News in November 2010
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2010-12-01

General - Global

Tuesday 30 November New Biotechnology, the official scientific journal of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB), has published the proceedings of the Study Week on 'Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development' held under the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at its headquarters in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican from 15 to 19 May 2009. The Conference was attended by public scientists and was organized by Ingo Potrykus, 'father' of the Golden Rice, and Klaus Ammann (managing Editor).

http://www.ask-force.org/web/Vatican-PAS-Studyweek-Elsevier-publ-20101130/PAS-Studyweek-NBT-20101130.pdf

 The New Biotechnology open source Volume 27, 5, p. 445 - 717

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/18716784 also includes a statement of the Study Week  endorsed unanimously by the Participants in 16 Languages and all Presentations. The conclusions are very supportive of agriculture biotechnology to improve sustainable development:

  1. More than 1 billion of the world population of 6.8 billion people are currently undernourished, a condition that urgently requires the development of new agricultural systems and technologies.
  2. The expected addition of 2-2.5 billion people to reach a total of approximately 9 billion people by 2050 adds urgency to this problem.
  3. The predicted consequences of climate change and associated decreases in the availability of water for agriculture will also affect our ability to feed the increased world population.
  4. Agriculture as currently practised is unsustainable, evidenced by the massive loss of topsoil and unacceptably high applications of pesticides throughout most of the world.
  5. The appropriate application of GE and other modern molecular techniques in agriculture is contributing toward addressing some of these challenges.
  6. There is nothing intrinsic about the use of GE technologies for crop improvement that would cause the plants themselves or the resulting food products to be unsafe.
  7. The scientific community should be responsible for research and development (R&D) leading to advances in agricultural productivity, and should also endeavour to see that the benefits associated with such advances accrue to the benefit of the poor as well as to those in developed countries who currently enjoy relatively high standards of living.
  8. Special efforts should be made to provide poor farmers in the developing world with access to improved GE crop varieties adapted to their local conditions.
  9. Research to develop such improved crops should pay particular attention to local needs and crop varieties and to the capacity of each country to adapt its traditions, social heritage and administrative practices to achieve the successful introduction of GE crops.

Sections see http://www.ask-force.org/web/Vatican-Studyweek-Elsevier/Summary-Study-Week-Potrykus-2010.pdf

About the organizers and participants:

Prof. Dr. em. Ingo Potrykus ingo@potrykus.ch was the organizer of the study week; Mons. Prof. Marcelo Sa?nchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was inviting the 41 participants to Vatican City. Prof. Dr. em. Klaus Ammann klaus.ammann@ips.unibe.ch was the editor of the proceedings, together with Prof. em. Ingo Potrykus.

List of participants including email addresses of the contributors:
http://www.ask-force.org/web/Vatican-Studyweek-Elsevier/Participants-List-english-email.pdf

The program and scientific contributions of the Study Week.

Program of the May 2009 meeting with abstracts, invitation by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2009/booklet_transgenic_34.pdf

Full bibliography (including open source links) of published papers and statements:

http://www.ask-force.org/web/Vatican-PAS-Studyweek-Elsevier-publ-20101130/PAS-Studyweek-NBT-20101130.pdf

The International Society for GM Crops

The International Society for GM Crops hopes to bring together those from the biological sciences, trait research and development, regulatory agencies, seed producers, growers and consumers who have a common interest in GM crop research and its application. The purpose of the Society is to promote scientific research on genetically modified crops, to improve scientific understanding in this field, and to disseminate and apply this knowledge to the benefit of mankind.

The mission of the International Society for GM Crops is to provide a forum for research on genetically engineered crops, to encourage science-based dialogue of related issues, and to bring together those who are interested in promoting scientific understanding of these crops for a better world. http://www.isgmc.org/contact/,

Prof. Naglaa A. Abdallah, Head, Department of Genetics Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University, Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) Giza- 12619, Egypt. Email: Naglaa A. Abdallah

Spontaneous GMOs in Nature:
Researchers Show How a Genetically Modified Plant Can Come About
- ScienceDaily, Nov. 4, 2010
http://www.sciencedaily.com/

Genetically modified plants can come about by natural means. A research group at Lund University in Sweden has described the details of such an event among higher plants. It is likely that the gene transfer was mediated by a parasite or a pathogen.

Research in Lund, Sweden, shows that genetic modification can take place naturally among wild plants. The research group on evolutionary genetics has discovered that a gene for the enzyme PGIC has been transferred into sheep's fescue (Festuca ovina) from a meadow grass, probably Poa palustris, a reproductively distinct species. The DNA analyses also show that only a small part of a chromosome was transferred. This is the first proven case of the horizontal transfer of a gene with known function from the nucleus of one higher plant to another.

 "Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how the gene jump between the species occurred, which is not surprising as it took place perhaps 700,000 years ago. The most plausible explanation is that the gene was transmitted by a parasite or pathogen, such as a virus, perhaps with the help of a sap-sucking insect," says Professor Bengtsson. Pernilla Vallenback, Lena Ghatnekar, Bengt O. Bengtsson. Structure of the Natural Transgene PgiC2 in the Common Grass Festuca ovina. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (10): e13529 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013529

The Economist Live Debate on Biotechnology
http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/606

This house believes that biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are complementary, not contradictory.
Do you agree with the motion?

78%  Agree
22%   Disagree

See also
Anti-GM Activists Hijack Economist Debate on Biotechnology and Agriculture
Tim Dean , Australian Life Scientist, Nov. 13, , 2010 11:42

A debate on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture hosted by The Economist magazine was hoodwinked by technical difficulties and a strong anti-genetically modified food lobby.

British news and analysis magazine, The Economist, has announced the results of its recent debate on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture finding a majority of voters in opposition of the motion, yet suggesting that technical difficulties and a coordinated effort by anti-GM activists has skewed the result.

The debate, part of The Economist's regular series, put forth the following motion: "This house believes that biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are complementary, not contradictory."

The final result was 62% against and 38% for the motion. However, the vote tally was seen to fluctuate dramatically over the course of the week-long debate, suggesting irregularities.

Comments
Mark Cantley

Sun 14/11/2010 - 01:09

The Economist debate was fine, but the poll result and the weight attributed to it raise suspicion that the whole process of using allegedly random polling as a means of reporting on public opinion has been taken over by well-organised anti-GM interests. Can the survey statisticians not come up with something slightly heavier, in terms of survey methods and objectivity, than offering the (prestigious-sounding) shop-window of the Economist as a vehicle for lobbying? As a means of reporting on "public opinion", this one stinks. There was a survey of its readership by some (Republican-sympathising) magazine when Truman faced his first election, and they predicted his annihilation. They was wrong

Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years
- Summary document of the FAO e-conference

This document summarizes the major issues discussed by the participants of a moderated e- mail conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 8 June to 8 July 2009, entitled "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years". It took place as part of the build up to the FAO international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10), that was held in Guadalajara, Mexico on 1-4 March 2010 (www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/).

