News in August 2009
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2009-09-21

General

FAO PROPOSES NEW FOOD SECURITY STRUCTURE FOR WORLD SUMMIT DELIBERATION

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has sent a document to Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Development Cooperation and Agriculture of members of FAO and the United Nations to consider as a declaration for adoption by the World Summit of Heads of State and Government on Food Security in November 2009 in Rome.

Secretariat contribution to defining the objectives and possible decisions of the World Summit on Food Security, calls for the complete eradication of hunger by 2025 and for secure, sufficient, safe and nutritious food supplies for a world population that is expected to reach 9.2 billion in 2050. Among the issues raised in the document include a proposal for a new world food security governance structure, public and private investment for increasing agricultural production in developing countries, institutional and capacity building, food quality and safety, and transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals.

See the FAO press release at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/29219/icode/
FAO: WEEDS ARE FARMERS' ENEMY NUMBER ONE

According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), weeds are causing USD 95 billion a year in lost food production worldwide. At today's prices, this translates into some 380 million tons of wheat, or more than half of world production expected in 2009. FAO estimated that out of this USD 95 billion, 70 billion or more than 70 percent is lost in poor countries.

FAO's weed expert, Ricardo Labrada-Romero said weeds do not grab attention as much as droughts, insects and diseases because they are not very spectacular. "Weeds are different," says Labrada-Romero. "They play havoc quietly all year round, year after year." Some weed species can not only lead to complete crop failure but also make fields infertile for many years.

Read the original story at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/29402/icode/
Africa's biotechnology battle
Ian Scoones  & Dominic Glover, 2 Nature 460, 797-798 (13 August 2009

An influential book accuses Europe of keeping genetically modified crops out of Africa, but, by polarizing the debate, it undermines efforts to improve the continent's agriculture, warn Ian Scoones and Dominic Glover.

"BOOK REVIEWED-Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg; Harvard University Press: 2008. 256 pp. $24.95 (hbk), $16.95 (pbk)"

Starved for Science is a troubling polemic. Political scientist Robert Paarlberg argues that genetically modified (GM) crops could solve Africa's hunger and poverty, but that, through inadequate investment, external lobbying and stringent regulations, farmers are being deprived of the technology and prevented from achieving agricultural success. He lays the blame largely with European governments and non-governmental organizations for trying to foist their affluent values and precautionary sensibilities on Africa's poor. The book has quickly become influential.
Supercourse: Call For Submissions of  Lectures on Biotechnology

The Library of Alexandria, Supercourse (http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/index.htm), and the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) are joining forces to create the first-ever virtual repository of lectures on biotechnology.  The objective of this partnership is to widen the reach of the best scientific knowledge available on biotechnology so that teachers and learners everywhere may access it.

You can participate by submitting your best Power Point lectures to GKI-Supercourse who are developing the module and uploading the lectures (sara@gkinitiative.org or Ronlaporte@aol.com).

Join Nina Fedoroff (Science and Technology Advisor to the US Secretary of State), Ismail Serageldin, Jonathan Gressel, C.S. Prakash, Piero Morandini, Joachim von Braun, Moisés Burachik and many other noted experts in the field who have already offered their biotechnology-related lectures to the module so that others may view them, learn from them, and teach from them.

Building on the success of Supercourse and the Library of Alexandria in developing a module on public health (http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/assist/topicsearch.htm), that has been used by over 500 million teachers and learners globally, GKI-Supercourse is now harvesting the best lectures on biotechnology to launch a Biotechnology GKI-Supercourse Module for the world to access.

To participate we need only ask that you follow a few quick, simple steps to allow us to bring your lecture to the attention of hundreds of thousands of researchers and future generations of scientists:

Step 1:  Please send an email attaching your Power Point lecture authorizing us-GKI's Chief Operating Officer, Sara Farley and Supercourse's Executive Director, Ron LaPorte-to use the Power Point you prepared.

 Step 2:   GKI-Supercourse reviews the lecture to discern what annotation is required, if any, so that a non-expert might understand the content of your presentation from the slides.

Step 3:    Once any annotation is complete, GKI-Supercourse may translate select presentations into multiple languages so that researchers, scientists, and learners across the globe can access your work in the language most useful to them.   Historically, Supercourse has translated lectures into 10 languages.

Step 4: GKI-Supercourse launches the lecture on the Supercourse site, the Library of Alexandria site, and soon after, the website of the Global Knowledge Initiative.

GKI-Supercourse is thrilled to provide global access to the scientific knowledge you generate so that the best science can be shared widely.

Contact:  Sara Farley, GKI Chief Operating Officer:  sara@gkinitiative.org; 202-334-2535; Ron LaPorte, Supercourse Executive Director:  ronaldlaporte@gmail.com.

Books & Articles

Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly
A New book by James E. McWilliams . Amazon.com price $17.15; August 26, 2009 Hardcover: 272 pages, Little, Brown and Company, ISBN-10: 031603374X
Review by Susan Wittig Albert (Texas) - http://www.amazon.com/review/R1N2QNDMAULNUR/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Just Foods is an important book in the continuing (and continually escalating) debate over how we should grow our food and what we should eat. Environmental historian and reformed locavore James McWilliams, invites us to think logically and dispassionately about some of the most important food issues of our time--and of the future. Having read two of McWilliams' previous books, I expected a controversial, detailed, and well-documented discussion. I wasn't disappointed.

