News in December 2005
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Amid all the pointless bleating about aid to Africa, it is always interesting to hear from African analysts:

One such is the Ghanaian Franklin Cudjoe, Director of the think-tank Imani, in Accra. All the editions of the Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2005; Page A20 carried his article


Mr. Cudjoe and his staff have made the piece available on their website

His argument is very straightforward and one that he and numerous of his colleagues have used before: aid that feeds corrupt and oppressive regimes in Africa is not only not helpful, it is counter-productive. As he rightly says, most of Africa is extremely fertile. It ought not experience famine. Why is that situation so prevalent?

And what of the European Union and its obsession with GM? Mr. Cudjoe thinks it helps to keep Africa in extreme poverty: "The one thing that could give us drought-resistant and highly productive seeds is biotechnology. Experience shows that genetically modified (GM) crops could increase yields by 25% and cost less than Green Revolution techniques.

But GM produce faces bans from rich countries, especially the EU, using unscientific "biosafety" protocols under the guise of environmental protection.

No different really from the obsession with DDT that has killed millions of Africans as nothing else seems to get rid of the malaria mosquito.

Helen Szamuely, Free Market News Network, Dec. 16, 2005. Full commentary at

Books and Articles

Let Them Eat Precaution: 'How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture

Edited by Jon Entine, 212 pages, AEI Press (Washington), January 2006, Hardcover, ISBN: 0844742007 authors - Jay Byrne, Gregory Conko, Jon Entine, Tony Gilland, Thomas Jefferson Hoban, Patrick Moore, Andrew S. Natsios, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Robert L. Paarlberg, C. S. Prakash, Carol Tucker Foreman,filter.all/book_detail.asp

The genetic revolution has offered more promise than substance, except in agriculture, where it has brought profound benefits to farmers and consumers for more than a decade. More nutritious food is now produced with less environmental costs because genetically modified crops require almost no pesticides.

Genetically modified foods: debating biotechnology. Edited by Michael Ruse and David
Castle, Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY; 2002; No. of Pages 355; ISBN 1-57392-996-4

The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture - New book by Eugene Thacker, June 2005, ISBN 0-262-20155-0, 464 pp. $39.95

In the age of global biotechnology, DNA can exist as biological material in a test tube, as a sequence in a computer database, and as economically valuable information in a patent. In The Global Genome, Eugene Thacker asks us to consider the relationship of these three entities and argues that -- by their existence and their interrelationships -- they are fundamentally redefining the notion of biological "life itself."

Volume of Proceedings of the Congress "In the wake of the Double Helix: From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution" held in Bologna (27-31 May 2003) is now available. The volume (784 pages; ISBN 88-86817-48-7; € 25.00) presents a unique collection of 48 updated reviews and articles written by acclaimed experts in crop science and biotechnology. The book provides a prime reference source for students, teachers and researchers in plant breeding, molecular biology and plant biotechnology. For a detailed list of the titles and to order a copy, see:

Gene Genie
Gene Genie is an Australian online resource created to provide information about genetically modified (GM) food and crops. The aim of the site is to encourage discussion about GM food and crops as well as to provide current science-based information about GM food and crops and all related issues.

Scientific Facts on Genetically Modified  Crops -, Nov. 15, 2005

We are regularly confronted with genetically modified foods, be it in the news or on our plates. In what way are GM crops different from conventional crops? What is known about their possible risks for human health or the environment? This study is a faithful summary of the leading scientific consensus report produced by the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization): Read on at


2006 World Congress of International Association for Plant Tissue Culture And Biotechnology Location: Beijing, China, Date: 13 – 17 August 2006

Agricultural Biotechnology: Facts, Analysis and Policies – Ravello, Italy;  June 29 – July 2, 2006.

Conference of the International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research
Contact  Prof. Vittorio Santaniello, University of Rome “ Tor Vergata “

First Mediterranean Congress on Biotechnology – Hammamet, Tunisia, 25-29 March 2006

World Renewable Energy Congress IX and Exhibition

Location: Florence, Italy – Date: 19 – 25 August 2006

First International Plant Breeding Symposium – Mexico City, Aug. 20-25, 2006 “Growing a more secure future through scientific excellence.”

Europe – EU

NEW web: Stem cells

Find out what stem cells are and what research the EU is funding.

