONAL GENOME CENTRE IN UK

Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) last April 2, 2009, established a new national center called The Genome Analyst Center (TGAC). This center conduct studies about plant, animal, and microbial genomes to promote higher food security. It will give UK's agriculture protection against exotic animal diseases as well as it will help develop new ways to kill insect pests.

BBRC has quoted Lord Dreyson, the minister of State for Science and Innovation, saying, "Genomic technology has enormous promise. The new Genome Analysis Centre will help to develop UK capacity in this area, where we are already a world leader. I am delighted that the centre will work closely with industry to develop our economic potential in such disciplines as bioinformatics and metagenomic sequencing."

TGAC will start its formal operation on the Norwich Research Park in June. UK has high hopes on the establishment of this new center because it would not only be able to enhance the public's knowledge about genomes and its technology, but would also produce high value jobs for European citizens. You may read the full article at: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/media/releases/2009/090402_genome_analysis_centre.html
ACRE's Opinion on Syngenta's GMO Corn Application

United Kingdom's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) has released it opinion regarding Syngenta's application for the approval of its herbicide-tolerant corn, GA21, for cultivation in the European Union. According to ACRE, the transgenic maize variety is as safe as its non-GM counterparts with respect to its potential effects on the environment. The GM maize is engineered to express the EPSPS protein, an enzyme responsible for tolerance to glyphosate herbicides.

The agency however noted that there are potential impacts on biodiversity associated with cultivation, management and harvesting techniques of this GM maize. ACRE is particularly concerned about the potential impact on farmland biodiversity of the proposed herbicide regimes that will be used in association with GA21.
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) last year concluded that GA21 does not pose any risk to human and animal health.

Read the complete article at http://www.coextra.eu/country_reports/news1376_en.html
Target and Non-target politicians of German ban
Schwägerl, Spiegel (Germany), April 22, 2009 http://www.spiegel.de

Germans are celebrating the fact that the government has banned genetically modified corn. But the country's almost blanket opposition to genetic modification ignores the fact that it might just help scientists find a solution for feeding a swelling global population.

All's well again in the world of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party, an outspoken opponent of genetic engineering and genetically modified (GM) plants. German Agriculture Minister and CSU member Ilse Aigner has slapped a ban on MON 810, a type of GM corn seed produced and marketed by the American agricultural corporation Monsanto, and opponents of the technology are celebrating the victory. Germany's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the CSU's sister party, opposed the ban at first but eventually supported it. Now the CDU hopes that its support will lead more Bavarians to return the favor by voting for the CSU in the upcoming German and EU parliamentary elections
Merkel Calls for Calmer Debate on GMO Cops
Andreas Moeser and Michael Hogan, Retuters,  Apr 24, 2009 http://uk.reuters.com

Hamburg  - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday warned against too much immediate hostility to crops containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). There must be an open political discussion about the risks and concerns about biotechnology, but the political level should not immediately give way to objections, she said at an event in Berlin. Merkel stressed the ban on the MON 810 GMO maize was an individual decision. She said her own conservative CDU party should remain open to biotechnology which in future could become a key feature of agriculture.

Gemany's GMO maize ban has also been controversial inside Germany's ruling government coalition as there are fears it could damage Germany as a location for scientific development. Germany's Research Minister Annette Schavan on Tuesday called a round table meeting into the future of GMO crops. "We must take the fear of new technology seriously but the debate cannot be left to fear only," Schavan said on Tuesday.
Germany to Permit Trials with GMO Potato
Reuters, April 27, 20091

Germany's Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Monday she will permit test cultivation of a potato containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Open air trails of the GMO potato Amflora, developed by German chemicals group BASF presented no threat to public health or the environment, she said. Aigner had this month said she would carry out a new review of an application for open-air trial cultivation of Amflora, which was test-cultivated on 150 hectares in 2008.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said on Friday that many millions of euros had been invested in developing the Amflora potato in the hope that field trials could be made. "This fact cannot simply be ignored because currently sentiment is hostile," Merkel had said on Friday, calling for a calmer debate on GMO crops.

Germany's GMO maize ban has been controversial inside Germany's ruling government coalition as there are fears it could damage scientific development in the country. Germany's Research Minister Annette Schavan on has called a round table meeting into the future of GMO crops. "We must take the fear of new technology seriously but the debate cannot be left to fear only," Schavan said earlier this month.
GM Maize has No Effect on Cow Milk Production

Results of the two-year feed trial commissioned by Bavaria's Agriculture Ministry revealed that genetically modified maize has no effect on the health of cows or on their milk production. The study, which was carried out in Munich Technical University and several other research facilities in Bavaria, covers a significantly longer trial period and a greater number of animals than any other similar trial carried out to date.

