News in June 2009
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2009-07-03

General

OECD's The Bioeconomy to 2030: Background Documents:
http://www.oecd.org/document/56/0,3343,en_2649_36831301_36960312_1_1_1_1,00.html

The concept of a bioeconomy covers a broad range of economic activities, each benefiting from new discoveries, and the related products and services arising out of the biosciences. The futures project, assessed how pervasive biotechnological applications are likely to become, the prospects for further development over the next two to three decades, the potential impact on the economy and society, and the policy agenda needed to promote and diffuse this new wave of innovations in a way that is consistent with broader socioeconomic goals.

The Bioeconomy to 2030 project's final report is now available (link).

e.g.Scenarios

bullet"Agricultural Biotechnology to 2030," by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
bullet"Small and Medium Enterprises in Agricultural Biotechnology," by Steven C. Blank.
bullet"Intellectual Property Rights in Agricultural and Agro-food Biotechnologies to 2030," by Michel Trommetter.
bullet"An Overview of Regulatory Tools and Frameworks for Modern Biotechnology: A Focus on Agro-Food," by Mark Cantley.
bullet"Biotechnology: Ethical and social debates," by Nicolas Rigaud.
Vatican study endorses GMOs for food security
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
By John L Allen Jr. ROME, Italy

In what seemed largely a foregone conclusion, a May 15-19 study week on genetically modified organisms sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences ended with a strong endorsement of GMOs as “praiseworthy for improving the lives of the poor,” and promising “improved food safety and health benefits, better food security, and enhanced environmental performance in a sustainable manner.”

While a concluding document from the study week had not been released as NCR went to press, participants who characterized its content said its pro-GMO conclusions enjoyed “unanimous agreement” among the 41 experts from 17 countries who took part.

Organized by German scientist Ingo Potrykus, the inventor of “golden rice,” the study week had beencriticized by anti-GMO activists for including only voices already convinced of the benefits of genetically modified crops. This is the second time that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has endorsed GMOs, following an initial report adopted in 2001 and published in 2004.

A “white paper” laying out the major conclusions and recommendations of the study week, intended for broad public distribution.

“In light of eight years of experience with growing transgenic crops, many additional field trials, and many additional published research reports, the conference concluded that the scientific evidence is overwhelming that transgenic crops … improve the lives of the poor and offer additional significant improvements in their lives in the years to come,” said Drew Kershen of the University of Oklahoma, a professor of agricultural law at the University of Oklahoma and a study week participant.
Genetically Modified Crops Get The Vatican's Blessing
New Scientist, June 4, 2009 http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227114.200-genetically-modified-crops-get-the-vaticans-blessing.htm

'Pope Benedict XVI's scientists have given their blessing to genetically modified crops as a possible solution to world hunger and poverty"

THE Vatican seldom approves of scientists meddling with God's creation. So the decision of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to back oft-demonised genetically modified crops as an answer to world hunger and poverty may come as a surprise.

Books & Articles

Can Organic Agriculture Feed The World?
K.W.T. Goulding (1) and A.J. Trewavas (2), AgBioView, June 24, 2009
http://www.agbioworld.org/newsletter_wm/index.php?caseid=archive&newsid=2894
(1 Department of Soil Science, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden; Herts AL5 2JQ; 2 Institute of Molecular Plant Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3 JH., Scotland.)

Abstract:

In a recent publication, Badgley et al. (2007) claimed that organic farming, if used worldwide, would provide sufficient food for a growing world population. This claim was based on a literature survey of two kinds: (1) A comparison of organic and conventional yields, assembled, so far as one can judge, from a mixture of largely research experiments of rather variable quality and sometimes unpublished material. (2) An assessment of nitrogen (N) fixed by legumes from published literature. The two were then combined to calculate, incorrectly in our view, potential food production.

We have examined the literature basis of these claims particularly on wheat. There are many omitted references that indicate organic yields are substantially lower than Badgely et al. (2007) indicated. There are calculation errors in some of the references used by Badgely et al., (2007). Also Badgely et al., (2007) are equating organic procedures only with the use of either manure or cover crops and are ignoring certified organic procedures that prohibit synthetic pesticide use. We have also examined the claims by these authors that there is sufficient N fixed to provide for fertiliser and have found that mineralisation levels are wrongly equated with the N appearing in seed yield. We agree with Badgely et al., (2007) that maintenance of organic material in soil is important but consider that this is not a specific organic procedure. There would be insufficient food for the world population provided by global organic farming.
'An Edible History of Humanity'
New Book by Tom Standage  (Hardcover), Walker & Company (May 12, 2009) ISBN-10: 0802715885.  Amazon.com price $17.16

"This meaty little volume... 'concentrates specifically on the intersections between food history and world history.' But history isn't Standage's only concern. He takes the long view to illuminate and contextualize such contemporary issues as genetically modified foods, the complex relationship between food and poverty, the local food movement, the politicization of food and the environmental outcomes of modern methods of agriculture... Cogent, informative and insightful."-Kirkus Reviews

PG Economics Report shows biotech crops make contributions to sustainable farming

PG Economics released its annual Global Impact Study which finds that biotech crops are delivering significant global economic and environmental benefits, and are making important contributions to global food production and security.  Some of the contributions biotech crops have made include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; reduction in pesticide applications; increased adoption of no/reduced tillage production systems, especially in Latin America; and significant farm income gains, especially in developing countries.