European Research Advisory Board (EURAB)

EURAB Advice: EURAB Report and Recommendations on "Stimulating the regional potential for research and innovation" (November 2005)

Latest news on AthenaWeb

New partners, new films and a new user survey greet visitors to AthenaWeb, reports the latest issue of AthenaNews, the portal’s monthly newsletter. Headlines finds out how the EU-supported platform for scientific audiovisual content plans to keep up this momentum in the New Year.

European Commission supports new developments in biotechnology

The European Commission today presents “100 Technology offers stemming from EU Biotechnology RTD results”, a catalogue of biotechnology developments arising from EU-funded research projects over the last 10 years. This guide will help to put researchers and companies in contact, hopefully leading to new and innovative products and processes based on this research.

Media fact sheet: EU at the AAAS 2006 Building on Europe’s successful participation in previous AAAS Annual Meetings, the Research DG of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, contributes to the AAAS Annual Meeting 2006 with a full schedule of activities.

Renewable energy: (Press Releases) European Commission proposes ambitious biomass action plan and calls on Member States to do more for green electricity

EC-US Task Force on Biotechnology Research
Past workshops information updated

Conference lays the roots for knowledge-based bio-economy
For those unfamiliar with the term, the knowledge-based bio-economy may not set their hearts racing, but hundreds of delegates at a Brussels conference were upbeat at the prospects this promising new field had to offer. A follow-up report gives a tantalising taste of what lies ahead.

EU environment ministers failed again to reach consensus on approving imports of a GMO maize for processing into food and animal feed, not for cultivation. Reuters, December 5, 2005 BRUSSELS –

The maize is hybrid of MON 863, which can provide plant protection against corn rootworm, and MON 810. Both strains used to manufacture the hybrid maize have already won EU authorisation separately -- MON 810 maize in 1998, and MON 863 which the Commission approved in August. The ministers' failure to agree means that the Commission gains the power to authorise imports of the maize into EU markets.

Two countries changed their votes from a committee meeting of EU member state environment experts held in September. Germany voted in favour after a previous absence, while Poland changed its earlier absence to a vote against authorisation.

First Ever GM Plants Approved in Germany - Associated Press, Dec.15, 2005; HANNOVER (AP) –

The German Federal Office for Plant Registration will allow three genetically modified maize varieties to be cultivated in Germany. New Agriculture and Consumer Minister Horst Seehofer told the Berliner Zeitung, "we want to promote modified foods," a ministry spokeswoman would only confirm that the policies were being examined.

Denmark to tax farmers of GM crops
NEW SCIENTIST, December 2, 2005

Denmark last week became the first country in Europe to tax farmers who grow GM crops. The money collected will be used to compensate organic or conventional farmers who can't sell produce at its usual price because of contamination from a GM farm nearby. Crops with a GM content above 0.9 per cent cannot be labelled GM free. The European Commission authorised the scheme on 23 November, and other countries are considering similar measures.

Nanotech risk study in UK

In response to its 2004 study into the risks and benefits of nanotechnology research, the UK government announced last week (30 November) a five million pound (US$8.5 million) research plan to identify long-term environmental and health risks from the technology
The report pinpoints three main research priorities: to better understand the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles, how people and the environment might be exposed to them — for example, whether the particles can be absorbed through the soil or groundwater — and the impact that nanoparticles could have on human health and the environment

Is The European Union's Attitude to GM Suffocating African Development? - Press Release, Dec. 12, 2005 see the CSIRO Website and the Gene Genie Website

The European Union's (EU) negative stance towards GM crops has contributed to food shortages currently plaguing Southern Africa, an Australian study has found. Southern Africa is in the grip of its third serious drought in five years. In Zambia, the government has declared a state of emergency and appealed for foreign food aid, as more than 1.2 million people face famine in the country, in addition to nine million in neighboring nations. In 2002, the Zambian government refused food aid containing GM crops from the United States, citing health and environmental concerns.

The new analysis published in the journal Functional Plant Biology suggests the decision to reject GM food aid was based on sometimes misleading information from activist organisations combined with fear that European markets would close to Zambia's agricultural produce should GM food aid be accepted.

The study found horticultural exports and field crops are vital to the economies of many African nations. Zambia even exported corn to the EU during the 2002 drought when three million people were facing starvation.

European leaders endorse role of science in Africa

European Union leaders have issued a statement urging the recognition of science and technology as key to sustainable development in Africa. Echoing a strong theme of the UK-led Commission for Africa's report, published earlier this year, the draft statement also calls for a strengthening of agricultural research that is driven by the demands of the poor in developing countries, as well as the applications of that research.