In summary, McWilliams argues

  1. that global food production is more fuel-efficient and more economically necessary (for developing countries that need export markets) than is local food production/consumption ("locovorism");
  2. that organic farming is no more healthy for people and for the land than is "wisely practiced" conventional agriculture;
  3. that genetically-modified crops, in the right hands, are not to be feared and are in fact necessary to feed the ten billions of people who will live on this planet by 2050;
  4. that we must drastically reduce our production and consumption of meat animals and non-farmed fish;
  5. and that we must get rid of "perverse" subsidies that undercut fair trade.
Compositional Assessment of Transgenic Crops: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed
Rod A. Herman, Bruce M. Chassy <bchassy@uiuc.edu>, Wayne Parrott; Trends in Biotechnology;  In Press, Corrected Proof, 21 August 2009 Available online http://www.sciencedirect.com

Abstract: Compositional studies comparing transgenic crops with non-transgenic crops are almost universally required by governmental regulatory bodies to support the safety assessment of new transgenic crops. Here we discuss the assumptions that led to this requirement and lay out the theoretical and empirical evidence suggesting that such studies are no more necessary for evaluating the safety of transgenic crops than they are for traditionally bred crops.

Regulatory changes enacted a decade ago appear to be responsible for dramatically slowing the flow of quality-improving agricultural biotechnology innovations
Seed Quest, August 21, 2009
http://www.seedquest.com

Regulatory changes enacted a decade ago appear to be responsible for dramatically slowing the flow of quality-improving agricultural biotechnology innovations to a mere trickle, reports a team of agricultural economists and biotechnology experts.

Findings from the study, published in the August issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, suggest that the slowdown may have lasting social welfare costs, such as the delay of nutritional improvements, production efficiencies and environmental protections.
Lobbing Brickbats: Baby Steps Toward Acceptance of Biotech In Organics
Hembree Brandon, Southeast Farm Press, August 3, 2009

Allowing organic crop producers to gain certification for biotech crops could encourage the development of a new type of environmentally sustainable agricultural production, with greater benefits for the consumer.

Heresy? No, says Cyndi Barmore in a report prepared for the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, "The Unexplored Potential of Organic-Biotech Production." Noting up front that the organic movement rejects biotech "as inherently contradictory to its fundamental goal of promoting environmental protection in agriculture," she nonetheless says, "A governmental decision to change organic regulations to permit the use of biotechnology could have far-reaching policy implications for global agriculture."
The issue of contradictory results of biosafety studies
Shttp://www.gmo-compass.org/

"No single study should be taken too seriously until other studies have confirmed the findings."

The results of biosafety studies on GM crops are often controversially discussed in public debates. Some studies even provide a contradictory picture of the safety of products such as Bt maize. More importantly, results of such studies are used for the justification of political decisions. For example, the cultivation of the genetically modified MON810 maize was banned in Germany in April 2009, mainly substantiated with two new studies that claim to show that MON810 poses a risk to two-spotted ladybirds and water-fleas, however these studies were scientifically controversial. Similarly justified bans were enacted in Luxembourg, Greece and Austria. In contrast, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently confirmed its positive assessment of MON810 maize and concluded that non-target organisms, such as insects and water-dwelling organisms, are not at risk. Read on at http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/stories/458.issue_contradictory_results_biosafety_studies.html
Impacts of Bt crops on non-target invertebrates and insecticide use patterns
Naranjo, S. E., CAB Reviews, 2009, 4, 011, 1-11
http://www.cabi.org/cabreviews/default.aspx?LoadModule=Review&ReviewID=99418&site=167&page=1486

The ubiquitous nature of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a Gram-positive bacterium capable of producing crystal proteins with insecticidal activity during sporulation, is now being mirrored in major crops plants that have been engineered through recombinant DNA to carry genes responsible for producing these crystal proteins and providing host plant resistance to major lepidopteran and coleopteran pests. In 2007, the 11th year of commercial production, Bt maize and Bt cotton were commercially produced on a total of ~42 million hectares in 20 countries.

Assessment of environmental safety has been and continues to be a key element of transgenic crop technology. This review focuses on two environmental elements, effects on non-target invertebrates and changes in insecticide use patterns since the adoption of Bt maize and cotton. Meta-analyses of the extant literature on invertebrate non-target effects reveals that the pattern and extent of impact varies in relation to taxonomy, ecological or anthropomorphic guild, route of exposure and the non-Bt control against which effects are gauged.