AgBioForum Volume 12, Number 1

The latest issue of AgBioForum is now available online at http://www.agbioforum.org/. This special issue, "The Future of Agricultural Biotechnology: Creative Destruction, Adoption, or Irrelevance? In Honor of Prof. Vittorio Santaniello," is guest edited by Justus Wesseler (Wageningen University, The Netherlands) and Sara Scatasta (Centre for European Economic Research, Germany).

Lauren Jackson, Technical Editor of AgBioForum, Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Editor of AgBioForum.
Evaluation of Agricultural Policy Reforms in Japan: OECD Report. 120 pgs., 2.45 Mb
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/26/45/42791674.pdf

Events

BioEco 2009 in Tianjin, China, 25-28 June.

International Conference for Bioeconomy with over 3,000 delegates and an exhibition of the life science industry in China that is expected to attract 80,000 visitors. It is organised as a part of the project BioPartnering China (BPC). European Federation of Biotechnology’s task group on International relations is working closely with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), China National Center for Biotechnology Development (CNCBD) in Beijing and Technology Vision Group (TVG) to launch a major investment in China life science partnering. This and is the BioPartnering China and BioEco 2009 .BioEco 2009 will bring together the leaders of the life science industry in China with decision makers from around the world. BPC is a one day event that showcases “success stories” from real Chinese life science companies and institutions that have partnered with foreign groups. for more details, please visit: www.techvision.com/bpc

ABDC-09 November  2-5, 2009; Guadalajara, Mexico.

Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries: Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry to face the challenges of food insecurity and climate change (ABDC-09). The FAO international technical conference, is co-organized by FAO and the Government of Mexico  http://www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/conference-home/en/

MICROBIOTA will be held in Paris on December 15 & 16, 2009 at the Hotel Paris Marriott Rive Gauche. We are pleased to invite you in participating at MICROBIOTA, a unique industrial event dedicated to the human microbiome (www.microbiota.eu).

During 2 days, this event supported by Unilever, will provide delegates with an overview of the research in the characterization of human microbe population, and will address potential of this approach to develop new products with health benefits for the cosmetic, personal care, nutraceutical & medical sectors.

Rural areas shaping the future – Draft programme
Uppsala 28 – 29 October, 2009.

Introduction by Minister for Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson.

Topics: Effects of climate change and counter measures; Opportunities for rural economies in a changing climate.

* Key-note speakers:

bulletThe future of rural areas in Europe Commissioners Mariann Fischer- Boel (DG Agri) and Janez Potočnik (DG Research)
bulletRurality and globalisation Annika Söder vice Director General, FAO
bulletManaging rural resources Pekka Pesonen, Secr.Gen. COPA/COGECA
A Sami outlook on climate change and Sami livelihood Mr. Lars-Anders Baer.

Europe - EU

European Commission published Summary of GMO testing http://ec.europa.eu/environment/biotechnology/reports_com_stud.htm
Biotechnologies, nanotechnologies are as crucial for the economy as ICT was in the 1990s says Commissioner Potocnik in an interview with Euractiv

The EU will invest billions in green technologies using a series of public private partnerships (PPPs), Janez Potocnik, Commissioner responsible for Science and Research, has said in an interview with EurActiv Slovakia. Potocnik said clean technologies, biotechnology and nanotechnology will be as crucial for the economy as ICT was in the 1990s. Article here>>>.

EFSA: ANTIBIOTIC MARKER GENES UNLIKELY TO HARM HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published a statement that provides a consolidated overview of the use of selectable antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically modified plants. EFSA's GMO and Biohazards Panels concluded that based on currently available information, the commonly used antibiotic marker genes nptII and aadA are unlikely to have adverse effects on human health and the environment. In their joint opinion, the Panels noted that the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes from GM plants to bacteria have not been shown to occur either in natural conditions or in the laboratory. According to the report, the key barrier to stable uptake of antibiotic resistance marker genes from GM plants to bacteria is the lack of DNA sequence identity between plants and bacteria.

The Panels, however, underlined the limitations in estimating exposure levels and the inability to assign gene transfer to a defined source. According to them, it is not possible to find out precisely from which organism a marker gene present in another organism may have originated.

The GMO and Biohazards Panels also considered the clinical importance of the antibiotics to which the marker genes confer resistance. The gene nptII confers resistance to kanamycin, which is used by doctors as a second-line antibiotic for the treatment of infections with multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis (MTB). The GMO and Biohazards Panels stressed that "nptII has not been implicated in resistance to kanamycin in the treatment of MTB."