Participants in the conference shared a wealth of experiences regarding the use of agricultural biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries. They provided concrete examples where agricultural biotechnologies were benefiting smallholders in developing countries. They also discussed at length why specific biotechnologies, as well as agricultural biotechnologies in general, had not succeeded in developing countries and they offered suggestions to increase their success in the future. The conference also indicated that there is no general answer to whether applications of a given agricultural biotechnology have succeeded or failed in the past, but that every application is different and its success depends primarily on the local context in which it is used.

Cross-sectoral discussions covered four main reasons for failures of agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries. The first was the lack of funds, facilities and trained professionals, where their negative impacts were highlighted. The second was brain drain, which weakened national capacities, although some participants argued that it should not only be considered in a negative light. The third was inappropriate research focus, where it was argued that researchers were increasingly focusing on basic rather than applied research. The fourth was the lack of political will, where it was considered that there was government apathy to research in general, as well as biotechnology research in particular, while the positive enabling role that government policies could play was underlined.

Cross-sectoral discussions also included four main suggestions for increasing the success of agricultural biotechnologies in the future. The first was that research should be focused on the real problems of the farmers, where discussions included practical recommendations to make this possible. The second was that extension systems should be strengthened, as they can ensure that relevant R&D results actually reach the farmer. The third was that regional and sub-regional cooperation should be increased, and establishment of sub-regional centres of excellence was proposed. The fourth was that public-private partnerships (PPPs) be formed, and participants described some recent examples and discussed the potential advantages and disadvantages of PPPs.

Leading environmental campaigners support nuclear and GM
- Richard Gray, Daily Telegraph, Nov 3, 2010
http://www.telegraph.co.uk

For years they campaigned against nuclear power and genetically-modified food. But now some leading environmental campaigners have performed a U-turn and said that they got it wrong. The activists now say that by opposing nuclear power they encouraged the use of polluting coal-fired power stations, while by protesting against GM crops they prevented developing countries from benefiting from a technology that could have helped feed the hungry.

Mark Lynas, a campaigner who has been a member of action groups on GM foods and climate change, said the environmental lobby was losing the battle for public opinion on climate change because it had made too many apocalyptic prophecies and exaggerated claims. He said: "We have got to find a more pragmatic and realistic way of engaging with people."

Stewart Brand, an American activist and former editor of Whole Earth Catalog, said: "I would like to see an environmental movement that says it turns out our fears about genetically engineered food crops were exaggerated and we are glad about that. It is a humble and modest stance to take to the real world.
"Environmentalists did harm by being ignorant and ideological and unwilling to change their mind based on actual evidence. As a result we have done harm and I regret it."

Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of environmental campaign group Greenpeace, added: "We were right that the nuclear industry had problems, but that didn't mean we should be against nuclear energy completely. "We have caused extra gigatons of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere by being so precious about nuclear."

The activists feature in the Channel 4 documentary What the Green Movement Got Wrong, which will be broadcast this week. They say that by successfully lobbying against the building of new nuclear power stations, environmentalists forced governments around the world to build new coal fired power stations instead, resulting in billions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide and pollution being poured into the atmosphere.

Mr. Lynas, who along with other activists ripped up trial GM crops in the 1990s, said that GM food had now been consumed by millions of people in the US for more than 10 years without harm, and this had convinced him to change his views. The campaigners say that since they expressed their change of position, they have been vilified by traditional sections of the environmental movement

New approach to risk assessment – the case of GM salmon.
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/service/start-page/top-news/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=12850&cHash=82b65980fd

22. 11. 2010 Stavanger/Durham – The current safety review of the world’s first transgenic fast-growing salmon is too narrow, according to a Norwegian-US research team (Science, 330 (6007), 1052-1053). Instead of limiting its assessment on health risk and the comparison of the nutritional profile of the GM salmon with conventional salmon that does not grow at low temperatures, the researchers from Stavanger and Duke university recommend to allow the FDA take into account the overall risks and benefits coupled to marketing of the GM salmon.

Instead of focusing on the safety of a food taken one portion at a time or whether it was produced through genetic modification or through classic breeding, a more useful approach would be to evaluate whether society is better off overall with the new product on the market than without it, argue the researchers. One possible benefit could be improvement of public health as increased production of transgenic farmed salmon is expected to leads to lower retail prices. „Consumers would have access to a less expensive source of healthy protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which have well-documented health benefits“, according to the researchers.

But professor Atle Guttormsen and colleagues also want to add an improved risk assessment to the current review process for transgenic animals. A broader review would also allow a fuller assessment of potential environmental impacts, such as pollution from farmed salmon waste; disease; increased harvesting of the wild fish used to feed farmed salmon. In the future, it would be better to include an evaluation of the overall safety of the new fish into the review process that compares the GM salmon to other protein sources that it might replace, such as beef.

Currently, the FDA is carrying out a safety assessment for a GM salmon intended for marketing by the US firm Aquabounty Inc. The AquAdvantage salmon grows significantly faster as normal salmon, due to an inserted growth gene from Pacific chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and a switch-on gene from ocean pout (Zoarces americanus), and could become the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption.

Books & Articles

Eurobarometer – Biotechnologie, Science and Technology, Agriculture, The EU and Africa: Working towards closer partnership, Chemicals in consume products.
For more information please check website: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/

The European Commission has released their new report "Europeans and biotechnology in 2010 - Winds of change?".  This latest Eurobarometer survey on the Life Sciences and Biotechnology, which also specifically addresses nanotechnologies in the context of biotechnology, is based on representative samples from 32 European countries and conducted in February 2010.

The report points to a new era in the relations between science and society. While entrenched views about GM food are still evident, the crisis of confidence in technology and regulation that characterised the 1990s  a result of BSE, contaminated blood and other perceived regulatory failures  is no longer the dominant perspective.

Linkages between Agricultural Policies and Environmental Effects
Using the OECD Stylised Agri-environmental Policy Impact Model - OECD Publishing.

Version: Print (Paperback) + Free PDF Price:   €50 | $70 | Ł45 | Ą6500 | MXN900

New Biotechnology
is the official journal of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) and is published bimonthly. It covers both the science of biotechnology and its surrounding political, business and financial milieu. The journal publishes peer-reviewed basic research papers, authoritative reviews, feature articles and opinions in all areas of biotechnology. It reflects the full diversity of current biotechnology science, particularly those advances in research and practice that open opportunities for exploitation of knowledge, commercially or otherwise, together with news, discussion and comment on broader issues of general interest and concern. The outlook is fully international.
Journal of Social & Economical Issues of Biotechnology - Open Access
Link to the journal

An open-access and peer-reviewed journal. Guaranteed 21-days rapid review process. JSEIB publishes original research, review papers including but not limited to following fields.