The final shortened version of the new policy, which emerged from the European Council on Friday does not make any explicit reference to either science capacity building or agricultural research.

Europe must get its act together on science aid – David Dickson, Dec 19 2005

The European Union is still struggling to meet the commitments of its member states to boost science capacity in developing countries. Closer alignment is needed between its efforts to boost research and technology, and to alleviate global poverty. Furthermore, both the new commissioner for research (Janez Potočnik) and for development (Louis Michel) have made clear their personal commitment to using European funds to build science and technology capacity in developing countries. The commitments were made in a policy statement on a new EU strategy for Africa, which was drafted up by the European Commission, and approved at the six-monthly meeting of heads of EU states that was held in Brussels (15-16 December).

But it is unlikely that the commission, on its own, will be able to bridge the gap successfully. As long as the EC research directorate-general's mission remains focused on strengthening Europe's technological competitiveness, and the development directorate fixed on alleviating the symptoms (rather than causes) of underdevelopment, the two will remain out of step.


How to Cut World Hunger in Half - Per Lindskog, Science v.310. no. 5755, p. 1768 December 16, 2005.

"According to the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report, "The basic problem to be addressed in the WTO [World Trade Organization] negotiations on agriculture can be summarized in three words: rich country subsidies". Wealthy countries give 1 billion U.S. dollars per year in agricultural aid to developing countries, while they subsidize their own agriculture with nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars per day."

Islamic states urged to follow 10-year science plan, Wagdy Sawahel Dec 19, 2005

Ten-year plan to promote science and technology in the Muslim world was endorsed by the senior officials of 57 Islamic states in Mecca (7-8 December). The ten-year plan has been developed over the last two years by a panel of top Islamic figures, set up by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Its final details were agreed at a meeting of Muslim scientists and scholars in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in September 2005. The two-day summit in Mecca was attended by representatives from the 57 OIC member states and representatives from international organizations such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League, the United Nations and the European Union.

The plan aims to reduce the technology gap between much of the Islamic community and the developed world by enhancing the level of research and development (R&D) in the former. The report indicated that the 57 predominantly Muslim countries have 23 per cent of the world population but less than two per cent of the world’s scientists.

It identifies several specific targets to be met in the medium- and long-term. For example, it proposes that by the year 2015, 30 per cent of students between the ages of 18 and 24 should have the opportunity to go to university. It also suggests that by the same date, Muslim countries should aim to spend 1.2 per cent of their gross domestic product on R&D (although the target for the least developed countries is accepted to be one-third of this figure).

The new plan proposes several courses of action to address what it perceives to be the basic challenges in science and technology. For example, it proposes that each OIC member state prepare a national science and technology strategy. It also advocates establishing centres of excellence, increasing the links between scientists and industry, and setting up an OIC R&D Fund to support scientific and technological projects in member states.

As part of its proposals to reform higher education, it suggests giving priority to science and technology in academic institutions and curricula, and making more effort to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between academic institutions in member states.

To help achieve these aims, the plan urges oil-producing countries to channel part of the revenues from increased oil prices into national R&D activities. It urges the Islamic development bank (IDB) to further enhance its programme of scholarships for outstanding students and specialists in hi-tech subjects (see US$2 million fund to boost research in Muslim world).

Kenyan Ministry Urges Equal Policies on GMOs - Allan Kisia, The East African Standard (Nairobi), Nov. 30, 2005

The Ministry of Agriculture has called for the adoption of a harmonised policy on biotechnology for the eastern and southern Africa region.  Permanent Secretary James Ongwae said yesterday the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) member states were at different levels in the enactment of biosafety bills. He said some countries had regulations and guidelines for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) while others had full legal instruments and policies on biotechnology and biosafety. "Some States have no mechanisms for permitting testing of GMOs while others have banned such crops," he said. Ongwae made the remarks while opening the Kenya National Consultative Workshop on Biotechnology and Biosafety at a Nairobi hotel. Representatives from Comesa member states and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Southern Africa attended the workshop.

Zambia Allows Its People to Eat - Center for Consumer Freedom, December 14, 2005

Good news from Africa: The government of Zambia, in the midst of a food crisis, has altered its anti-GM (genetically modified) food policy, allowing millions of starving Zambians access to food aid. Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa has finally ordered agricultural officials to allow GM corn into the country, greatly expanding the amount of food that will reach his country's under-nourished population.