The complete story is available at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902569389.htm. Download a copy of the statement at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902569473.htm
Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on maize lines MON863 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902599701.htm
Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on oilseed rape GT73 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902598000.htm
Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on oilseed rape MS8, RF3 and MS8xRF3 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902598000.htm
EFSA evaluates antibiotic resistance marker genes in GM plants
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902569389.htm
EFSA presents strategy to reduce animal testing

10.06.09 Parma – Although the EFSA acknowledges, that risk assessment aimed at maintaining a high level of protection of human life and health cannot be adaquately performed completely without animal testing, it also emphasises that such risk assesssment should be proactive towards animal welfare. In their 77 page “Scientific Opinion of the Scientific Committee“, the EFSA formulates strategies to reduce the number of animal studies needed for this purpose and summarises possible approaches to achieve the Three R´s, replacement, reduction and refinement of animal testing in the area of food and feed safety. It gives an overview of current scientific practice and shows, where in vitro methods can make animal testing obsolete. Alternative methods are suggested, categorised by the type of study conducted for each toxicological endpoint. The EFSA states that if animal testing cannot be avoided, it must be performed in line with the guidelines of international entities such as the European Commission, EU agencies or the OECD, and suggests that existing data be analysed thoroughly beforehand to at least reduce the extent to which it is necessary. The opinion is a step in the refinement of the Directive 86/609/ EEC on the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes.

EU to adopt GM crops
AllAboutFeed.net; Via Checkbiotech.org, June 3, 2009

At the IEC London Conference, Peter van Horne, IEC's Economic Analyst, presented the results of a report from the LEI research Institute in the Netherlands, assessing the economic impact, now and in the future, of the current requirements for the EU to approve the use of GM crops.

He focussed on soybeans and maize, as these form the main ingredients of layer feed for hens. Van Horne began by discussing the worldwide increase in using GM crops, and used the US, Argentina and Brazil as examples; all 3 have been increasing their use of GM crops during recent years. In 2000, just over 50% of soybean plantings in the US were GM crops. By 2007, this had risen to over 90%. In 2000, less than 10% of Brazil's soybean planting was GM, but this has been increasing rapidly, and by 2010 it is forecast to account for 80%. In comparison, Argentina has had a high level of GM crops since 2000, when over 80% of its soybean planting was GM, and figures had reached 100% by as early as 2006.

In 2007, over 70% of the USA's maize crop was GM, compared to over 60% of Argentina's and just 50% in Canada. Brazil is not yet using GM technology for its maize. The LEI study shows that Europe is currently self-sufficient regarding maize; however, it imports soybean products from countries such as US, Argentina and Brazil. If the EU approval on new GMO varieties continues to be as slow and strict as it currently is, the future production chain for livestock farming, in particular the feed-chain, will see a growing dependence on imports with higher feed costs. It is predicted that there will be an increase in imports of ready-to-go products, outside of the EU.

Van Horne discussed with the IEC delegates a study supported by the EU DG-AGRI, assessing the impact of GMOs in Europe. With no change in the EU policy, it predicts a growing deficit of soybean, and a rise in feed prices which, in turn, will lead to an increased price for pork and poultry.

As there is an increasing worldwide acceptance of GM crops, it will become increasingly difficult for the EU to continue to adopt a zero tolerance attitude towards non-approved GMO varieties.

Van Horne's study concludes that one solution to this ongoing problem is that the EU needs to adopt an acceptable tolerance to allow non-improved varieties to be in shipments. On the other hand, the EU should decrease the time period to approve new GMO varieties.
Fun house of GMO regulation by EU
Andy Apel, GMOBelus, June 18, 2009
http://www.gmobelus.com/news.php?viewStory=388

A food ingredient that's been harvested from a GMO, developed and patented by a giant multinational corporation with historic ties to the chemical industry, denounced by activists, and submitted for approval in 2006. Approved, and no label required.

What it is?

Ice Structuring Protein (ISP), originally isolated from an Arctic fish and produced by genetically modified yeast. According to Unilever, the corporation that developed and patented the product, ISP can help reduce the fat and calorie content of products by up to 50 percent. Its ability to improve the stability of ice cream also allows for an higher fruit content, an improved taste, better structure and slower melting.

Why does this product get European approval, and so quickly, when other food ingredients meeting the same criteria do not?

The European Commission explains why: Pursuant to recital 16 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council ( 2 ), food and feed which are manufactured with the help of a genetically modified processing aid are not included in the scope of that Regulation. The Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the implementation of that Regulation ( 3 ) has clarified that the authorisation and labelling requirements set out in the Regulation are not applicable to food or feed produced by fermentation using genetically modified micro-organisms.

And what about other ingredients?

Lecithin is an emulsifier often added to chocolate during the manufacturing process to help give it a smooth, fluid consistency. Lecithin stabilizes fat drops and keeps them from congealing and separating. That is to say, it's a processing aid--but if the lecithin comes from GM soy, it's subject to all the regulatory punishments the EU has been able to devise.