Hazards identified in the laboratory may not always manifest in the field and the minor negative effects of Bt crops demonstrated in the field pale in comparison with alternative pest suppression measures based on insecticides. The efficacy of Bt maize and cotton against major pest species has been associated with an estimated 136.6 million kg global reduction in insecticide active ingredient used between 1996 and 2006 (29.9% reduction). Benefits vary by country and region and are heavily weighted towards cotton production, which has historically been one of the largest users of insecticides in the world.
Africa's biotechnology battle
Ian Scoones  & Dominic Glover, 2 Nature 460, 797-798 (13 August 2009)

An influential book accuses Europe of keeping genetically modified crops out of Africa, but, by polarizing the debate, it undermines efforts to improve the continent's agriculture, warn Ian Scoones and Dominic Glover.

"BOOK REVIEWED-Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg; Harvard University Press: 2008. 256 pp. $24.95 (hbk), $16.95 (pbk)"

Starved for Science is a troubling polemic. Political scientist Robert Paarlberg argues that genetically modified (GM) crops could solve Africa's hunger and poverty, but that, through inadequate investment, external lobbying and stringent regulations, farmers are being deprived of the technology and prevented from achieving agricultural success. He lays the blame largely with European governments and non-governmental organizations for trying to foist their affluent values and precautionary sensibilities on Africa's poor. The book has quickly become influential. A dogmatic and unscientific stance on GM crops --- whether for or against --- helps no one, least of all African farmers. A more evidence-based approach than Paarlberg's is needed --- one that should foster diverse development pathways for agriculture underpinned by high-quality scientific research and attuned to particular circumstances.

For additional references, see http://tinyurl.com/lfp2x3
Village-wide Effects of Agricultural Biotechnology: The Case of Bt Cotton in India
Arjunan Subramaniana and Matin Qaim, World Development, Vol. 37, Issue 1, January 2009,  Pages 256-267
Copyright © 2008 Elsevier Ltd  (Georg-August-University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany)

Summary: Previous studies on impacts of agricultural biotechnology have mostly focused on direct effects. We suggest an economy-wide framework to analyze income distribution aspects more carefully. For a village in India, a micro-social accounting matrix (SAM) is developed and used to simulate the effects of Bt cotton adoption. Overall, the technology is employment generating, although family labor in cotton production is saved. While substantial benefits are observed for small and large farmers, total household income effects are bigger for larger farms. This is mostly due to differential opportunity incomes of saved family labor. Some research and policy implications are discussed.

Full paper at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6VC6-4SWXDMD-

Events

23-25 September; EuroBio; Lille, France
24 September; InDeCS-H project final stakeholders conference, Brussels, Belgium
28 September; Biosimilars Workshop, London, UK

October 2009

6-8 October; BIOTECHNICA 2009, Hannover, Germany
20-22 October; EuropaBio's EUROPEAN FORUM FOR INDUSTRIAL BIOTECHNOLOGY 2009; Lisbon, Portugal
23-25 October; Biotech Expo See; Athens, Greece

November 2009

3-6 November; International Days of Biology 2009, Paris, France

10TH PLANT GENOMICS CONFERENCE

The 10th Plant Genomics Conference will be held in Chongqing, China on August 19-21, 2009. It will tackle  progress on plant genomics home and abroad, and promote the development of biotech industrialization. The annual assembly rotates among different cities in China and is is being organized by Southwest University this year. The conference will include 6 sessions on the following topics: Genome Sequencing; Proteomics, Metabolomics and Bioinformatics; Functional Genomics; Transgenics; Genome Diversity; and Genomics-based Breeding.

For more information, visit http://www.plantgenomics.cn/news.cgi?newsid=28
THE GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS COEXISTENCE CONFERENCE IN MELBOURNE

The Genetically Modified Crops Coexistence Conference (GMCC) will take place from 10 to 12 November, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia. The conference will cover key issues on coexistence between GM and non-GM agricultural supply chains ranging from the production level to the market place. Topics include: gene flow in agricultural systems; strategies for coexistence and organisational measures across the supply chain; socio-economics of coexistence and cost/benefit analysis of coexistence strategies; legal and policy issues of coexistence frameworks; traceability and control of coexistence.

For further information, please visit: http://www.gmcc-09.com/

Europe - EU

EC Survey on GM Food and Farming

DG Environment of the European Commission has recently launched an evaluation of the EU legislative framework in the field of cultivation of GMOs under Directive 2001/18/EC and Regulation (EC) N° 1829/2003, and marketing of uses other than cultivation under Directive 2001/18/EC.

The aim of this technical evaluation is to assess the extent to which the implementation of the legislative framework on the cultivation and marketing of GMOs has achieved the objective of protecting human and animal health, the environment and consumers' interest, while at the same time ensuring the functioning of the internal market. This exercise is solely technical. It is not linked to and does not imply any particular policy initiative on the part of the Commission.

The evaluation is being carried out by GHK Consulting Ltd, which operates under the European Policy Evaluation Consortium (EPEC). GHK is supported by Technopolis and by a group of experts. The evaluation will be completed by the beginning of 2010.

The GHK project is concerned with GMO cultivation and marketing only. Comments on the implementation of legislative governing GMOs in food and feed applications are out of scope. A separate evaluation of the EU legislative framework in the field of GM food and feed has been launched by DG Health and Consumers (SANCO).