The world may need new ecological farming approaches
http://www.namibian.com.na/news/environment/full-story/archive/2010/november/article/organic-questioned-as-food-challenges-mount/

LONDON - The world may need new ecological farming approaches besides organic food, embracing technologies which will help feed more people with limited land and water, scientists say. Organic farming bans the use of yield-boosting, manufactured, inorganic fertilisers as well as industrial pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops.

Its supporters say the world produces enough food, and the main problems are affordability, accessibility and diets, where meat production uses up more land. They also point to dwindling resources to produce manufactured soil nutrients and an associated rise in costs.

A rise in food prices towards 2008 peaks is feeding a polarised debate on whether African farmers should use non-organic inputs to haul their way out of hunger stoked by that crisis two years ago.

Adding "a reasonable amount" of fertiliser to maize crops in Africa meant "the difference between starving and not only having enough to eat but enough to sell to get some money", said Gordon Conway, at Imperial College London. "The organic movement has to evolve, to recognise the enormity of the challenge we've got, and look more seriously at sound, sustainable ecological approaches which make minimal use of inorganic fertilisers, industrial pesticides and GM."

That suggestion is disputed by organic advocates who say encouraging more use of such "external inputs", not recycled from within the farming system such as animal manure or leaves, made poorer farmers more vulnerable.

"In a world where those external inputs are going to get scarcer and more expensive it would be the kiss of death to African farmers to do that, not enlightened or sensible," said Peter Melchett, policy director at Britain's Soil Association.

Melchett saw a threat not from stagnant productivity but from relying on fertilisers at a time of dwindling global supplies of natural gas, used to make inorganic nitrogen, and of mined phosphorus.

The International Energy Agency forecast on Tuesday a ten-year global gas glut. The world population is forecast to grow to about nine billion in 2050 from 6,9 billion now.

Rising food prices is a global issue, stoking inflation at a time of weak economic growth and deflation fears, and throwing government funding into agricultural research and technology.

European Union state officials met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the EU executive Commission's proposals to allow governments to decide whether to grow or ban GM crops. Many of the bloc's largest countries have publicly attacked the plans.

Global organic food and drink sales reached US$ 46 billion in 2007, treble 1999 levels, according to organic trade body estimates, which also put the US market at nearly four per cent of all US food.

A UN report in July hailed such growth as an example of market forces valuing the diversity of wildlife. By avoiding pesticides and herbicides, which kill weeds and insects, organic farming fosters biodiversity.

However, some experts cast doubt on those benefits. They say the lower yields of organic agriculture mean if it were adopted more widely the global farmed area would have to rise to compensate, threatening forests on the other side of the planet. "The sophistication of the argument today is to take into account that trade off," said Tim Benton from Leeds University.

GM Crops: A new peer-reviewed journal on the science and policy of genetically modified crops
In January 2010, Landes Bioscience Journals launched GM Crops (http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops) as the first international peer-reviewed journal of its kind, with a distinguished editorial board headed by Editor-in-Chief Professor Naglaa A. Abdallah at the University of Cairo. The new publication is dedicated specifically to transgenic crops, their products, their uses in agriculture and all technical, political and economic issues contingent on their use. In addition to publishing original research, GM Crops will also publish regular features, including Extra Views and GM in the Media.

Just a few weeks ago, Professor Channapatna S. Prakash (Tuskegee University) and I joined Professor Abdallah and the board as co-editors for this new journal.

This is a welcome opportunity to establish an authoritative vehicle encompassing both the scientific and non-scientific aspects of GM crops and their products, as well as issues related to the adoption of the technology around the world.

GENERA:
Students Launch a New Public Resource on Genetic Engineering and Need your Help

The plant genetics group blog, Biofortified, founded in 2008 by two graduate students, Karl Haro von Mogel and Anastasia Bodnar, hopes to bridge the gap. They have just launched a database called the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas, or GENERA for short. Each entry in the atlas will include meta-information such as funding type, crop studied, where it was conducted, and the source of funding as well as an expert summary of the study itself. The database will be useful for consumers who wish to learn more, for NGOs and government regulatory organizations, and for scientists.

Biofortified is independently run on a volunteer basis, and is not supported by any funding from any companies or government entities. While site hosting costs were initially footed by the founding members, these costs are now covered by a Changemakers grant awarded to Biofortified for winning the Ashoka Changemakers GMO Risk or Rescue contest.

Links:

The GENERA homepage: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/

GENERA Tutorial: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/genera-tutorial/

An example entry with a summary of the study: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/entries/long-term-cow-feeding-study-with-bt-corn/

An example entry without a summary:  http://www.biofortified.org/genera/entries/maize-gene-expression-and-nitrogen-fertilization/

For more information about Biofortified :  http://www.biofortified.org/about/

Contact: Email -  contact@biofortified.org

The "Biotechnology, tools and technologies"
site contains information on Biomedical Technologies, Diagnostics and Imaging, Alternative testing strategies, New Therapies and Immunization Strategies, while the "Large-scale data gathering and systems medicine" site covers Omics, Biobanks and Population genetics, Model organisms and Systems Medicine.

http://ec.europa.eu/research/health/index_en.html

American Journal of Plant Sciences (AJPS)
is published by Scientific Research Publishing (SRP http://www.scirp.org), USA. The Journal dedicates to the latest advancement of plant science and the goal is to keep a record of the state-of-the-art research and promote the research work in these fast moving areas.
The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa
New book by Calestous Juma, Oxford University Press,
ISBN13: 9780199783199, ISBN10: 0199783195, Paperback, 296 pages;
Also available: Hardback; Price: $19.95.
http://www.oup.com/

African agriculture is currently at a crossroads, at which persistent food shortages are compounded by threats from climate change. But, as this book argues, Africa faces three major opportunities that can transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth: advances in science and technology; the creation of regional markets; and the emergence of a new crop of entrepreneurial leaders dedicated to the continent's economic improvement.

Filled with case studies from within Africa and success stories from developing nations around the world, The New Harvest outlines the policies and institutional changes necessary to promote agricultural innovation across the African continent. Incorporating research from academia, government, civil society, and private industry, the book suggests multiple ways that individual African countries can work together at the regional level to develop local knowledge and resources, harness technological innovation, encourage entrepreneurship, increase agricultural output, create markets, and improve infrastructure.

- Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard University. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's scientific academy.

Events

NanoMed
- 7th International Conference on Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology
http://nanomed-berlin.de
6TH CONFERENCE ON RECOMBINANT PROTEIN PRODUCTION
Vienna, Austria (BOKU) from 16 - 19 February 2011
ONLINE REGISTRATION RPP 6 Conference
16 to 19 February, BOKU Vienna
www.rpp2011.at
30 June - 01 July 2011, Hamburg, Germany

Select Biosciences is delighted to announce our 4th AgriGenomics Congress. It will take place in Hamburg, Germany as part of our European Lab Automation "super conference".