Does it make any difference to say that it's 'produced by fermentation'? Such as, perhaps, like soy sauce? It's a product of fermentation--fermented soy beans. No, it doesn't. Soy sauce made from GM soy must be labell ed.

However, soy beans are not microbes. Is there a relevant difference between GM microbes and GM plants?

Scientifically speaking, no.

Here's the real reason why a food ingredient, harvested from a GMO, that's been developed and patented by a giant multinational corporation with historic ties to the chemical industry, and denounced by activists, can get unfettered approval from European officials in three years: it doesn't compete against an existing domestic product.

Europe

White Book of Czech scientists referred.
Martina Cermáková, Prague Post, June 17, 2009
http://www.praguepost.com

Researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences have published their opinion on genetically modified crops in a 95-page "White Book" that has been hailed as the most comprehensive presentation of experimental work done on crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. Drawing from field studies of the Biology Center at the Academy of Sciences in České Budějovice as well as the Crop Research Institute, the White Book's authors conclude: "GM crops are more profitable for farmers and more environmentally friendly than comparable technologies." "Two key advantages of GMOs include the reduced need for insecticides and tolerance of herbicides," said Lubos Babicka from the Czech University of Life Sciences.

Stepán Cizek, head of agricultural co-op ZD Moina, which has cultivated Bt corn since it became legal in 2005, echoes these findings. "[Bt corn] yields at least 20 percent more," he said of the co-op's 500 hectares of crops in Morina, south of Prague. "The corn is much healthier, not infested at all by the maize moth, and that's also why it vegetates for longer periods."

The Agriculture Ministry predicts a decrease of land used for GM-crop cultivation from 8,380 hectares in 2008 to 7,000 this year. Vorlícek, spokesman of the Ministry, said the decline owes to continuing problems with sales of Bt corn, as buyers prefer unmodified corn. The ministry will leave Bt corn development in the hands of cultivators and consumers, Vorlícek said. In a country with the highest tolerance of GM products within the EU, the White Book's authors feel that consumers will play an important role in the shaping of future policies concerning GMOs.

The view is reported of Jaroslava Ovesná of the Crop Research Institute, who refused to undersign the book's content. Unfortunately the reader is not informed that Dr Ovesná is in charge of the official control laboratory that is a watch dog of Czech government in respect to EU rules concerning GMO. Naturally, it is not good demeanour to criticize and refuse rules one has to implement and control. Ovesná would like to see more flexibility and time-efficiency in the approval procedures, but she worries that no scientific findings will influence that.

Many European scientists are disturbed by the fact that political factors and ideology prevent unbiased assessment of the GM technology in some EU countries, with a negative effect on the whole Community. Being aware of the responsibility their country bears during the EU Presidency, Czech scientists working with GM crops prepared a White Book summarizing their experience and analyzing relevant EU legislation. The book has been prepared in frame of EU project called MOBITAG and published by the Biology Centre ASCR. It is available as a pdf file on  http://www.bc.cas.cz/en/MOBITAG.html.

White Book is concluded with the following recommendations to the policy makers:

  1. - Decisions concerning genetic modifications should not contradict scientific evidence.
  2. - Breeding techniques, including GM, should primarily be evaluated in respect to the outcome rather than the process itself.
  3. - Precautionary principle should be replaced by serious and robust risk/benefit assessment applied to all innovations in agriculture.
  4. - Risk assessments should always include the benefits and comparison of parallel technologies with all their components (e.g. GM crop deployment, standard agriculture with pesticides, and organic farming with permitted plant protection measures).
  5. - Economic assessment should also be done by comparison with parallel technologies.
  6. - If Member states are allowed to ban technology permitted elsewhere in the EU, they should also be allowed to use a technology that has not yet been approved by the EU, provided that it does not impinge on the other Member states.
GMO protest
22.08.08 Prague http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/eastern-europe/czech-slovakia/ – Czech scientists have appealed to the European Council not to to politicise the approval process for biotech crops. “Although the EU has the strictest rules on GM plants in the world, politicians in Brussels prefer to follow voters’ concerns instead of rational arguments,” said Prof. Jaroslav Drobník, a biotechnologist at Prague’s Charles University, shortly before the EU Council decided on a proposal to streamline the GMO risk assessment procedures. With the vote, the ministers adopted a French proposal to re-evaluate the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) expertise. “Changing the expertise is not saying we want to ban GMOs,” stated French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo.
Zapatero calls for stimulus
29.04.09 Madrid http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/southern-europe/spain/ – A new European stimulus plan to revive the economy should focus on the two areas of biotechnology and the green economy, announced Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, adding that he would use the Spanish EU presidency beginning in January of 2010 to urge the Union to follow this agenda.

Zapatero also said Europe should wait until this summer to see if the current round of spending measures and tax cuts has any effect. If it does not, he said, then the EU should coordinate new spending and focus on greentech and biotech, which he considers fundamental for the region’s future. If current measures fail, he said in an interview with foreign newspapers, there is capacity for a new fiscal boost.