Register to receive a questionnaire at  http://gmregister.ghkint.com
EFSA Wants to Talk to GMO-critics
European Biotechnology News, August 12, 2009 http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/

Parma - The European Food Safety Authority EFSA invites GMO-critics, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to a scientific discussion early in September as a reaction to a report issued by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth on the renewal of the existing authorisation for genetically modified (GM) maize MON810 in the European Union.

"EFSA recognises that there are different points of view on the GM technology", it states in a press release in which it comments on the claims made in the report. EFSA says it is aware that the conclusions of the GMO Panel in its scientific opinion concerning the renewal of MON810 may not support the views of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

Furthermore, the scientists note that there are "areas of scientific uncertainty" in their evaluations. But, considering all of the opinions to GMO in their totality would be the task of risk managers and not scientists. In the statement EFSA reinforces its judgement "that the likelihood of adverse effects of the cultivation of MON810 on non-target organisms, such as butterflies and other insects, is very low". Besides, all proteins either present in MON810 or found to be theoretically possible have been investigated, according to EFSA and it therefore sees no reason to raise a safety concern.

EFSA's GMO Panel is made up of scientists, experts in GM risk assessment, from across Europe, who are supported by additional external experts to cover the breadth of expertise required. In addition to standard consultation with all Member States and other competent authorities, EFSA held a special meeting with Member State experts on May 26 in order to exchange views on the environmental risk assessment of GM maize MON810 in the context of the renewal application for cultivation. The cultivation was approved, but several EU Members States have since banned the cultivation of MON810 at a national level.
Health research project.

The European Commission announced the funding of 106 health research projects which together will receive up to €610 million under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). These projects cover issues such as diagnostics, new therapies and vaccines. They have been selected through the third call for proposals of the Health Programme of FP7. A total of 679 proposals were submitted. Evaluation was performed with the help of international experts in the health research field. The 106 successful projects will now enter into final negotiation phase. http://ec.europa.eu/research/index.cfm?pg=press&lg=en

Structures review.

The European Commission welcomes the review of European Research Council structures and mechanisms http://ec.europa.eu/research/index.cfm?pg=newsalert&lg=en&year=2009&na=na-230709

EU starts to rethinking of GMO regulation.

Typical: Document “Evaluation of the EU legislative Framework in the Field of Cultivation of GMOs under Directive 2001/18/EC and Regulation(EC) No 1829/2003 and marketing of their other uses under Directive 2001/18/EC” of 14 pager followed by the questionnaire – 16 pages was sent to Member states.

EUROPE RELEASES GUIDELINES FOR GROWING PHARMACEUTICAL-PRODUCING GM PLANTS

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published the first European guidelines for growing genetically modified plants producing pharmaceuticals or industrial enzymes. Under the guidelines, applicants need to specify the differences between the GM plant and its non-transgenic counterpart and how these differences affect the plant's function and growth. EFSA says that the comparative analysis is important, particularly "with regard to accidental intake by humans, livestock and wildlife animals, the exposure of farmers and workers handling the GM plants, and the exposure of passers-by and of people living in the vicinity."

The guidelines also state that applicants need to detail the measures they will take to prevent the escape of GM plant materials into the environment. With regards to plants that produce stable bio-active substances, for instance, the applicants should devise ways to prevent or reduce herbivory and leakage through drainage or sewage. Applicants should also provide data that will allow the assessment of confinement measures under all environmental conditions, including worst-case scenarios.

EFSA will only take into account the "risks" of growing the GM plant. The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) will be in charge of assessing the safety of plant-produced substances.

According to an article published by nature, the guidelines "compare favorably" with rules set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Download the guidelines at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902783659.htm Subscribers to Nature can read http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090807/full/news.2009.630.html for more information.
Hearing on nanotechnology

In recognition of the importance of the safety of nanotechnologies, the European Commission is organising a one-day scientific hearing on 10 September 2009 in Brussels. The hearing will focus on the scientific aspects of the risk assessment of nanomaterials. http://ec.europa.eu/research/health/index_en.html

EFSA TO RE-EVALUATE GM MAIZE MON810

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will invite stakeholders in September 2009 to review a report on its scientific opinion concerning applications submitted for the renewal of the existing authorization for genetically modified (GM) maize MON810 in the European Union.

In reaction to comments earlier forwarded by civil society groups, EFSA forwarded the following points:

bulletThe GMO Panel is confident that it has considered relevant scientific studies.
bulletIt neither plays down nor ignores research and concluded that the likelihood of adverse effects of the cultivation of MON810 on non-target organisms, such as butterflies and other insects, is very low.
bulletAll proteins either present in MON810 or found to be theoretically possible have been investigated and the Panel said they would not raise a safety concern.
See the full article at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902771813.htm

Europe

Britain Sees GM Foods as Answer to Self-Sufficiency
Jim Pickard, Financial Times, August 11 2009 03:00 | Last updated: August 11 2009 03:00

Genetically modified crops could be part of the solution for making British agriculture more self-sufficient, Hilary Benn, environment minister, said yesterday as the government launched its first review of the nation's food security. The UK, which only produces 61 per cent of the food it consumes, had experienced a "wake-up call" in recent years with sudden oil and food price rises, he added.