The Belgian Presidency has proposed a new compromise text to break a long-standing deadlock over EU patents which could lead to an historic deal at an extraordinary Competitiveness Council next Wednesday (10 November).
12-13 November 2010, Tianjin, China
TVG and the Shanghai Zhangjiang Biotech Pharmaceutical Base present the 3rd Annual conference 6-7 December in Shanghai - the venue to access innovation and partnering opportunities in China's rapidly-growing life science industry.
18-19 May 2011, London, England
Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2011 (ABIC 2011)
- Johannesburg, South Africa; September 6- 9, 2011
http://www.abic2011.co.za/

This conference aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the advances and innovations that are significant and sustainable in moving nations towards a global Bioeconomy.

Travel Grants for the AgBiotech meeting in South Africa
- Johannesburg, South Africa; September 6- 9, 2011
More details: abicfoundation@abic.ca

ABIC: Supporting Networking and Learning in Agricultural Biotechnology . The ABIC Foundation is accepting applications for a travel bursary for the forthcoming ABIC 2011 Conference to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 6- 9, 2011. The deadline for submission of applications is February 15, 2011 with award announcement set for April 2011.

The ABIC Foundation has set aside funds to provide for one travel bursary for ABIC 2010. The bursary will cover the cost of return travel, accommodation and meals while attending the conference, as well as registration fees to attend ABIC 2010.

30 June – 1 July 2011, Hamburg, Germany
Keynote Speakers
Marty Dickman, Jim Dunwell, Jonathan Napier
Papers: 7 January 2011
Posters: 20 May 2011

Europe - EU

Crop World 2010: Support growing for GMs in Europe
1 November 2010 | By Alistair Driver
http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/arable/crop-world/crop-world-2010-support-growing-for-gms-in-europe/35341.article

More than 50 per cent of Europeans are in favour of biotechnology, according to the latest survey of EU opinions.

The European Commission’s Maive Rute told the Crop World conference on Monday that the latest EU barometer survey showed a softening of opinions towards the technology. In the survey, due to be published within a few days, 53 per cent of respondents said they see the value of, and supported biotechnology and believe it can bring many benefits to society. However, Ms Rute, the Commission’s director for biotechnologies, food and agriculture research, warned support was less strong for GM food crops than other applications of biotechnology, such as the non-food products or environmental benefits.

EFSA Updates Guidance on Environmental Impact of GM Plants
- European Food Safety Authority, Italy (EFSA). Nov 12, 2010
Link to the report

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published updated guidance for the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of Genetically Modified (GM) plants, reflecting the scientific state-of-the-art in this field.

EU Council Legal Services on EU Commission's proposal for GMO cultivation bans
- Amsterdam/Brussels, 11 Nov 2010 ; Press release by IVM-VU: Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

The EU Commission's proposal to allow individual Member States to ban or restrict GMO agriculture on their national territory has an "invalid legal basis" and leaves "strong doubts" about the compatibility with EU and WTO trade laws of national restrictions of EU-authorized GM crops. These are the conclusions of a legal assessment report by the legal service of the EU Council of Ministers, which is due to be presented to Member States today, in Brussels.

The report confirms the legal criticisms raised in recent months by various EU law experts, including biotechnology law specialist Thijs Etty, of the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at the VU University Amsterdam, who currently also serves as a legal expert on a biotech panel for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an EU Advisory Body.

Mr. Etty noted: "now the EU's own lawyers have confirmed my earlier criticism that the Commission proposal does not afford Member States a realistically viable degree of legal protection for bans based on ethical, moral, or religious concerns, or public opinion. Both EU Courts and the WTO have in the past been very restrictive in accepting such arguments, unless countries can provide extensive and consistent evidence to justify their trade restrictions." Mr. Etty explains: "Member States are caught between a rock and a hard place -- if they accept the proposal as it stands, their bans will be extremely vulnerable to legal actions by biotechnology companies, GM farmers, world trade partners, or even the EU Commission itself. But if they reject the proposal altogether, the Commission will have free rein to authorize a plethora of new GM crops for cultivation."

Europe

French researcher halts development of GMO crops
Date Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters, Oct. 29, 2010
* INRA halts research on developing new GMO varieties
* Says public's image of GMOs as diabolic killed demand
* International seed firms to benefit as Europe lags

PARIS, Oct. 29 (Reuters) - Europe's top farm researcher has abandoned work on developing new genetically modified crops (GMOs) due to widespread distrust and even hostility by European consumers.

"We have no research on GMO innovation anymore, none," Marion Guillou, president of the National Institute for Agronomical Research (INRA), told Reuters in an interview.

INRA, which has more than 1,800 researchers and is the leader in Europe in publication of scientific articles on agriculture, is now focussing on conventional crop strains and limiting its research on GMOs to assessing or improving plants as opposed to creating new varieties, she said. "Since European society does not want to buy GMOs, we had better focus on other technology," she said.

Under European Union law, only two GMO varieties are approved for cultivation, and planting in the 27-member bloc was limited to less than 100,000 hectares last year out of more than 134 million cultivated.

While GMO crops are widely used in countries such as the United States and Brazil, France -- the EU's largest grain producer whose citizens are among the staunchest biotech sceptics -- banned GMO crop growing in 2008 after protests by local green groups.

Guillou said she feared the EU may lag behind in GMO technology, which aims to boost crop yields to feed the world's growing population, and that the beneficiaries of this aversion to GMOs will be the big international biotech companies. These include Monsanto of the United States and Switzerland's Syngenta.

Research in Europe on GMO plants is mainly carried out in laboratories after activists began ransacking field tests. Repeated destruction of GMO field tests has also discouraged INRA. Transgenic vines tested by the institute were uprooted in August in Colmar, in eastern France, leaving only one outside test, a forest of GM poplar trees. "That's 1.2 million euros ($1.7 million) and seven years of researchers' work destroyed," Guillou said, calling for strong judicial sanctions against the activists.
FOCUS ON CONVENTIONAL CROPS
INRA's work on new varieties now involves only conventional crops, for which research is less efficient, longer and more expensive but for which there is a market, she said. An example of current conventional research at INRA is a wheat plant resistant to fusarium, a fungus that produces mycotoxins that lower the grain's quality. "We try to continue working with French and European seed makers so that there remains plants that are adapted to the European climate and agricultural conditions," Guillou said. French seeds group Limagrain also abandoned field tests in France in 2008 and transferred them to the United States. The European Union's current proposal to let EU states decide for themselves whether or not to allow GMO crops would not be enough to bring a resurgence in GMO research in Europe, Guillou said.