“We are going to have a deficit, but we have plenty of room on the debt.” The Prime Minister said his government would seek to boost Spain’s lagging competitiveness by reforming the education system. He also said he wants to boost Spain’s investment in research and development. Zapatero’s Economics Minister Pedro Solbes, however, contradicted his boss, saying that Spain and other eurozone countries have no room for further spending programmes. Solbes resigned shortly after making that comment, and was replaced by Elena Salgado.
'Sustainable agriculture still low down on EU climate change agenda
EuropaBio, Brussels, 19 June 2009
http://www.europabio.org/positions/GBE/PP_090619_Climate_Change.pdf

GM crops can and already do play an important role in reducing the negative environmental impacts of agriculture and feeding a growing population in a worsening climate, reveals a report published today by EuropaBio.  Furthermore, this contribution will only increase as their cultivation becomes even more widely adopted around the world. Nevertheless, this fact continues to be ignored by many EU regulators, as is evidenced by its repeated non-appearance on DG Environment's Green Week agenda.

„When you consider that whilst we scramble to discover and apply new technologies to reduce emissions in the fossil fuel-based economy, we reject tried and tested solutions in agriculture - the second most impactful sector," said Nathalie Moll, Director of Agricultural Biotech at EuropaBio.

"It's high time we got our messages straight" added Willy de Greef, Secretary General of EuropaBio "Climate change poses a huge threat to the survival of millions around the world through famine and disease.  It's our responsibility to stop talking shop and start leading by acknowledging, endorsing and applying the full range of tools available, including safe agricultural biotech solutions." he concluded.
Austria to table solution ending EU GMO approval deadlock
19.06.09 Vienna/Brussels
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/insight-europe/

The Austrian government and several EU member states will table a proposal on how to end the deadlock in GMO approvals at the upcoming EU environment council (25-6-2009) in Luxemburg. The proposal argues that minor amendments to the EU Directive 18/2001 would open up a way to let the member states decide whether they want to plant GMOs on their territory or not, without changing the overall authorisation procedure for the modified organisms. Up to now, 10 smaller member states, including the GMO-friendly Dutch government, back Austria’s move. The solution would make it possible for GMO friendly EU member states to go ahead with commercial GMO cultivation and at the same time, it could be prohibited in GMO sceptical EU countries without the need to refer to the safeguard clause.

"The aim of the initiative must be to keep the normal approval procedure but to add the possibility for critical member states to ban GMO for cultivation", Phillipp Strom from Greenpeace Austria told EuroBiotechnews. However, EU industry experts doubt that it will be easy to exclude GMOs from free trade.
USDA criticises GMO policy
29.04.09 Warsaw/Washington
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/eastern-europe/ – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has criticised the draft law on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that Poland recently submitted to the European Commission. The rules defined in the law “will prevent planting GM crops in Poland,” according to a USDA report (GAIN report No. PL 9005) released in March. The Eastern European nation has come under especially heavy fire for the choice of the 18 experts who will set the GMO policy and approval of rules. The USDA said that it is clear that the panel will not approve a single GMO, as industry and farming experts were excluded by the Polish Environment Ministry in favour of representatives from anti-GMO lobby groups. The USDA has also criticised Poland’s plans to limit research on GM crops to closed systems, and to vote against every EU market approval application covering cultivation of GM crops. Other USDA concerns include Poland’s plans to establish GMO-free zones by naming regional inspectors who are able to prohibit GMO cultivation in specific regions for environmental protection reasons. According to the report, Poland is one of Europe’s “most active governments lobbying against the adoption of agricultural biological sciences worldwide.
First GM Trial in Belgium since 2002
René Custers, Nature Biotechnology 27, 506 (2009) (VIB, Ghent, Belgium)

A news article in your February issue1 reported that GM poplars developed by the group of Wout Boerjan at the Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) in Ghent were to move to the Netherlands to go on trial there. I am happy to report that VIB finally succeeded in getting an authorization for the trial in Belgium and does not have to move abroad.

The application in Belgium was first refused in May 2008, even though the Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council and the regional Flanders minister of the environment had both given their positive advice. VIB took legal action at the Council of State (the highest Belgian court) and made a few rounds of negotiations to overturn the negative decision and finally get the authorization in mid-February 2009.

The authorization is a landmark in the genetically modified organism field trial history in Belgium. It is the first field trial in Belgium since 2002. From 1987 to 2002 Belgium had a flourishing field trial culture reflecting the country's advanced research in plant biotech. In 1983, researchers in Ghent led by Marc Van Montagu and Jef Schell were the first to develop a genetically engineered plant. The trial in 1987 was one of the first in the world, but after 2002, the number of field trials dropped down to zero as the result of regulatory uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the 2001/18 EU directive on the deliberate release of gentically modified organisms. Laboratory research on plant biotech, however, has always kept up its pace.