Mwanawasa's decision represents a remarkable turn from his previous condemnation of GM foods (he labeled them "poison" and "intrinsically dangerous"). Mwanawasa didn't exactly come up with this "scientific" opinion himself -- some green thumbs helped him grow it. In 2002 The Washington Times reported that then-U.S. foreign aid chief Andrew Natsios "criticized environmental groups as 'revolting and despicable' for urging starving nations such as Zambia to reject American corn because of genetic alteration." The same article reports that American officials specifically identified Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth among those activist groups.)

Venezuela launches US$150 million science initiative

Venezuela has launched a US$150 million science programme to develop innovative research that contributes to economic growth and development. (Source:

Uruguay trebles funds for science and technology

The Uruguayan parliament has approved a trebling of funds for science and technology in the country.

Ecuador launches a new national science policy

Ecuador's vice-president, Alejandro Serrano Aguilar, has unveiled a new national policy for science, technology and innovation.

"Economic impact of Bt corn in the Philippines“ byRudy A. Fernandez, The Philippine STAR Dec. 11, 2005 Dr. Yorobe conducted an exhaustive study titled as above and concluded: "The BCR (benefit cost ratio) of 2,014 clearly indicates the better performance of Bt corn farms in the country."

Illegal GM Corn Found in Brazil - Luisa Massarani,  SciDev.Net, Dec. 2, 2005, Genetically modified (GM) corn is being illegally sold in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, according to an accusation by the state deputy Frei Sérgio Antônio Görgen.

China has taken the lead among developing countries in the research of genetically modified (GM) plants. People's Daily Online, December 05, 2005

China has been investing 100 million US dollars per year in the research of biotechnological plants since the beginning of this century, and the sum is expected to reach more than 500 million US dollars in 2005, said Shen Guifang, executive deputy director of China High-tech Industrialization Association and researcher of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

At present, more than 60 versions of GM plants are approved for field trials and release, including China's staple crops -- rice, maize and wheat, as well as cotton, potato, tomato, soybean, peanut and rape, she said at the "Forum of Industrial Innovation and Agriculture Industrialization" held recently in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

More than 30 versions of GM tomato, cotton, petunia and pimient o have been approved for commercial production. The leading GM plant in China is pest-resistant cotton covering 66 percent of cotton-growing areas, Shen said.

China developed 47 GM plants in 1996, including almost all the main food and for age plants. It has examined and approved 26 GM plants in terms of safety between 1997 and 1999, including 16 of pest-resistant type, nine of antiviral type and one of quality-improved type.

China ranks the fifth -- behind the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil - in the amount of genetically modified crops, saida World Health Organization report in June. Last year it had 3.70 million hectares planted, 5 percent of the total transgenic crop area of the world.

IRAN. In 2005, several hundred farmers grew an estimated 4,000 hectares of Bt rice on their farms in initial commercialization activities and to ensure provision of seed supplies for full commercialization in 2006, when it is planned to deploy the Bt rice on 10,000 to 20,000 hectares. The Bt rice was developed by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute at Karaj and was officially released in Iran in 2004 on 2,000 hectares, to coincide with the International Rice Year.

Iran is one of the largest importers of rice in the world, importing about 1 million tons per year, or more. The biotech rice program in Iran is well advanced but is only one of several biotech crop initiatives at 23 institutes, where 141 researchers are working on several biotech crops.

Iraq farmers will use transgenic wheat species to help rebuild the region's agriculture. Issued in 2004, Order 81 (one of 100 orders enacted by Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator L. Paul Bremer) authorizes the introduction of GM crops as part of an effort to restore the nation's agricultural base, and gives intellectual property rights to the developers of new seed varieties. This isn't the first time Iraqi farmers have been exposed to genetic modification. The move has some critics concerned that the new policy could help wipe out the natural hotbed of diversity in Iraq, where wheat originated (see Anne Harding, The Scientist, Nov. 30, 2005 ).

For thousands of years, Iraqi farmers have saved seed from each year's crops, replanting and cross-pollinating varieties for higher yields, better pest resistance, and other beneficial traits. But Order 81 makes it illegal for Iraqi farmers to reuse seeds from any crops planted using a patented seed variety. Farmers who chose to use patented varieties would have to buy new seed every year.