INRA would consider investing in GMO crop development only with a change in consumer attitudes, she said. "The real change for us in order to come back to innovation, to create a new variety that has a particular characteristic useful to society, would be the day when the public asks for these plants," Guillou said. "It's not going to be easy. For 20 years you have had people telling the public that GMO is by nature diabolic," she said. "At the same time it's the same people who travel to the United States or other countries and eat GMOs cheerfully."

Further Information: http://www.futurespros.com/news/futures-news/interview-french-researcher-halts-development-of-gmo-crops-1000003807

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court
in Karlsruhe has ruled that the provisions for the cultivation of genetically modified crops and liability are compatible with the Basic Law, Germany’s constitution. The reasons given by the judges made reference to “the particular duty of care of the legislature in view of the fact that the state of scientific knowledge has not yet been finally established when assessing the long-term consequences of the use of genetic engineering”.

A farmer who grows GM plants will continue to be liable for any economic loss caused by GMOs outcrossing to conventional crops. The GMO farmer remains liable even if he has respected all the rules and is not therefore to blame for the losses caused by the outcrossing. If a single originator cannot be identified, all the GMO farmers in the region will be jointly liable.

Please read the article about the ruling in more detail:

Federal Constitutional Court on the Genetic Engineering Act
“An appropriate and well-balanced adjustment of the conflicting interests”
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/news/1253.genetic-engineering-act-federal-constitutional-court.html

“An appropriate and well-balanced adjustment of the conflicting interests”
Partnerships and Science are Key to Food for the Future
- Jess Halliday , Food Navigator, Nov 22, 2010
- http://www.foodnavigator.com/Financial-Industry/Partnerships-and-science-are-key-to-food-for-the-future

The EU food sector can remain competitive and tackle challenges that lay ahead by forging strong partnerships, looking outside its own borders, and putting scientific advances to the best use, an expert panel on the future of food concluded.

Farmer Tony Pexton, chair of the UK’s NIAB (formerly National Institute of Agricultural Botany) said: The answer all along the food chain must be science based research – regulation must be as light as possible, consistent with science, and being aware of the unintended consequences. “Science and knowledge transfer are ways of coming with the perfect storm. We are facing huge challenges now, we have to adapt.”

Pexton and Attilio Zanetti, CEO of Zanetti SpA and vice-president of the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU), both urged a reconsideration of genetically-modified foods. Zanetti, who spoke on the need for SMEs to combine the best of new technologies with tradition, said: “GMOs were hastily condemned. It is time to give them balanced reconsideration.”

Africa

President of Zambia Farmers Union call for GM crop:
ZNFU Calls For Reversal of GMO Policy
- Chiwoyu Sinyangwe, The Post, Zambia, Nov 25. 2010

THE ZNFU is proposing that Zambia should embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to improve productivity of certain crops.

Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Jervis Zimba said calls for a stark reversal of the stance taken by the country a few years ago follows low competitiveness of the local agriculture sector.

Nearly four years ago, the government made a strong stance against GMOs. We, however, now believe that time has come to open the discussions on GMOs more so now that bio-safety regulation board has been set up under the Ministry of Science and Technology where ZNFU is ably represented, Zimba said during the launch of the 2010/2011 agricultural planting season held at Mweetwa farm in Mumbwa on Tuesday. "While cautiously mindful of the public perception about GMOs, as a country we must not be left out particularly in exploring production-enhancing technologies which can be tried in Cotton production to start with."

Zimba said GMOs could also help to improve productivity of small-scale farming and make a dent on rural poverty.

Disease-resistant bananas, drought-tolerant maize
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/news/1242.disease-resistant-bananas-drought-tolerant-maize.html

GMO Safety spoke to African experts in the field, they are presenting their views on these issues. Prof. Diran Makinde is Director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Arthur M. Makara is Executive Director of the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode) in Kampala, Uganda.

Please read the interview about the current and future role of genetically modified crops in Africa in more detail: "New GM crops in the pipeline: “These are staple crops that Africans love to eat several times a day."

http://www.gmo-safety.eu/basic-info/1249.africa-genetically-modified-plants.html

Bio-technology, good for crops
- Joshua Kato, New Vision (Uganda), Nov 4, 2010
http://www.newvision.co.ug/

For two weeks, columnist, Opiyo Oloya has written expressing reservations about the impending trial of genetically modified maize in Uganda. He argued that huge multi-national companies will start abusing small scale farmers by selling them seeds at a high price.

Oloyas reservations are not about the direct implications after consumption of the maize, but the possible manipulation of small scale farmers in Uganda. He said instead of promoting genetically modified crops, the country should promote indigenous seeds.

I think we should not oppose testing genetically modified crops in Uganda without looking at its advantages and disadvantages. It has been proven that genetically modified crops produce better yields and withstand harsh climate. At a time when the country is undergoing climate change, farmers must be assisted by giving them better seeds. We should not hide our heads in the sand because while we say no to the monster seeds, we have already used the technology before.

Using bio-technology improves yields and solves agricultural problems. Had it not been for bio-technology, the fight against the various viruses ravaging crops countrywide would have been slower. In the last 30 years, viruses have attacked coffee, cassava, bananas and other crops.

Research stations in Kenya and Uganda are now working to find a solution to the rampant Cassava Brown Streak disease that is threatening to wipe out cassava in many parts of the region. Bio-technology has been growing faster, irrespective of opposition from some farmers. Uganda is gradually adopting the growing of genetically modified cotton, with harvests already in Kasese and Soroti. Experts argue that these are some of the innovations African farmers need. Oloya should realise that Uganda has already invested funds in the development of the bio-technology.

Asia

Organic Bt Cotton:  An Indian Farmer Leads by Example
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore;
pbtkrao@gmail.com

The environmentalists abhor genetically engineered (GE)crops and argue that they are incompatible with such agricultural practices as the Non (chemical) Pesticide and Integrated Pest Management (NPM, IPM) and more particularly with organic farming, though FAO and other international organizations concede possibilities of their co-existence with a few precautionary spatial and temporal measures in place. On the other hand the modern agribiotech contend that GE crop technology does not preclude any conventional agricultural practices and that transgenics can be cultivated organically.  Amidst these diametrically opposing positions Mr Viswasrao Patil, a farmer at Lohara, a farming village in the Jalagoan District in Maharashtra, who cultivates Bt cotton organically, stated that 'It is a matter of economics. Bt cotton is giving better yields and works with organic practices.  The combination helps me to increase profits and conserve the environment.' (Ajay Jakhar, Farmers' Forum, 10:6, September-October, 2010, pp. 64-66).    Mr. Patil believes that 'the knowledgeable are open to knowledge; the unwise have closed minds. The idea is to combine science with tradition.  That will give you more life; make your land alive and bountiful.'