Even though VIB has successfully pursued a field trial permit in The Netherlands as well, it will not start a trial there in the near future. It commenced planting of its trees last month on a field trial plot in Ghent. The plot is close to the research facilities and also close to the biofuels pilot plant, which is being set up in the port of Ghent. In trees themselves lignin biosynthesis is suppressed leading to trees with about 20% less liginin and 17% more cellulose per gram of wood. This makes them more suitable for bioethanol production. Wood from these trees grown in the greenhouse produces up to 50% more bioethanol than ordinary poplar trees. The field trial is the ultimate test to see whether wood produced under real-life conditions-seasons, stormy weather and a marginal soil-is also able to produce ethanol in a much more efficient way. VIB expects to have its first results from the trial in 2012.

Reference 1. Birch, H. Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 107 (2009).
Germany: Green Genetic Engineering Essential
Michael Gardner, University World News, May 31, 2009
http://www.universityworldnews.com/

The German Research Foundation has released a joint memorandum with the German Agricultural Society calling for a change in current policy on research into genetic engineering. The two organisations complain that research in this field is being hampered more and more by "misguided political decisions", referring to the current ban on growing genetically modified crops, but also by the illegal destruction of field tests.

Together with the society, the foundation, Germany's chief research funding organisation, argues that scientists working in higher education and other public-funded research as well as in medium-sized enterprises are increasingly being forced to either restrict research projects in green genetic engineering or even abandon them entirely. They fear that this could lead to Germany losing an important research field altogether in the long run.

Speaking at the presentation of the memorandum in Berlin, DFG President Matthias Kleiner stressed the need for basic research in green genetic engineering and the importance of field trials, but also pointed to the special responsibility of science in assessing the opportunities and risks of green genetic engineering.
GM Opponents Must Pay
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/449.docu.html (19.06.2009)

In Magdeburg, capital city of the German province of Saxony-Anhalt, the regional court last week sentenced six opponents of gene technology to compensation of damage caused. In April 2008, the defendants had destroyed a field trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat in the nearby village of Gatersleben. The magnitude of the compensation has not yet been set.

The court determined that the four women and two men acted against the law on the April 21, 2008 as they entered the field trial area and destroyed wheat plants. The gene-technology opponents must pay the cost of this harm. In a civil suit, the plaintiff Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK Gatersleben) claimed the equivalent of 245,000 euros in damage. However, the court recognised only a value of 104,000 euros as legitimate.

The anti-gene-technology activists now have four weeks in which to assume a position. Subsequently, the court will decide upon the sum to be paid. According to a speaker for the court, an application by two defendants for aid with legal costs has been rejected due to "malicious behaviour".

Two genes from barley and broad beans had been introduced into the GM wheat developed by the IPK. The transport of specific building blocks of protein into the wheat kernels is expected to be improved thereby and consequently to enhance the quality of the resulting animal feed. The aim of the field trial was to test the manner in which this concept functions, as well as the behaviour of the GM wheat under open field conditions.

Gene-technology opponents had objected to the field trial primarily due to its proximity to the Gatersleben gene bank, in which 150,000 seed samples from 3,000 types of plants including wheat are kept. Each year, a portion of these samples are planted on small lots and propagated. Fears exist that the GM wheat could out-cross into such samples and thereby endanger the seed stores. The activists had cited the German legal concept of "übergesetzlicher Notstand" ("extra-statutory necessity") in claiming the destruction as a legitimate instrument towards avoiding damage to the gene bank.

The IPK Gatersleben as well as the agencies responsible for approval had ruled out the possibility that the field trial could pose a threat to the gene bank. The trial lots were separated from the propagation lots of the gene bank by a distance of 500 metres. Furthermore, wheat is self-pollinating, which allows the reliable elimination of out-crossing. The gene bank in Gatersleben has propagated numerous wheat types from a variety of provenances for fifty years without a case of intermixing to date. After the destruction, IPK discontinued field trials with the developed GM wheat in Germany.
EuropaBio session at BIO examined the EU public health dynamic and how to better deliver biotech innovation to Europe’s citizens

At last months’s annual BIO Conference in Atlanta, US, EuropaBio not only led its own session on Changing The EU Public Health Dynamic, but was also invited to present the European and EuropaBio perspective on Biosimilars at the Council of State Biotech Associations meeting. The Council was particularly interested in how member states in the EU have tackled the implementation, and what role national biotech associations had played. EuropaBio’s related press release received wide coverage including USA Today and Medical News Today.

Africa

ETHIOPIAN SCIENTIST WINS WORLD FOOD PRIZE

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a plant breeder from Ethiopia, is this year's recipient of the World Food Prize. The announcement was made last week by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington. Dr. Ejeta, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana, is being recognized for his work in developing high-yielding sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic weed Striga. He will receive the USD 250,000 award on October 15 at the Iowa State capitol.

Working in Sudan in the early 1980s, Dr. Ejeta developed Dura-1, the first ever commercial hybrid sorghum in Africa. The hybrid was resistant to drought and out-yielded traditional varieties by up to 150 percent. By 1999, more than one million acres of the high-yielding sorghum variety have been harvested by Sudanese farmers. He next turned his attention to combating the plague of Striga, a deadly parasitic weed which devastates yields of crops including maize, rice, pearl millet, sugarcane, and sorghum. The Ethiopian scientist, together with  Larry Butler  from Purdue University, identified genes for Striga resistance and transferred them into locally adapted sorghum varieties and improved sorghum cultivars.