Blood, milk and excrement samples were collected from a group of cows fed with the transgenic maize variety MON810. These were compared to samples taken from cows fed with a conventional (isogenic) maize variety. The scientists estimated that more than 2.5 milligrams of Bt protein were ingested daily by the cows fed with the transgenic maize. They confirmed that there was no transfer of transgenic components from the BT maize to the milk.

Read the complete story at http://www.coextra.eu/country_reports/news1378_en.html. A summary paper (in German) is available at http://www.transgen.de/pdf/dokumente/fuetterungsstudie_bayern03-09.pdf
Obtaining Biogas from Food Industry Waste

A new biogas plant has been established recently in the AZTI-Technalia campus in Derio, Spain. The plant will exploit the enormous potential of obtaining biogas from the organic matter contained in agricultural food waste that will eventually help the food industry to reduce the environmental impact caused by organic waste. Using anaerobic digestion, organic material will be transformed into biogas and a digested sludge. Biogas consists of carbon dioxide and methane which can be used as renewable source or electrical and/or thermal energy as well as fuel for vehicles. For details, see press release at: http://www.basqueresearch.com/berria_irakurri.asp?Berri_Kod=2144&hizk=I#hasiera

Africa

CIMMYT AND IITA COLLABORATE ON AFRICAN MAIZE INITIATIVE

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have combined efforts to improve and stabilize Africa's maize production. Through the Drought-Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) Initiative, they expect to provide improved maize varieties that will help to boost maize productivity on small farms by 20-30% over the next decade.

The Initiative is working in 13 African countries where maize is particularly important. Donors are Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ, its acronym in German), Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Hermann Eiselen, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rockefeller Foundation, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and US Agency for International Development (USAID).

View http://www.cgiar.org/enews/april2009/story_05.html for the full story.
Uganda: Ministry Clears GM Cotton, Planting to Start in May
Ronald Kalyango, AllAfrica, April 22, 2009  http://allafrica.com/

Kampala - Genetically modified cotton will be planted at different sites in May and June this year, an official has revealed.

"We are on the right track. The technology providers are positive. They have visited all the sites and at last the trails which had delayed for the last seven years are going to be conducted," said Dr.Tilahun Zeweldu, who has been at the forefront of Bt. Cotton research.
Workshop to Explore Collaborations for Agricultural Development
Nairbodi, Kenya; June 18-23, 2009 (via Crop Biotech update, www.isaaa.org).

The Science and Technology program for Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) aims to explore ways in which the advanced sciences can be put to best use for the benefit of smallholder farming families in developing countries. In collaboration with the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub, located at the International Livestock Research Institute campus in Nairobi, Kenya, this workshop aims to create an opportunity for scientists from the U.S. to get acquainted with scientists of similar interests in sub-Saharan Africa. The 5-day workshop will be held in Kenya from June 18-23, 2009.

USA

Obama and GMO
Maria Gabriela Cruz,Forbes, April 2, 2009, http://www.forbes.com

Obama is an advocate of agricultural biotechnology--a field of innovation that many in Europe have snubbed. He has corresponded with Norman Borlaug, the geneticist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in sparking the Green Revolution, which led to large increases in food production in developing countries.

Last year, a U.S. political Web site called Sciencedebate2008.com published this statement by Obama: "Advances in the genetic engineering of plants have provided enormous benefits to American farmers. I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods, abetted by stringent tests for environmental and health effects and by stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice."
Obama Appoints Raj Shah as Chief Scientist at USDA
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2009

President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate Rajiv J. Shah, M.D., as Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics (REE) and Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Shah will serve with Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The REE mission area provides the science that federal agencies, policymakers, researchers and others draw on to meet challenges facing America's food and agriculture system. The four REE agencies are the Agricultural Research Service (including the National Agricultural Library), Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

"Dr. Rajiv Shah is a globally recognized leader in science, health and economics, disciplines that are critical to the missions of this department," said Vilsack. As Director of the Agricultural Development Program at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rajiv has a profound influence on helping the world's poor lead healthy and productive lives. With his extensive background, Rajiv will help guide advances in food safety, nutrition, energy and climate, agricultural productivity, and global food security-to name a few of USDA's challenges."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Pledges Better Push On Biotech Crops
Philip Brasher Des Moines Register (Blog). April 21, 2009

Just back from the G8 summit in Italy, Vilsack pledged today to bring a "more comprehensive and integrated" approach to promoting ag biotech overseas.