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=627705&publicationSubCategoryId=77
- Rudy A. Fernandez, Philippine Star, Nov. 7,

LOS BAOS, Laguna, Philippines - Farmer-leaders from across the country have expressed strong support for the multilocation trials of genetically modified (GM) eggplants now being conducted by government researchers.

The farmers endorsed the continuation of the field trials of the GM or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplants in a resolution they unanimously passed at the Second National Agri-biotech Farmers Conference: Productivity and Sustainability through Agri-biotechnology held recently in Reina Mercedes, Isabela.

The conference was organized by the Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET)-Philippines. It was supported by the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO), Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize), the Los Baos-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA-BIC), and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Farmers from the country's 15 regions approved unanimously a resolution supporting the continuation of the multilocation trials of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB)-resistant Bt eggplant.

The multilocation trials of Bt eggplant must be pushed as most of the farmers are already looking forward to the Bt eggplant seeds which are expected to raise their productivity, improve their livelihood, and reduce their health hazards due to widespread pesticide use, said Felicito Osorio, board member of ASFARNET-Philippines and PhilMaize.

Reynaldo Cabanao, ASFARNET-Philippines president, said the decision to adopt the Bt eggplant technology is with the farmers. Edwin Paraluman, regional coordinator of ASFARNET from General Santos City (Cotabato), concurred, saying the groups advocacy is farmers choice.

Bt eggplant, according to studies could raise farmers income by P50,000 owing to reduction in pesticide use and labor cost. The Bt eggplant technology is also expected to protect farmers from the health risks associated with chemical pesticides.

The research project primarily aims to develop an eggplant resistant to fruit and shoot borer, the most destructive pest attacking eggplant in the Philippines and other Asian countries. FSB can cause yield losses of 51 to 73 percent.

Eggplant is now the countrys leading vegetable crop, area-wise and volume of production. A good source of vitamins, fibers, and minerals, eggplant is one of the main sources of livelihood of small-scale farmers.

So far, there are no commercial varieties of eggplants with high resistance to FSB in the Philippines.

Bt eggplant produces a natural protein that makes it resistant to FSB. Once an FSB caterpillar feeds on Bt eggplant fruits, leaves, and shoots, it stops eating and eventually dies. The Bt protein in eggplant only affects FSB and not humans, farm animals, and other nontarget organisms.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco) in India has developed a highly resistant biotech eggplant now used in the Philippines, India, and Bangladesh as source of FSB-resistant traits.

UPLB is developing FSB-resistant eggplant in partnership with Mahyco and Cornell University (New York, USA) and with support from DA, ISAAA, SEARCA-BIC, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP).

America

Transgenic salmon inches toward finish line
Jeffrey L Fox Washington, DC

A fast-growing Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies is poised to become the first transgenic animal to enter the food chain. After a ten-year wait, officials at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the transgenic fish owned by the Waltham, Massachusetts company.

Nature Biotechnology 28, 1141 - 1142 (2010)
Published online: 5 November 2010 | doi:10.1038/nbt1110-1141a

Americans Are Wary of Genetically Engineered Foods
- Scott Hensley, National Public Radio, USA, Nov. 12, 2010

Would you eat a genetically engineered salmon? Are you even sure what the difference is between the regular variety and one that's been tweaked to grow faster?

Don't feel bad if you're unsure. Only a quarter of Americans say they fully understand what genetically engineered food is all about, according to a survey of more then 3,000 people conducted for NPR by Thomson Reuters last month.

Press people a little further by asking them if genetically engineered foods are safe, and the uncertainty climbs higher. Only 21 percent of people are convinced the foods are safe. Most are unsure - 64 percent. The remaining 15 percent think the foods aren't safe.

People who are a little older, make more money and have at least a college degree are most likely to think safety is not an issue for the foods, whose qualities have been altered by laboratory manipulation of DNA.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that a food should say on its label if it's from some genetically modified animal or plant - 9 in 10 people surveyed said so.

But that's not guaranteed. Unless there's a really important difference between the normal food and the engineered one, like, say, a change that could cause an allergic reaction in some people, U.S. regulators aren't in a position to require a label that says a food is the result of genetically alteration in the lab.

USDA Seeking Approval of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets
Bill Tomson, The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com
Nov. 2, 2010

WASHINGTONThe U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled Tuesday controversial plans to again approve genetically modified sugar beets in time for planting next year, a move that would nullify a federal court ruling in August that invalidated the original approval issued by the USDA five years ago.

The USDA remains in a legal battle with groups seeking to halt all production and planting of genetically modified sugar beets because of concerns that the plants contaminate nearby nonbiotech crops.

Genetically modified sugar beets now account for 95% of the U.S. crop. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Whites August ruling to invalidate USDAs 2005 approval threw into doubt the ability of many farmers to plant in 2011 and the ability of seed companies to produce seeds for 2012.

News in Science

If GMO genes escape, how will the hybrids do?
- American Journal of Botany
http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/reprint/97/10/1610

GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, may raise concerns of genes escaping from crops and having unknown effects on natural, wild species. But what is the real risk that traits associated with GMOs will actually migrate to and persist in their wild relatives?

Interest in plant ecology, crop production and weed management led John Lindquist and his colleagues from the University of Nebraska and USDA-ARS to investigate how gene flow from a cultivated crop to a weedy relative would influence the ecological fitness of a cropwild hybrid offspring. They published their findings in the recent October issue of the American Journal of Botany .

Grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor) is an important food and feed crop throughout the world. The reduced digestibility of sorghum seed relative to other grains makes it a less efficient resource, even though it is highly adapted to growth in semiarid environments common to Africa, India, and the Southern and Western Great Plains of the United States. There has been considerable interest in modifying the quality traits of grain sorghum using GMO technology to enhance its nutritional value to both humans and animals raised for human consumption.

A major challenge to sorghum producers is the limited number of products available to control weeds within the crop-too many of the common products cause crop damage. To address this challenge, one of the major U.S. seed companies is developing herbicide-resistant grain sorghum using traditional breeding (non-GMO) strategies and plans to deploy them in the United States within the next 5 years.

There is inherent risk in deploying grain sorghum containing novel genes because several related species (e.g., johnsongrass, shattercane) are capable of interbreeding with grain sorghum.

Lindquist and his colleagues focused their research on gene flow between sorghum and its closely related, wild, weedy relative, shattercane (Sorghum bicolor subsp. drummondii). Lack of information on the potential gene flow from grain sorghum to shattercane is an important problem because it limits our fundamental understanding of gene transfer and potential hybridization between grain sorghum and shattercane. Their goal was to obtain baseline data using non-GMO sorghum and shattercane that would improve our ability to assess the potential risks of introducing novel genes in grain sorghum into U.S. agroecosystems.