In comments likely to raise fears over protectionism among the UK's trading partners, Mr Benn said he would not ban products such as Spanish or African strawberries but hoped that people would choose increasingly vulnerable to climate change or water shortages, he said. "If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products," Mr Benn said.

http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodrin/pdf/food-assess-analysis-0908.pdf These web pages provide an opportunity to discuss the challenges and other to eat more seasonal foods.

Imports from other countries could become issues affecting the food system. They also provide a place to discuss the shape of the future food system. Food 2030 looks both at the food we produce and consume in the UK, and how global food production can be increased in a sustainable way.

The UK is being left behind North and South America and East Asia in the development and deployment of GM crops, which are essential for us to survive and compete in global food production. Our government should investigate and, if needed, control the activities of NGOs of foreign origin (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and others), who may attempt to sabotage our agriculture to favour exports of their home countries. If we do not do this, first out livestock industry will go under, and then large parts of our arable farming.
GM POPLAR TRIAL STARTS IN BELGIUM

Belgium's ban on field trials of genetically modified plants is now over. The Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) has obtained approval from the Belgian federal government for the limited and controlled release of GM poplar trees that produce less lignin and more cellulose. It is the first field trial in the country since 2002.

According to a report by the Europe Biotech News, VIB had to go to the Council of State, Belgium's highest court, to obtain the permission for the field trial. In May 2008, VIB's application for the trial was refused even after it had received approval from the Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council and the regional Flanders Minister of the Environment.

Lignin provides plants with strength and protection against pathogens and pests. However, separating lignin from the energy-rich cellulose can be time consuming and very expensive. Genetically modified plants with altered levels of lignin could be the key to a cheaper and greener way of making ethanol. The poplar trees that the VIB researchers are testing contain 20 percent less lignin and 17 percent more cellulose per gram wood. Greenhouse trials revealed that the transgenic poplar trees produce 50 percent more ethanol than conventional varieties.

For the original article, visit http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/service/start-page/top-news/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=10354&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=12&cHash=55358c4963
UK DEFRA RELEASES ANALYTICAL PAPER ON FOOD SECURITY

The United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK DEFRA) has released UK Food Security Assessment: Detailed Analysis. This paper details a framework of indicators for assessing UK food security developed through stakeholder engagement and expert input from various Government departments.

The scorecard-style assessment forms contain the common elements of definitions of food security: availability, access, affordability, safety and resilience. It enables the department to provide signposts for areas needing more in-depth investigation or further research. Download the full paper at http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodrin/pdf/food-assess-analysis-0908.pdf
NEW PROJECT AIMS TO DEVELOP NOVEL SCREENING METHODS FOR GMOS

Researchers from Belgium, Germany and Slovenia, as well as the Joint Research Center (JRC) of the EU Commission, will work together to devise strategies and develop new tools for the detection of genetically modified organisms in food products. The scientists will work under the GMOSeek project, funded by the German Federal Bureau of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency. The project will be coordinated by Dany Morisset, a scientist at Slovenia's National Institute of Biology (NIB).

Other project partners include the Scientific Institute of Public Health (IPH) and Own Equity of the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (EV ILVO) in Belgium, JRC's Institute of Health and Consumer Protection and the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority.

The press release is available at http://www.bvl.bund.de
GERMANY: NEW STANDARD GMO-FREE LOGO INTRODUCED

The German logo "Ohne Gentechnik" or "without gene technology" has been approved for use to identify foods derived from animals for which no genetically modified plants such as maize or soy were used in feed. German Minister of Agriculture Ilse Aigner stated that the goal is "to make it easier for consumers to choose food products without gene technology in an informed manner." This is also hoped to provide consumers more freedom of choice and to enhance transparency when shopping for groceries.

For details see the article at:  http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/460.docu.html and the press release at: http://www.bmelv.de in German

Africa

EGYPT DENIES BAN ON GM CROP IMPORTS

According to a report by Egypt's state news agency MENA, the country's agriculture ministry has not issued a decision to ban the import of genetically modified crops, contrary to an earlier report.

For more information, read http://www.mena.org.eg/SubscriberDesktop.aspx?uc=./UI/Subscribers/News/ViewNews&NewsID=2349209&Date=13/08/2009%2013:38:00
KENYA: PIGEON PEAS, THE NEW MAIZE?

The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has initiated a program in Mbeere to test four new drought tolerant pigeon pea varieties. The crop is hardy and can grow in a range of environments and cropping systems. "Farmers select the preferred varieties and sizes," said Richard Jones, ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa assistant director. The selection is based on maturity times, plant height, stem thickness, amount of leaves, susceptibility to disease, cooking times and soil types. Thirty farmers' groups have been selected to pilot the project.  For  more details, see the press release at: hhttp://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=85579

IMPACT ASSESSMENT OF HERBICIDE RESISTANT RICE IN THE SAHEL

Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Senegal River Valley (SRV), could gain substantially from herbicide resistance technologies, provided that they have access to them. This is the conclusion of an ex ante analysis published by the journal Crop Protection. Matty Demont and colleagues from the African Rice Center (WARDA) and the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA) estimated the total value of herbicide tolerant rice in SRV at €22 to €26 (US$36 to $43) per hectare, of which farmers would capture €16 (US$26) per hectare, or two-thirds, and the agro-industry would absorb €6 to €10 (US$10 to $17) per hectare. The researchers noted that the "profits for the agro-industry are marginal, owing to farmers' access to subsidized chemicals and relatively cheap weeding labor."