Visit http://www.worldfoodprize.org/press_room/2009/june/announcement.htm for the complete story.

NIGERIA APPROVES CONFINED FIELD TRIAL OF COWPEA

The Federal Government of Nigeria approved the request of the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria to conduct confined field trial (CFT) of insect resistant transgenic cowpea. This opens the floodgate for basic research to develop crop varieties resistant to the legume pod borer, Maruca, which causes huge annual cowpea yield losses. Cowpea is the most important food grain legume in the dry savannah of tropical Africa, and it is being consumed in various forms by some 200 million people. At least 128 million ha of cultivable area is devoted for its production either as sole crop or in various mixtures. For more information contact Mohammad F. Ishiyaku at mffaguji@hotmail.com.

Asia

Nobel Laureate Bats for GM Food
Press Trust of India, June 19,2009, Bangalore:

Nobel laureate Dr Richard J Roberts today said genetically modified (GM) food was safe and those opposing it were doing so out of vested interest.

Delivering the" Highlight Lecture"during the ongoing event, Bangalore Bio, showcasing biotechnology sector, he flayed the European Green Party for whipping up opposition against GM food." They are pursuing it to meet their own political ends,"he claimed.

Stressing that GM food was safe, he said," This technology is not new. It existed 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. "I think it is absolutely crucial for the developing world to recognise that GM food not only offers great advantages but is also absolutely safe,"he said.

He lamented that politicisation of GM food had led to commercial exploitation in Europe." Many countries which could have benefited from it had denied entry to it (GM Food). Even Africa, which had millions of hungry people, refuses to accept huge quantity of donated food which is genetically modified,"he said.

Australia

FIELD TRIALS OF HERBICIDE-TOLERANT SUGARCANE IN AUSTRALIA

Australia's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has received an application from BSES Limited for a limited and controlled release of up to 6000 sugarcane lines genetically modified for herbicide tolerance. If approved, the release will take place at six BSES stations in Queensland on a maximum area of 26 ha per year from November 2009 to 2015. BSES has proposed a number of control measures to restrict the dissemination and persistence of the GM plants in the environment, including monitoring of fields for volunteer plants, destruction of plant materials not required for experimentation and isolation of fields from natural waterways. No plant materials from the GM sugarcane would be used for human food or animal feed.

In addition to the herbicide-tolerance genes, the sugar cane lines express the antibiotic resistance markers nptII and bla from E. coli and gfp gene from jelly fish. OGTR is currently preparing a risk assessment and risk management plan. It is expected to be available for public comment in the coming months.

For more information, visit http://www.ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/dir096

News in Science

Virus-Resistant Sweet Potato
http://businessmirror.com.ph/  
MAY 31, 009 1,ORMOC CITY, Leyte-

The Philippines hopes to have a genetically modified (GM) kamote (sweet potato) in the next five years. Scientists from the Visayas State University (VSU) and the University of the Philippines Los Ba?os, Institute of Plant Breeding  (UPLB-IPB) are now working on the development of virus-resistant sweet potato (VRSP) through Agrobacterium-mediated transformation.

"The virus-disease complex has been reported to reduce the yield of sweet potato by 40 percent to 60 percent in Leyte and 85 percent to 98 percent in Albay," says Dr. Manuel Palomar, vice president and VRSP project leader of VSU.

How protein receptors affect plant immunity
http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_09_06_12_en.html&item=Infocentre&artid=11713

Dutch researchers have discovered a protein component that regulates this system involving intramolecular interactions between various domains. The study's results, published in the journal Science, highlight comparable changes in this regulating mechanism that can trigger disruptions in human and plant immune systems. Their findings will help raise awareness of human autoimmune disorders and fuel the development of safer foods. Co-authors of the study Professor Frank Takken of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Dr Wladimir Tameling of the Wageningen University and Research Centre (UR) in the Netherlands said these multidomain protein receptors determine the difference between healthy or sick plants.

The plant immune system has two layers: one is based on extracellular trans-membrane receptors that recognise conserved microbe-associated molecules and trigger a somewhat weak immune response that stops colonisation of microbes; the other breaks through the first layer to fight specialised infectious agents. The latter is based on highly polymorphic resistance (R) proteins.

'R proteins act mainly (but not exclusively) intracellularly and confer protection against (hemi-) biotrophic pathogens that need living host tissues for their proliferation,' the study shows. 'During infection, these pathogens (which include many viruses, bacteria, fungi, oomycetes and nematodes), produce virulence factors (effectors), of which several suppress the first layer of the plant's immune system, clearing the way for infection,' the authors wrote.

'Some effectors or the perturbations they cause in the plant, are perceived by R proteins, which consequently set off strong defence responses in the plan that often leads to suicide of the infected cells.'