Variation in alleles contributes to the ability of a population to adapt to a variable environment. Yet, this variation is often controlled in cultivated crops for ease of production-for example, with sorghum, all seeds germinate at roughly the same time, plants grow to a uniform height, and seeds ripen at the same time. In contrast, shattercane has seeds with variable states of dormancy, plants that grow taller than sorghum, and seeds that disperse via a shattering mechanism, ensuring dispersal before the sorghum crop is harvested. By crossing shattercane with cultivated sorghum, the authors compared how the crop-wild hybrid performed relative to its crop and wild parents in a number of traits that may be important to its ecological fitness.

By experimentally manipulating temperature conditions, the authors found different germination patterns for the three types of seeds. Although the crop-wild hybrid responded to low temperatures similarly to its wild shattercane parent-both in terms of percentage of seeds that germinated and by staying dormant and delaying germination-it responded to high temperatures similarly to its cultivated sorghum parent; non-germinated seeds of both sorghum and the hybrid died. This may be linked to their seed structures. Shattercane seeds are completely enclosed by glumes, whereas those of sorghum are only partially covered, a factor that makes them much easier to mill but does not protect them well from environmental extremes. The glumes on the hybrids are more similar to sorghum, so it is possible that despite their ability to be dormant, they may not survive well in extreme environmental conditions.

When the authors compared growth factors under natural field conditions, they found that the hybrid grew taller than either of its parent types, had greater leaf area than the shattercane but less than sorghum, and leaf emergence was earlier than in the shattercane. The authors speculate that if the three types were grown in mixture in the field, the hybrid would likely be able to capture more light and thus be more competitive than the two parent types. However, the hybrid produced fewer seeds than either sorghum or shattercane (although they were similar to shattercane at one site).

"Genes from grain sorghum, including a transgene or a traditionally bred specialty trait such as the herbicide resistance traits in sorghum, could be successfully transferred to a weedy shattercane population," Lindquist concludes. Indeed, in this case the relative fitness of the hybrid may be equivalent to that of the wild parent.

However, further research is needed. "It is imperative to know the rate of outcrossing from sorghum to shattercane," Lindquist emphasizes. "In other words, what proportion of seed on a shattercane plant will be pollinated by a nearby grain sorghum population, and how far can that pollen go?"

"Next, we want to be able to predict the overall likelihood that a gene from grain sorghum will enter the weedy shattercane population."

The prion hypothesis: from biological anomaly to basic regulatory mechanism
Mick F. Tuite & Tricia R. Serio

Prions are unusual proteinaceous infectious agents that are typically associated with a class of fatal degenerative diseases of the mammalian brain. However, the discovery of fungal prions, which are not associated with disease, suggests that we must now consider the effect of these factors on basic cellular physiology in a different light. Fungal prions are epigenetic determinants that can alter a range of cellular processes, including metabolism and gene expression pathways, and these changes can lead to a range of prion-associated phenotypes. The mechanistic similarities between prion propagation in mammals and fungi suggest that prions are not a biological anomaly but instead could be a newly appreciated and perhaps ubiquitous regulatory mechanism.

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 11, 823–833 (1 December 2010) | doi:10.1038/nrm3007

Researchers shed light on how flowers make male and female parts.
Botanists at the University of Leeds in the UK have shown evolution in progress, tracing how a gene mutation more than 100 million years ago led flowers to make male and female parts in different ways. http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_10_11_04_en.html&item=&artid=18533
Energy vital to evolution of complex life
German and UK researchers have put forward a radical new theory for the evolution of complex life, suggesting that it is dependent on mitochondria, http://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?id=/research/headlines/news/article_10_11_03_en.html&item=&artid=18513
Scientists solve Mendel's pea flower colour mystery
Gregor Mendel used the gene that controls pea flower colour to study the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants. But researchers have been baffled about how trait transmission actually works. The latest study, funded in part by the GRAIN LEGUMES ('New strategies to improve grain legumes for food and feed') project, which received nearly EUR 15 million under the 'Food quality and safety' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), sheds new light on the underlying molecular genetics behind Mendel's experiment.

Led by the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the UK, the researchers compared the pea DNA sequences to those of other well-characterised plants, identifying the genes that control flower colour in pea plants. The study, presented in the journal PLoS ONE, describes two pea genes, known as A and A2, that regulate the production of anthocyanins.

Transgenic Worms Make Tough Fibers
Date Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Researchers have been trying to make artificial spider silk for decades. Now a startup claims to have overcome one of the main challenges in synthesizing the lightweight, stronger-than-steel fibers. Kraig Biocraft Laboratories has made genetically modified silkworms that produce fibers incorporating spider-silk proteins. The resulting fibers are much stronger, more flexible, and finer than silk made by normal silkworms. The company says it believes it will be able to match the properties of spider silk within the next year. The company hopes to sell the first generation of fibers to companies that will make stronger everyday silk products. Its ultimate goal is to mass-produce artificial spider silk, which could be used to make very strong and lightweight products including bulletproof vests, composite materials for vehicles and sports equipment, and even new construction materials. Spiders make many varieties of silk, and many of these fibers are stronger than steel. Mimicking such silk and developing ways of producing it industrially has long been a goal of materials scientists. But spiders are too aggressive to be farmed, so researchers have made transgenic animals that make the spider proteins. But that isn't enough, because simply producing the protein components of these materials is not enough--you have to mimic the way spiders put them together by spinning a thread. "Genetic engineers have been focused on making organisms that produce as much spider-silk protein as possible, but this is like dumping a load of bricks in the yard and asking why you don't have a house," says Kim Thompson, founder and CEO of Kraig Biocraft, based in Lansing, Michigan. Bacteria, for example, can be made to produce spider-silk proteins, and the Canadian biotech company Nexia even succeeded in creating goats that excreted high levels of spider-silk proteins in their milk. But they lacked the means to assemble these proteins into usable silk. Other groups have created transgenic silkworms that make spider silk, but the worms didn't integrate the foreign proteins into the fiber structure, and fiber's mechanical properties didn't significantly improve over what natural silkworms make. The worms' natural systems for spinning fibers are tailored to their own natural proteins. "There's no reason the silkworms would necessarily include the spider protein in their fiber," says Randy Lewis, professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming. Lewis has sequenced several spider-silk genes.

Further Information: http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/26623/?p1=A2

Sterile moths wipe out cotton pest
Arizon The strategy was intended to restrict the spread of toxin-resistant pink bollworms by flooding the population with sterile moths. When rare resistant moths emerged, as they inevitably would, they would probably encounter a sterile partner, and their genes would be erased from the population. Sterile insect releases have already been used to drive down populations of the Mediterranean fruit fly, or Medfly, in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States; screw-worms in the United States, Central America and Libya; and tsetse flies on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Africa.

The technique works best on pests that are not particularly populous. "If you have something like aphids or thrips, where there are thousands on a plant, it's kind of hard to release enough sterile insects to do any good," says Fred Gould, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who wasn't involved in the study. But where pinkies were concerned, genetically modified cotton crops (Bt cotton) had already driven down the population one-million-fold, says Tabashnik.