Speaking to a group of ag journalists today, Vilsack cited a recent inspector general's report that said USDA had not done enough to "facilitate trade opportunities" for biotech products. However, the report noted that some USDA officials have been opposed to getting involved in promoting the products of private companies.
68% of US Health Professionals Support Biotechnology's Use in Food
David Hemming, http://www.agbiotechnet.com, March 31, 2009

Recent research reveals that 82% of US healthcare professionals believe soya to be beneficial to the diet. And, the majority believe agricultural biotechnology is a suitable method to improve soya products, according to the Healthcare Professional Biotechnology Awareness & Attitude Survey - sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB) and conducted by an independent research firm in January 2009.

India

Training in AgBiotech and its Regulations
Training Program for Developing Country Scientists, TERI University, India;  August 4, 2009 to August 21, 2009. http://www.teriin.org
Course coordinator - Dr Vibha Dhawan (vibhad@teri.res.in).

The programme is essentially focusing on agriculture biotechnology, techniques and status of acceptance of new technologies. The course aims to provide a unique blend of theory and practice in biotechnology, environmental and bioethical concerns of new technologies and legal framework for biosafety regulations and risk assessment and management. It also looks at international frameworks to regulate transboundary movements of living modified organisms.

Other Asia

Pakistan to Focus on Genetic Crops to Increase Output
Daily Times (Pakistan), April 25, 2009

Pakistan would have to focus on genetically modified and hybrid crops to tap true potential of agricultural productivity in the country in the shortest possible time.

This was the upshot of speeches made at a seminar on Challenges and Opportunities in Agbiotec in Pakistan. Provincial Minister for Agriculture Ahmad Ali Aulakh, LCCI President Mian Muzaffar Ali, Vice President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh and former LCCI Vice President Shahzad Ali Malik threw light on the issues being faced by the agricultural sector in Pakistan.

The Provincial Minister, while stressing the need for establishment of institutes both at provincial and federal levels for creating awareness among the farming community about Genetically Modified (GM) technology, said that sustainability and improvement in crops yield are the major challenges to meet upcoming threats of increasing population and depleting water resources.

He said Biotechnology has shown considerable potential to raise agricultural productivity by addressing problems not solved through conventional research. Among other application of biotechnology, development of genetically modified organasims is the promising tool to facilitate plant breeding in development of crops to insect and tolerant to herbicide.

The Minister said that GM crops have contributed to sustainable development in several significant ways including: Contributing to food security and more affordable food, conserving biodiversity, alleviation of poverty and hunger, mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouses gases, contributing to the cost-effective production of biofuels and above all by contributing to sustainable economic benefits.

In addition to aiding in issues of food security, genetically modified crops have an important role to play in lessening the environmental impact and improving the sustainability of food production. Insect-resistant rice, for example, has the potential to benefit about 1 billion people.

LCCI President Mian Muzaffar Ali said that Pakistan's agriculture sector was losing heavily due to insufficient utilization of biotechnology as the magic progress of worldwide- agriculture sector is only due to Genetically Modified crops. He said that agriculture sector in Pakistan has a huge potential. It continues to be the single largest and dominant driving force for growth as well as the main source of livelihood for 66 percent of Pakistan's population. But it has always faced two major problems: first, productions per acre are lower than many countries. Secondly, around 40 percent of production is wasted in the form of post-harvest losses due to insufficient utilization of biotechnology.

Shahzad Ali Malik speaking on the occasion said that in India BT Cotton Hybird was approved for commercial cultivation in 2003 and by 2008 in 5 years time India more than doubled its cotton production from 16 million bales in 2003 to 34 million bales last year. While Pakistan has reversed its production to 11.5 million bales after touching the peak of 14.5 million bales in 2004-5.

He said that survival of Textile Industry will come with revolution in cotton production - through BT Cotton hybrid and not through BT cotton only.

He paid tributes to the government of Punjab for breaking the deadlock of last 10 to 12 years in introduction of BT Cotton by signing agreement with Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences (CAAS). He said that BT cotton hybrid technology would not only revolutionise cotton production in the country but would also revitalize sick textile industry.