The paper is available for download at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cropro.2009.05.012

Asia

Biotechnology Society of Nepal
http://www.bsn.org.np

A apolitical, non-government, non-profit organization motivated for promotion of Biotechnology in Nepal and beyond. The establishment of society is an endeavor for development of Biotechnology by promotion and dissemination of knowledge about this cutting edge technology.

The society will act as an active platform for interchange of academic ideas about the research and theoretical perspective of biotechnology. The motive of the organization is to incorporate all national and cross-national academic institutions, research institutions, companies and individuals sharing interest in development of biotechnology in Nepal and beyond.
FLOOD-TOLERANT RICE VARIETY RELEASED IN THE PHILIPPINES

The new rice variety, which was developed through conventional breeding, is good news for farmers in a country frequently visited by typhoons. Submarino 1 has the same yield performance as IR64, around 4.5 t/ha, but it can grow and develop even after 10 days of complete submergence in water.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), which is distributing Submarino 1, has allotted 0.3 ha for the production of breeder seeds and 0.5 ha for foundation seeds this 2009 wet season (WS). PhilRice said that more commercial seeds will be made available to target farmers by 2010 WS. Read http://www.philrice.gov.ph/index.php

China

CHINESE SCIENTIST AWARDED WORLD SOYBEAN CONFERENCE PRIZE

Dr. Wang Jingling of Northeast Agricultural University, China, was awarded the World Soybean Conference Prize during the World Soybean Research Conference VIII (WSRC VIII) on August 11, 2009, in Beijing, China. WSRC is the top international conference for soybean research and industry. Continuing Committee for WSRC established the World Soybean Conference Prize to recognize the awardees' contribution to the cause of global soybean research and development.

For more information, see http://www.wsrc2009.cn/en/index.asp For Chinese biotechnology information,  contact Prof. Zhang Hongxiang  of the China Biotechnology Information Center at zhanghx@mail.las.ac.cn
China: 'GM' Rice May Join The Menu
China Daily, August 26, 2009 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn

Genetically modified (GM) rice, which proponents say is more resistant to pests and more satisfying to taste buds, may be edging toward the market in China. Government officials said Monday final approval to sell GM rice is close.

Experts said a change in attitude toward the production of the engineered food began last year. China has not allowed any selling or planting of GM rice. In 2005, the sales of transgenic rice in Hubei province was revealed by Greenpeace causing a big controversy. "China has worked on research of transgenic rice and is strongly considering (its commercialization)," said Niu Dun, vice-minister of agriculture, Monday.

Last July, the State Council approved a major project involved in the research and development of genetically altered foods, including meats and produce. The council has expected to invest about 20 billion yuan on transgenic breeding since then.

Officials said that by 2020, the country could be a leader in GM foods, cloning, large-scale transgenic technology and new breed promotion. Rice and corn are the items nearest commercialization. Niu did not say when approval to sell genetically altered rice might come.

Rice is a crucial staple in Asia and throughout the Pacific area and officials said increased production would make a massive difference. According to the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, genetically modified rice could lead to an 80 percent cut in pesticide use. GM rice could also increase yields by around 6 percent.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) reports show there are now 60 times more transgenic plants in cultivation than there were 10 years ago. They are now found in 22 countries. Some 224,000 tons of pesticide is not used as a result. China currently produces around 500 million tons of rice. With its population expected to grow to 1.6 billion by 2020, 630 million tons of rice will be needed. Science is seen as the best way to meet that demand.

Throughout the world, some 114 million hectares of transgenic plants were grown by 2007. Crops included potatoes, soybeans, cotton and rice.

In China, the safety of transgenic food is not only a scientific issue, but one with economic and political importance, said Cao Mengliang, a researcher on molecular rice in China National Hybrid Rice R&D Centre. The technology has not yet been commercialized but is being considered by top government officials, he said.

"Studies of the safety of the technology have been completed. Discussions about whether to open it up to the market are now in the final stages. Now, the safety certificate is the last thing needed before commercialized production," Cao said. The technology will mainly focus on insect resistance, pesticide implications and disease control and upon improvements to quality and taste, he said.

GM rice is likely to be welcomed by farmers because of its potential to generate larger profits, in part because of its reduced need for pesticides.

Wang Xiusong, rice consultant to the Ministry of Agriculture, said some obstacles still block the technology from large-scale use, including the fact that its gene stability could vary drastically. He said it could be used as a complementary measures but not a mainstream one.

America

ARS HELPS PRESERVE INDIGENOUS CROPS IN ECUADOR

As a result of thousands of years of farming, the Andes, in the area around the Cotacachi region holds a stunning diversity of crops not known outside the area. With more and more people working away from the farms, the diverse crops and the associated cultural traditions need to be preserved.