To prevent the spread of Bt resistance, farmers are required to plant nearby 'refuges' of conventional crops. The idea behind the refuges is to keep a population of non-resistant moths close at hand as potential mates for any resistant moths that arise. Unfortunately, however, refuges also guarantee a steady local population of pink bollworms.

After a while, farmers came to resent the refuges that allowed the bollworm to persist year after year, costing them millions of dollars annually in crop losses and insecticide sprays. They asked the US Environmental Protection Agency for permission to dispense with the refuges and instead begin releasing sterile moths.

In 2005, the Pink Bollworm Rearing Facility in Phoenix began cranking out pinkies for the Arizona experiment. The factory treated the moths with just enough radiation to damage the chromosomes in their reproductive cells without causing injuries that would prevent their survival in the wild. Over the course of each growing season for the next four years, about 2 billion pink bollworm moths were released into Arizona's cotton fields.

Tabasnik, B.E. et al., Natur Biotechnol. doi 10/1038/nbt.1704 (2010).

See also
Combining Bt Cotton, Sterile Insects Prevents Destruction of Cotton Plants
- Tiffany Kaiser, Daily Tech, November 8, 2010
http://www.dailytech.com

University of Arizona researchers have found that combining pest-resistant cotton and large numbers of sterile moths will prevent these destructive insects from damaging cotton plants in Arizona.

Bruce Tabashnik, study leader and department head of entomology in the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has used pest-resistant cotton and the release of sterile pink bollworm moths as a type of birth control that will help prevent destruction against cotton plants.

Tabashnik and his team targeted caterpillars of the pink bollworm as the enemy. These insects, which were first discovered in 1917, are one of the top destroyers of cotton plants worldwide. To remedy this issue, researchers used computer simulations to analyze over a decade of field data before conducting tests. Once testing began, Tabashnik used Bt cotton. The problem is that these caterpillars can become resistant to the toxins after a period of time, rendering the Bt cotton useless to a certain extent. "The most widely used strategy to delay resistance is to set aside refuges...patches with regular, non Bt cotton where the pest can feed without ingesting the Bt cotton," said Tabashnik. "If you plant Bt cotton with no refuges, the vast majority of the caterpillars will die, but a tiny fraction will be resistant. These rare resistant survivors will emerge as adults and mate with each other." The chances of two resistant insects mating are slim. But the problem is that the pests are still alive and reproducing, whether they're resistant or not, thus destroying cotton plants. Refuges do not completely resolve the issue.

To keep unwanted visitors away from the cotton plants, researchers obtained large numbers of pink bollworms and sterilized them. Then, the sterile bollworms were released into the crop fields to block reproduction. "When a sterile moth mates with a fertile, wild moth, the progeny won't be fertile," said Tabashnik. "The sterile insects soak up the reproductive potential of the wild population. If you have a high enough ratio of sterile to wild moths, you can drive the reproduction of the wild population to zero."

From 1990 to 1995, cotton growers lost $18 million per year to the management of pink bollworm. From the time Tabashnik and his team began testing until 2009, the pink bollworm population decreased by 99.9 percent. In 2009, only two pink bollworm larvae were found in 16,600 bolls of non-Bt cotton in Arizona. Along with this decreased population came a large reduction in insecticide spray purchases. Between 2006 and 2009, cotton growers' cost to manage pink bollworm fell from $18 million to $172,000.

- Kansas State University, Nov. 8, 2010

Manhattan -- A recently patented invention from a Kansas State University research team aims to control a devastating parasite that causes millions of dollars in crop damage each year.

The invention, "Compositions and Methods for Controlling Plant Parasitic Nematodes," was developed by four K-State researchers: Harold Trick, professor of plant pathology; Timothy Todd, an instructor of plant pathology; Michael Herman, associate professor of biology; and Judith Roe, former assistant professor of biology.

Bacteria can drive the evolution of new species
Symbiotic organisms influence fruitfly mate choice.
Joseph Milton

Published online 1 November 2010 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.575
Bacteria that live on the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster can affect their host's choice of mate by altering the fly's pheromones, a new study suggests. That change in mate choice could in turn lead to the evolution of new fly species — suggesting that bacteria can indirectly change the species of their hosts.

Plant natural products from cultured multipotent cells
Susan Roberts & Martin Kolewe
Susan Roberts and Martin Kolewe are in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.

Natural products from plants have an important place in the history of pharmaceuticals as a rich source of leads and drugs1. Yet research into natural products has declined steadily over the past two decades, eclipsed by high-throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry and by uncertainties regarding the feasibility of large-scale manufacture2.

Nature Biotechnology 28, 1175 - 1176 (2010)
Published online: 5 November 2010 | doi:10.1038/nbt1110-1175

MIT chemists engineer plants to produce new drugs
http://media-newswire.com/release_1132459.html

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  MIT chemists have found a new way to expand plants pharmaceutical repertoire by genetically engineering them to produce unnatural variants of their usual products.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Sarah O'Connor, have added bacterial genes to the periwinkle plant, enabling it to attach halogens such as chlorine or bromine to a class of compounds called alkaloids that the plant normally produces. Many alkaloids have pharmaceutical properties, and halogens, which are often added to antibiotics and other drugs, can make medicines more effective or last longer in the body.

The team’s primary target, an alkaloid called vinblastine, is commonly used to treat cancers such as Hodgkins lymphoma. O'Connor sees vinblastine and other drugs made by plants as scaffolds that she can modify in a variety of ways to enhance their effectiveness.

The two new genes came from bacteria that naturally produce halogenated compounds. Its much more rare for plants to generate such compounds on their own, said O'Connor. It is also possible, though very difficult, to synthesize halogenated alkaloids in a laboratory.

How 'Bioluminescent' Trees That Glow Like Fireflies Could One Day Replace Our Streetlights
- NIALL FIRTH, Daily Mail, 26th November 2010
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1333334/How-trees-glow-like-fireflies-day-replace-streetlights.html

Scientists are developing ways of making trees glow so they can be used as natural streetlights without the need for electricity.

A team of researchers are experimenting with genes to allow the trait that causes fireflies to glow -bioluminescence - to be implanted into a variety of different organisms.

The scientists at Cambridge University used genes from fireflies and a special form of glowing sea bacteria to create 'BioBricks' - genetic building blocks that can be inserted into a genome.

After inserting the modified genes into a sample of e-coli bacteria they were able to produce a range of colours - and created a living light that was bright enough to read by.

Geneticist Theo Sanderson, one of the members of the team, told New Scientist: 'We didn't end up making bioluminescent trees,  which was the inspiration for the project. 'But we decided to make a set of parts that would allow future researchers to use bioluminescence more effectively.'

The research was presented at the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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