He said that the government of Pakistan had allowed Monsanto to import BT cotton hybrid from India for six to seven years till the development of local hybrid. The national seed companies should be allowed the same facility for creating a level playing field.
South Korea Grants Food Safety Approval for Biotech Soybean

LibertyLink® soybeans (A2704-12) from Bayer CropScience received food safety approval from the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA). This final regulatory approval in South Korea allows unrestricted planting in the United States and importation into all major markets for LibertyLink soybeans. For more information visit http://www.soygrowers.com/newsroom/news.htm

News in Science

More-Precise Genetic Engineering for Plants
Courtney Humphries, Technology Review, April 30, 2009 http://www.technologyreview.com

Two papers in this week's Nature detail the use of a genetic technology that allows scientists to target plant genomes more precisely. The method, which has previously been used in animals and in human cells, can be used to introduce a new gene, make small changes in existing genes, or block a gene from being expressed; it also makes it possible to introduce several different genetic changes into the same plant.

Recent methods include using a bacterial vector to transfer DNA into a plant cell, or physically blasting DNA-coated particles into cells. DNA introduced these ways, Shukla says, can land anywhere within the plant's genome and have unintended side effects like altering an existing gene or producing multiple copies of the gene of interest. Scientists typically generate many plants and then screen them to find the ones in which the desired change was successful.

Both of the new studies--one was led by Vipula Shukla, a scientist at Dow AgroSciences and another by an academic consortium--employed a gene-targeting technology called zinc finger nucleases--synthetic proteins that can precisely target locations in the genome and make specific genetic changes.

Zinc finger nucleases work by breaking both strands of DNA at a specific site in the genome. This double break prompts the cell's own repair machinery to patch the rift. The machinery will often search for a piece of DNA that is similar to the damaged region to copy and paste back into the genome. By supplying a piece of DNA that contains sequences from the original gene with the desired changes--either the addition of a new gene or a change in sequence--scientists can induce the cell to change the genetic code as it repairs the break. The technology can also be used to block a gene by taking advantage of another repair mechanism in which the cell simply joins the two broken ends back together, which often deletes or inserts new DNA sequences into the repair site, resulting in DNA code that can't be read properly.

The Dow group used the method to introduce two changes into maize, a plant that is often used for animal feed. The researchers targeted a gene involved in the production of phytates and used the gene as a landing pad to insert another gene that gives the plant tolerance to herbicides. At the same time, they disrupted the target gene so that the plant produces fewer phytates.

The academic group used a similar method, developed by the Zinc Finger Consortium, an international team of researchers committed to developing a publicly available platform for engineering zinc finger nucleases. Rather than add a new gene into a plant, the researchers used zinc finger nucleases to introduce an altered genetic sequence into an existing gene in tobacco plants; the protein encoded by the gene is a target of herbicides, and the alterations make the plants herbicide resistant. Voytas says that being able to make such subtle changes within a gene will give researchers a new way to study plant biology.

Matthew Porteus, a biochemist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who wrote an accompanying editorial in Nature, says that the two papers are the first examples of investigators who have picked a gene of interest, designing zinc finger nucleases for that gene, and using the nucleases to create specific modifications in plants. Porteus, who has been investigating zinc finger nucleases as a method for gene therapy in humans, says that interest in zinc finger nucleases has been growing in the past few years. They are being used as a way to create precise mutations in zebra fish, and a human clinical trial is just beginning that will test the use of zinc finger nucleases to create genetic alterations in the T cells of patients with HIV, with the hope of making their cells better able to fight infection.
Healthier soy beams
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/429.docu.html

Coming to the market soon in the USA: Genetically modified soybeans for "health-conscious consumers". A new type of genetically modified soybean should be on the market sometime this year in the USA. It has a higher oleic acid content than conventional soybeans, which means that when heated, it gives off fewer harmful substances. The new soybean will be launched first in a few small, regional test markets.