A group of botanists and biodiversity experts led by Karen A. Williams of the US Department of Agriculture National Germplasm Resources Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, USA set up the Cotacachi project where scientists at Ecuador's National Department of Plant Genetic Resources saved samples of the crop diversity in the genebank. The farmers have also been their partner in seed exchange, evaluation of crop varieties, and in food processing and packaging of products made from their indigenous crops.

See the press release at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090803.htm

News in Science

Genetically modified rice 'crucial in drought battle'
(AFP) – Jul 22, 2009

MANILA — Genetic modification may be the only viable way to produce sufficient quantities of rice in the future as drought, climate change and dwindling acreage impact yields, experts said in a new report. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j2mM24ul8x2YfZPzbZfTQeI6GIOA

GENOMIC SEQUENCE OF WATERHEMP WEED COMPLETED

Waterhemp belongs to the genus Amaranthus which also includes weeds, such as pigweeds that are a problem worldwide. The genetic information of the waterhemp weed was recently identified using the pyrosequencing technology at the Keck Center at the University of Illinois. The technique revolutionizes genomic sequencing which usually takes more than 2 years to complete. The pyrosequencing machine allows sequencing reactions in every one of the tiny wells in parallel, allowing completion of the sequence in one seven and a half hour run.

The weedhemp genomic sequence is available in the website and can be used to study the weed and how it evolves, its differences with cultivated plants, compare related and unrelated species of weeds in the genus, and study possible evolution and mechanism of herbicide resistance.

See the press release for more details at: http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/news/stories/news4860.html
ENRICHTM INCREASES PHOSPHOROUS AVAILABILITY FOR CEREALSA new strain of Pseudomonas discovered by a company called Seed Enhancements and Nutrients for Precision, is now available to help farmers make inorganic phosphate available in the soil. The bacteria marketed as EnrichT requires a significant amount of phosphorous for its survival. It produces an organic acid to solubilize inorganic phosphate and also generates an enzyme to enhance availability of organic phosphate. Thus, it creates an environment for its own phosphorous needs and increases its amount in the soil solution available for plant utilization.

For more details, see press release at http://www.precisionlab.com/itemimages/enrich_release.pdf

STARCH SYNTHESIS GENES IN THAI RICE STARCH

One hundred and ninety-two accessions of Oryza, mostly from Thailand, were assayed using PCR-SSCP by researchers from Kasetsart University, Thailand. Alleles were identified at seven starch-synthesis gene loci (GBSSI, SSSlIIa, SSSIIIb, SSSIVa, SSSIVb, RBEl and RBE3). The nucleotide sequences were obtained corresponding to each of the SSCP patterns observed and the sequences were submitted to GenBank. The Oryza accessions from Thailand displayed a high nucleotide diversity compared with previous estimates of Oryza species based on estimates of multiple loci.

More information available from BBIC-Thailand at http://www.safetybio.agri.kps.ku.ac.th/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6064&Itemid=47 or http://safetybio.agri.kps.ku.ac.th/images/stories/pdf/SNP%20rice.pdf
GM CORN SUMMONS NEMATODES TO KILL VORACIOUS ROOTWORMS

Researchers from the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland have developed genetically modified corn plants that resist the dreaded Western corn rootworm by emitting a volatile chemical that summons insect-killing parasitic roundworms - a natural embodiment of the saying "my enemy's enemy is my friend."

Working with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, the Neuchâtel researchers introduced an EβC-synthase gene from oregano to a corn variety that normally does not emit the compound. Field trials of the GM corn variety were then conducted at the University of Missouri's Bradford Research and Extension Center in Columbia. The researchers found that in rootworm-infested field plots in which nematodes were released, the transgenic plants suffered significantly less root damage and had 60 percent fewer Diabrotica beetles emerge than in untransformed lines.

"Instead of using insecticides, the use of natural enemies of the corn rootworm could be much more environmentally friendly," says Jörg Degenhardt, a researcher involved in the project. Although the researchers were not able to develop a commercially viable crop, they showed that it is possible to genetically enhance biological pest control.

The paper published by PNAS is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1073_pnas.0906365106 For more information, read an article released by the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology at http://www.ice.mpg.de/news/prelease/Pressem_Degenhardt2009_en.pdf
UNLOCKING THE GENETIC SECRETS OF MAIZE

Two papers published in this week's Science report major discoveries in maize genetics that could revolutionize maize breeding. Researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and several US universities, found that there are no 'big genes' or gene regions that control complex traits in maize. Instead, they established that the genetic variation in the crop is a product of "genes working together, each with a small effect that could be manipulated by breeders."

In another paper, the researchers reported that they have uncovered for the first time an important pattern in gene recombination, where large parts of the genome fail to recombine near the center of a hybrid maize's chromosome. This pattern is said to contribute to hybrid vigor.