The researchers noted pathogen perception by the multidomain proteins set off conformational changes dependent on nucleotide exchange. 'Most R proteins are multidomain NB-LRRs ("nibblers"), named after their central nucleotidebinding (NB) and leucine-rich repeat (LRR) domains,' the research shows. 'The NB domain is part of a larger domain, the so-called NB-ARC domain, which consists of three subdomains: NB, ARC1 and ARC2.'

INRA RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY NEW APHID RESISTANCE GENE

Scientists at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) have identified a novel gene that confers resistance against the dreaded melon or cotton aphid Aphis gossypii. The aphid has emerged as a major problem of farmers growing cucurbits, tomato and citrus trees. Melon aphids damage plants by injecting their needle-like mouthpart into a plant's leaves and extracting sap. Aphids are also the most common vector of plant viruses.

The researchers identified the resistance gene, which they called Vat (virus aphid transmission resistance), in melon lines originating from India. The gene confers a double resistance phenotype: resistance to aphid infestation and resistance to viral transmission. The Vat locus has been successfully introduced to high-yielding commercial melon cultivars. The INRA researchers, led by Catherine Dogimont, now plan to introduce the gene to cotton, cucumber and other plant species susceptible to the aphid. They are also looking for orthologues of the Vat gene in species other than melon.

For more information, visit http://www.international.inra.fr/

Protein complexes production made easy
http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm
PLANT GROWTH-PROMOTING MICROBE SHARES FEATURES WITH HUMAN PATHOGEN

Scientists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US, University College Cork in Ireland and Graz University of Technology in Austria have discovered extensive similarities between a strain of bacteria commonly associated with plants and one increasingly linked to opportunistic infections in hospital patients. The scientists say that the findings may have important implications in biotechnology, since the plant-associated strain is used in a range of biotech applications.

Daniel van der Lelie and colleagues compared two strains of Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. Stenotrophomonas species are known for their versatility and adaptability in diverse environments. Some strains cause bloodstream and pulmonary infections whereas others promote plant growth. The researchers identified genes that make the bacteria resistant to a wide range of antibiotics in both strains. According to van der Lelie, this suggests that antibiotic resistance is part of the species' core genome, and not a trait acquired in the hospital. He cautions against the use of Stenotrophomonas in biotech applications for which it has shown promise, including increasing plant growth, protecting plants against pathogens and production of pharmaceutical proteins and enzymes.

Read the original article at http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/PR_display.asp?prID=946. Subscribers can download the paper published by Nature Reviews Microbiology at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro2163

New source for antibiotic resistance
24.06.09 Uppsala
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/northern-europe/sweden/articledetail/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=10228&tx_ttnews[backPid]=34&cHash=f900377b33

Swedish researchers have identified gulls as a potential hidden reservoir for antibiotic resistant bacteria that can pass on their ability to survive antibiotic exposure to dangerous pathogens. In PLoS, the Eu NEW-FLUBIRD consortium under Mirva Drobni from the university of Uppsala reports that almost 50% of Mediterranean gulls carry bacteria that are resistant to one or more antibiotics. Since these birds share the same antibiotic resistance patterns as humans, the discovery signals a blow in the fight against one of society's most disturbing health threats: bacteria that build up resistance to treatment drugs.

In two populations of Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) Drobni’s team found a high level of general antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli (E. coli) samples. 'Nearly half of the isolates (47.1%) carried resistance to one or more antibiotics in a panel of six antibiotics, and resistance to tetracycline, ampicillin and streptomycin was most widespread,' said Drobni. An interesting finding, because gulls have developed behaviours that entail closer and closer contact with humans, and so opportunities arise for the exchange of bacteria, according to Drobni.

UK geneticists design shatter-resistant rapeseed
28.05.09 Norwich
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/western-europe/uk/

UK crop geneticists have cracked the problem of pod shatter in brassica crops such as oilseed rape, which leads to a 25% loss of seeds every year. They have now presented a genetic strategy for the control of seed dispersal that should be generally applicable to diverse Brassica crop species to reduce seed loss.

"By artificially producing a hormone in a specific region of the fruit, we have stopped the fruit opening in the model plant Arabidopsis, completely sealing the seeds inside," says Dr Lars ?stergaard from John Innes Centre (UK). The scientists discovered that the absence of the hormone auxin in the valve margin, a layer of cells in the fruit, is necessary for the fruit to open. Two stripes of tissue called valves form where no auxin is present, and separate to open the pod.

It is the first time that removal of a hormone has been found to be important for cell fate and growth.

Brassica plants such as Arabidopsis or rapeseed normally disperse their seeds using a pod-shattering mechanism. Although this mechanism is an advantage in nature, it is one of the biggest problems in farming oilseed rape. It results in losing valuable seeds and in runaway 'volunteer' seedlings that contaminate the next crop in the rotation cycle. If rape seeds are harvested early to avoid the problem, immature seeds of an inferior quality may be collected.

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