But officials in Iraq say such worries are overblown. "I don't think there is any substantial information behind it," Tekeste Tekie, officer in charge in Iraq for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told The Scientist. "I don't think there is anybody trying to push genetically modified crops onto Iraqis." The FAO recently secured funding for a $5.4 million project to help restore Iraq's seed industry, nearly destroyed by the war. The project, developed jointly by Iraqi scientists and the FAO, will include training of scientists and farmers, as well as restoration of seed laboratories and seed multiplication centers. It is slated to begin in 2006. Despite ongoing violence in parts of the country, Tekie noted, 14 of 18 Iraqi governates are safe.

GMO crops in Philippines - Manila Bulleting, December 5, 2005, By EDITH B. COLMO BACOLOD CITY –

Dr. Benigno Peczon, who is also president of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), a biotech non government organization comprised of scientists, academicians, and agriculturists said municipal mayors are optimistic that genetically modified products will be widely accepted owing to its benefits to various stakeholders. He added that these executives believe that the widespread cultivation of GM crops would pave the way for sustained economic growth in their jurisdictions and better food security for the country.

Study conducted on the cot-benefit of the Bt corn compelled some corn farmers to plant Bt corn owing to the 0.8 to 1 metric tons per hectare increase in their farm production. Aside from Bt corn, the government is now developing genetically modified fruits, vegetables, and root crops to make them resistant to virus, pest and with enhanced nutrients.

Among these GM crops are papaya resistant to ringspot virus, papaya with long shelf life, banana with enhanced Vitamin A precursor, resistant to bunchy top virus, with antifungal genes, and with long shelf life; eggplant resistant to pest insect, cotton resistant to bollworm, rice resistant to (GNA) insect, bacterial leaf blight, and Tungro plus enhanced Vitamin A precursor; sweet potato resistant to feathery mottle virus, resistant to weevil; and tomato resistant to virus.

EPA Grants for Research on Allergenicity of Genetically Engineered Foods More at

Due Date for Applications: Mar 21, 2006; Estimated Funding: $3,000,000.00

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking applications proposing to develop methods to assess the potential allergenicity of genetically engineered foods.

'Key' allowing malaria into human cells described

Researchers have identified the shape of a key part of a protein that malaria parasites use to invade human red blood cells.

Single genetic change 'can multiply TB risk by seven'

Researchers have identified a tiny genetic change that can increase the risk of developing tuberculosis by up to sevenfold.

One small genetic change can make people up to seven times more likely of developing the symptoms of tuberculosis (TB), according to a report in The Journal of Experimental Medicine next week (19 December).

The report shows how a team of Korean, Mexican and US scientists have identified a gene in which a small alteration can make Mexican patients infected with TB nearly five and a half times more likely to develop the disease. In South Korea, the researchers found that the effect was even stronger: patients with the altered gene were up to 6.9 times more likely to display symptoms.

This is the biggest known genetic impact on adult tuberculosis; write Alexandre Alcais and colleagues in an accompanying article.

Only ten per cent of people infected with the TB-causing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis develop the disease — a phenomenon largely put down to genetic differences between individuals.

Studies on identical and non-identical twins in the 1930s first implicated genetic factors in the disease. More recently, researchers identified one region on human chromosome 17 that appeared to influence how likely people were to develop symptoms.

Now, Pedro Flores-Villanueva of the University of Texas, United States, and his colleagues have pinpointed this increased susceptibility to a single change in a particular gene on chromosome 17. They found that this change reduces the body's ability to fight infection by the TB bacterium, increasing the risk that infection will lead to disease.

However, these results contradict a 2004 Brazilian study, which did not find a link between the same genetic change and TB. Flores-Villanueva and his colleagues suggest that the contradiction may result from differences in the designs of the two studies or in the genetic make-up of the populations studied. Previous work has indicated that the influence of individual genes may vary in different populations.

The fact that this particular genetic change had a strong impact in both the Mexican and Korean populations — two very distinct ethnic groups — suggests its importance in understanding how to combat tuberculosis. Equally important is the high frequency with which the genetic modification occurs: about 50 per cent of Mexicans carry at least one copy of the change. (They need to carry two to be five and a half times more likely to develop the disease; those who have only one copy are a little over two times more susceptible.)

The incidence of tuberculosis worldwide is on the rise. Almost nine million new cases and two million deaths occur every year.

Link to full abstract of paper by Flores-Villanueva et al.
Link to full abstract of accompanying article by Alcais et al.

The Journal of Experimental Medicine doi: 10.1084/jem20050126 (2005) [Flores-Villanueva et al.The Journal of Experimental Medicine doi: 10.1084/jem20052302 (2005) [Alcais et al.]

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