The soybean, developed by the DuPont company, has a different composition of fatty acids: it contains more oleic acid - a monounsaturated fatty acid - than conventional soybeans, while at the same time having a lower level of polyunsaturated fatty acids. At high temperatures, such as when frying or roasting, part of these are transformed into trans fatty acids. These can cause high levels of bad cholesterol considered harmful to health. In the USA the trans fatty acid content must be declared on food product labels. Trans fatty acids also result from the hydrogenation process, such as when a plant oil is transformed to a spreadable fat for the making of margarine.
First SSR Map for Cultivated Groundnut Published
Crop Biotech update, www.isaaa.org

Cultivated peanut or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is the fourth most important oilseed crop in the world, grown mainly in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates. The crop production in marginal environment of Africa and Asia is seriously challenged by several biotic and abiotic stress constraints. Molecular markers and genetic maps are the prerequisites for undertaking molecular breeding to combat such abiotic/biotic stress constraints. In case of groundnut, though several hundred molecular markers (such as microsatellite or simple sequence repeat/SSR markers) have been developed and genetic maps have been developed based on mapping populations derived from diploid Arachis species or synthetic tetraploids, not a single genetic was available until recently for cultivated groundnut.

A team of scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in collaboration with colleagues from EMBRAPA/ Catholic University in Brazil, University of Georgia and Tuskegee University in USA has developed the first SSR based genetic linkage map for cultivated groundnut. This map has a total of 135 SSR loci mapped onto 22 linkage groups. The team has demonstrated the utility of this genetic map for trait mapping in cultivated groundnut and comparative mapping in legumes.

Details about this map are available in the recent paper published as an Open Access in Theoretical and Applied Genetics at  http://www.springerlink.com/content/10125wx862658886/fulltext.pdf or from Rajeev Varshney (r.k.varshney@cgiar.org).
Water-wise solutions from agricultural biotechnology

Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds expected to be commercialized by 2012. Field trials for drought-tolerant corn 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).

http://www.europabio.org/PressReleases/green/090320_WWD_PR.pdf
Bacteria Tapped to Battle Crop-Damaging Roundworms

The cyst nematode is one of the toughest enemies of soybean growers in the U.S. Conventional control measures against the nematode such as the use of costly pesticides, crop rotation and resistant varieties have not been sustainable. Current focus is on the use of biological control in the form of beneficial bacteria in combination with a mixture of potent natural compounds. Recent experimental results by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center show that exposure of the nematodes to bacteria belonging to the genus Pseudomonads showed immobility and disintegration of the nematodes. Biological compounds such as phenazines, hydrogen cyanide and phloroglucinols are found to be released by the bacteria group.

For details, see the press release at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090330.htm
New Clues Discovered on Divergent Origin of Sudden Oak Death Pathogen

Discovering the source of pathogens and its movement from one location is an important information for quarantine regulators. This is specially applied to Phyopthota ramorum fungus, the causal pathogen of the sudden oak death. The relatedness of the three distinct clonal lineages, or genetic descendants of P. ramorum--EU1, NA1 and NA2--was not initially known. See the press release for more details at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090327.htm

Anti-HIV Drug from GM Tobacco

Scientists from the United Kingdom and the United States have developed transgenic tobacco plants accumulating high levels of griffithsin (GRFT), a protein that has been shown to be effective against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) even at picomolar concentrations. Griffithsin, first isolated from the red algae Griffithsia, can stop cell-to-cell HIV transmission by binding to the viral envelope glycoproteins. The scientists were able to harvest 60 grams of griffithsin from Nicotana benthamiana in a greenhouse with an area of 460 square meters. They estimated that this amount of GRFT could produce roughly one million HIV microbicide doses. Other antiretroviral drugs have so far proved to be too expensive to mass produce.

The tobacco-sourced griffithsin was found to be effective against HIV strains A, B, C. Strains A and C predominate in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, regions where microbicides are mostly urgently needed. GFRT also presents an advantage over other microbicides since it does not stimulate lymphocyte proliferation.

The paper published by PNAS is available for download at http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0901506106. An article published by Nature highlights the study. Read the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/news.2009.208
STONELESS PLUMS

Researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  are gearing up towards the development of pitless plums, a desired character by consumers. ARS molecular biologist Chris Dardick and Ann Callhan and Prunus breeder Ralph Scorza at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, Virginia discovered that the genes responsible for the production of lignin are rapidly turned on just before hardening in specific pit tissues and are quickly turned off once the stone hardens.

Commercially available plum which lack the stone but contains the seed were genetically-engineered with an early-flowering trait that will greatly speed-up the breeding program. The resulting fruit needs to be improved to make it edible. According to Dardick, the success of the research may lead to the development of the desirable stoneless fruits such as cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots.