The articles published by Science are available to subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1174320 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1174276 For more information, read http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090806.2.htm and http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Aug09/maizeGenetics.html
SCIENTISTS CRACK PARASITIC WASP GENOME

Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have successfully deciphered the genome of Nasonia, a parasitic wasp widely used in biological control and a key experimental organism that's been used for genetic research for over half a century. The team sequenced more than 10,000 expressed sequence tags of the genome. They are now scouring the wasp's genome for important genes that may shed light on parasitoid biology as well as for genes involved in important biological processes like sense of smell, behavior, toxicology and enzymatic pathways.

Read the original story at http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=1261
ETH researchers develop rice with increased (six-fold!) iron content Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed rice plants that contain six times more iron in polished rice kernels.

To accomplish this, the researchers transferred two plant genes into an existing rice variety. In the future, the high-iron rice could help to combat iron deficiency, especially in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Original: J. Wirth et al. (2009) Rice endosperm iron biofortification by targeted and synergistic action of nicotianamine synthase and ferritin. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 7: in press.

'Fragrant' GM maize against pests
GMO Compass, August 20, 2009

Researchers at the German University of Neuenburg have used genetic technology to restore to maize a scent that defends it from pests. The maize then attracts nematodes that kill harmful insects in the root area of the plant.

Maize plants release certain scents to combat a variety of insects such as the maize root borer. The larvae of this insect eat root hairs and bore into the root of the plant. Original paper at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/07/31/0906365106
'Snorkel' Genes Help Stop Rice Drowning
Daniel Nelson, scidev.net, August 20, 2009

The discovery of "snorkel" genes that enable rice to survive underwater may lead to yield increases in lowland areas that flood frequently in the rainy season, say researchers.

In a letter published in Nature today (20 August), a team of Japanese researchers led by Motoyuki Ashikari, a professor at the Bioscience and Biotechnology Center at Nagoya University, say they have identified two genes that allow deep-water varieties to elongate their stems as water rises, helping the plant keep its leaves above water.

Importing the genes 'SNORKEL1' and 'SNORKEL2' into varieties that do not usually survive in deep water stopped the plants drowning. Once under water, their adopted genes switched on the process by which the stems became elongated.

Ashikari told SciDev.Net that the two genes and their molecular mechanism were previously unknown. He says he hopes that the team's work will help increase production in flood-prone areas, and that he is now aiming to develop new, high-yielding varieties with deep-water characteristics.

Thirteen years ago, David Mackill, now head of the plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, and his then graduate student Xu Kenong announced the discovery of a gene, Sub 1A, that allowed an Indian variety to survive submersion for more than two weeks.

Last December, researchers said that the rice, known as 'scuba' rice, had passed its field tests with "flying colours" (see Waterproof rice passes international field tests). Ashikari says that Sub1A is effective for short periods of flooding, but SNORKEL1 and SNORKEL2 function in heavy, long-duration floods.

Laurentius Voesenek of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who wrote a commentary on the findings in Nature, says that both the Sub1A and SNORKEL genes are regulated by accumulated ethylene inside the submerged plant.

"Many relevant crop species are very intolerant to water-saturated growth conditions," he says. "During selection for yield, traits related to flooding tolerance are largely lost in these crops. Very often, wild relatives still contain these genes. They should be identified and subsequently introduced in good yielding cultivars."

About 30 per cent of rice acreage in Asia and 40 per cent in Africa are rain-fed paddies exposed to fluctuating water levels. Sophie Clayton of IRRI told SciDev.Net that Bangladesh and India are the countries with most to gain from flood-tolerant rice. She pointed out that in the Philippines alone, around 370,000 hectares of rice-growing land experiences flooding, causing average crop losses of about 250,000 tonnes every year.
Plant Biology: Genetics of high-rise rice
Laurentius A. C. J. Voesenek  & Julia Bailey-Serres, Nature 460, 959-960 (20 August 2009)
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7258/full/460959a.html

When subject to flooding, deepwater rice survives by shooting up in height. Knowledge of the genetic context of this and other responses to inundation will be a boon in enhancing rice productivity.

Deepwater rice lives up to its name: this variety can outgrow slowly rising floodwaters of up to 4 metres in depth. On page 1026 of this issue, Hattori and colleagues1 describe how they have identified two genes, SNORKEL1 and SNORKEL2, that contribute to this spectacular elongation response.
Rice - the seed of Oryza sativa - feeds billions.

Although productivity per hectare has more than doubled since the 1960s, a further doubling will be necessary to meet projected requirements by 2050 (refs 2, 3). More than 30% of Asian and 40% of African rice acreage is cultivated in either lowland paddies (15-50 centimetres deep) or deepwater paddies (depth of more than 50 cm). But lack of control of water depth in rain-fed paddies can be a serious problem: in some areas, water levels rise progressively during the growing season and can reach several metres; in others, flash flooding can fully submerge plants for days or weeks. High-yielding rice varieties cannot survive either extreme of inundation. As a result, some flood-prone areas are planted with traditional local varieties that display a remarkable capacity for flooding-induced elongation - of up to 25 cm per day - or that can tolerate submergence for up to 15 days. But the high-yielding varieties are typically five times more productive than these flood-tolerant plants.

Full paper at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7258/full/nature08258.html
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