See  http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090421.htm for a short detail on this research.
SCIENTISTS DEVELOP ROOT NEMATODE RESISTANT POTATO

The United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service (ARS) has developed a new potato line resistant to the Columbia root-knot nematode (CRN), a microscopic worm that has the potential to cause the US potato industry some USD 40 million annually. The nematodes, which thrive in the Pacific Northwest and other major potato growing regions in the US, are usually controlled by applying chemical fumigants. Control of CRN using chemicals is effective, but very expensive. It is estimated that US potato growers spend USD 20 million annually to control the pest.

The CRN resistance trait was obtained from a wild potato relative, Solanum bulbocastanum. But since wild and domesticated potatoes are chromosomally incompatible, that is they can't breed to produce viable offspring, the scientists resorted to protoplast fusion. The researchers fused S. bulbocastanum and domesticated potato cells together and backcrossing was used to remove unwanted traits. Marker genes linked to the RMc1 resistance gene from wild potato were used to determine resistance levels in resulting hybrids.

The new variety will still undergo field-testing for two years before it can be commercialized.

Read the complete news article at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090417.htm
FLOOD-RESISTANT RICE SET FOR DISTRIBUTION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

During the 1980s when Dr. David Mackill, a plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), saw the potential of adapting the flood-resistant trait of FR13A (FR meaning 'flood-resistant') into the modern high-yielding rice varieties being planted in flood-prone areas all over Asia.

Initially, Dr. Mackill and his team of IRRI breeders failed in releasing the rice variety to the farmers, mainly because during the transfer of the flood-resistant gene from FR13A to the recipient rice variety, there were other genes that were transported as well. It was only when Dr. Mackill and his graduate student Kenong Xu discovered a precise stretch of DNA (called SUB1) when they began to make progress. Dr. Xu and his wife Xia, with the help of Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis researcher, were able to locate the specific gene (which was named SUB1A) that was responsible for making FR13A flood-resistant.

After painstaking research and testing in the rice fields in Bangladesh, a new rice variety carrying the SUB1 trait was released, called Swarna Sub1. The results have all been positive, and within two years, IRRI plans to release at least two more rice varieties under their project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With the success of the research on SUB1, researchers are hoping to be able to address other abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity.

To view the full article, go to http://beta.irri.org/news/index.php/200904066053/Rice-Today/Africa/Scuba-rice-Stemming-the-tide-in-flood-prone-South-Asia.html
Transgenic multivitamin corn

through biofortification of endosperm with three vitamins representing three distinct metabolic pathways
Shaista Naqvi et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Summary at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/04/27/0901412106

Tomatoes with more antioxidant

Scientists at Italy's Institute of Sciences and Food Production developed genetically modified tomatoes expressing high levels of resveratrol. The transgenic tomatoes express a stilbene synthase-expressing gene from grapes under the control of a fruit-specific promoter. They were found to produce high levels of resveratrol and its derivative, piceid, particularly in skin of mature fruits. The phenotype of transformed plants was similar to wild type plants although the fruits were seedless.

The paper published by Plant Biotechnology Journal is available at http://10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00409.x
Researchers identify molecular link between viral infection and cancer susceptibility

A Portuguese-US research team has discovered a new molecular mechanism that enables gamma herpes viruses to chronically infect patients. Their research also offers a greater understanding of why these patients are more likely to suffer from lymphocyte (white blood cell) cancer lymphoma; this is especially evident in cases of immunodeficiency. The results of the study were published in the online edition of The EMBO Journal.

Study shows how marine microorganisms affect ocean warming

The Earth's climate system is affected by the world's oceans which have contributed to climate change deceleration by absorbing up to 33% of the human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. But a team of marine researchers from Germany has shed light on how biological factors could also play a role in this process. The results were recently published in the journal PNAS.

Nanoparticles: the missing link in cancer gene therapy

Cancer researchers have been exploring gene therapy as an experimental treatment to fight the deadly disease despite the obstacles that have surfaced along the way. A cross-European research team has now gained a foothold in this area by developing a nanoparticle that transports antitumor genes selectively to cancer cells. The researchers are hopeful that human trials could begin in 2011.

The mystery behind animal magnetism and power lines

Animals have the ability to navigate by detecting both the strength of the magnetic field emitted by the Earth's liquid core, and the angle at which the field meets the Earth. And research has shown that cows and deer, for example, orient themselves in a north-south alignment. But a Czech-German team of researchers has discovered that the animals' navigating skills go awry when high-voltage power lines are in the area.

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