News in January 2006
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Most popular GM plant - pea

Since many agencies refer on the “Case of modified pea” and professional GMO opponents will interpret it in modified way, we are presenting to our conscience most factual report.



It is not often that field peas capture national headlines. But that is exactly what occurred late in November when researchers at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) published a paper describing changes in the structure and immunogenicity of a common bean protein after transgenic-expression in peas. Contrary to media reports, the paper did not provide definitive evidence that the transgenic protein was allergenic in humans. Nor were the changes in protein structure particularly shocking or surprising. What was shocking, however, was the political fallout following the study's announcement.

The field pea is big business in Australia. Each year, the annual harvest brings in around AU$120 ($88) million. Infestations of the pea weevil (Bruchus pisorum) remain a problem, however, reducing pea yield, compromising product quality and causing significant economic losses. In the early 1990s, the high economic and environmental costs of controlling weevils by chemical pesticides prompted T.J. Higgins of CSIRO and Maarten Chrispeels of the University of California, San Diego, to collaborate on a project to create a transgenic pea (Pisum sativum) that produces alpha-amylase inhibitor 1, a protein with insecticidal properties originally isolated from the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) that is normally absent in peas.

This protein inhibitor works by suppressing the activity of pea weevil alpha-amylase, an enzyme required by the insect to digest starch in pea cotyledons. Weevils that feed on peas expressing the inhibitor essentially starve to death. In six field trials between 1996 and 2001, peas expressing amylase inhibitor not only achieved yields comparable to nontransgenic peas but also demonstrated a remarkable (99.5%) level of resistance to weevils.

Against this promising background and as part of its risk assessment, the CSIRO team sought to establish whether there were any differences in immune responses elicited in BALB/c mice exposed to the pea form of the alpha-amylase inhibitor or the native form in beans. Unlike mice fed on a diet of wild-type peas (lacking the alpha-amylase inhibitor) or bean (containing the native inhibitor), animals that had previously ingested transgenic peas exhibited elevated levels of antigen-specific IgG1 in serum, enhanced delayed-type hypersensitivity responses in skin and increased reactivity to other food antigens.

The results convincingly demonstrate that oral ingestion of the transgenic amylase inhibitor in peas induces a CD4+ T-helper cell type 2 (Th2) inflammatory response in mice that is absent in animals fed on beans. Altered antigenicity correlates with differences in glycosylation and/or other post-translational modifications at the same residues within the inhibitor. On the basis of these data, CSIRO discontinued the program.
That is about as much as can be said. Although Th2 responses are commonly associated with allergic responses, the failure to measure antigen-specific IgE (the immunoglobulin indicative of allergy) precludes a definitive conclusion. We do not know whether immunogenicity equates to allergenicity. We do not know whether BALB/c mice immune responses are analogous to allergic responses in humans. And we do not know whether the concentration of amylase inhibitor in peas (4% of total protein) was similar to that in beans. This last point is important as the abundance of a protein can strongly influence its allergenicity.

Although alpha-amylase inhibitors from legumes are not known to cause allergies, those found in cereals belong to the prolamine superfamily of proteins that is well represented in lists of known allergens. Many of these are small, sulfur-rich seed proteins that also include the 2S albumin protein from Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa). If 2S albumin sounds familiar, that is because soybeans expressing the very same protein remain the only documented example of a transgenic crop discontinued because of evidence of a risk of allergenicity.

The key question is whether the transgenic pea protein would have been flagged by current internationally recognized Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX) food standards. The answer appears to be yes. Such assessments are based on sequence homology to known allergens or serum IgE screening with sera from patients allergic to the source of the gene (or sources showing significant homology). A search of a database of known allergens ( reveals limited amino acid sequence identity (approx 35-39%) between the P. vulgaris alpha-amylase inhibitor and minor allergens of peanut and soybean. As the inhibitor is resistant to pepsin hydrolysis (another hallmark of allergens), it thus seems very unlikely that the protein would have sailed through the CODEX process.

All this would probably be a scientific sidenote if it weren't for the fact that a senior Western Australian official took it upon himself to use the pea study as pretext to go on the offensive against genetically modified (GM) food. No sooner had CSIRO released its results than Minister of Agriculture Kim Chance announced the setting up of an "independent study" to review the possibility that "when a gene is taken out of one organism and put into another, the protein expressed in that gene may be different." The study was needed, Chance said, to investigate the propensity of rats fed Bt transgenic corn to develop "cancerous and pre-cancerous growths" and the potential of "GM DNA to enter animal bodies." A few days later, the Western Australian newspaper reported that Chance had awarded the funding for the study to the Institute for Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide ( This institute consists of three people with no scientific expertise in long-term feeding studies and a clear agenda against anything remotely connected to a transgene. So much for an independent study.

Chance is entitled to his opinion. But the day must come when he, and politicians like him, realize that absolute proof for the safety of GM (or any other) food is a scientific impossibility. We have in place a reliable assessment process to flag potentially allergenic recombinant proteins on a case-by-case basis. And with so many other priorities competing for taxpayer money, one must question whether the best interests of the Western Australian public have really been served.

Papers and Reviews

Science in Society Forum 2005
Brussels, 9-11 March 2005
New document: Questions of Science - Echos from the Science in Society Forum
   English PDF 2.1 MB
   Français PDF 3.3 MB
   Deutsch PDF 3.3 MB

Health and electromagnetics fields (PDF 1.2 MB)
EU funded research into the impact of electromagnetic fields and mobile telephones on health
Other Publications: Assessing the Social and Environmental Impacts of European Research

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2005
ISAAA Briefs 34-2005:
Executive summary
ISAAA Press Release
Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2005 cover_hectares.jpg
Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2005: Industrial and Developing Countries vs developing_hectares.jpg
Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2005: by Country country_hectares.jpg
21 Biotech Crop Countries and Mega-Countries, 2005 countries_hectares.jpg
Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2005: by Crop crop_hectares.jpg
Global Area of Biotech Crops, 1996 to 2005: by Trait trait_hectares.jpg
Global Adoption Rates (%) for Principal Biotech Crops

Data boost for researchers improving top world crops

Two leading crop research centres have launched an initiative to help scientists develop better varieties of rice, maize and wheat — the world's most important crops.


Biosafety II: Practical course in evaluation
Location: Florence, Italy
Date: 15 - 19 May 2006

Convention on Biological Diversity - Ad-hoc open-ended intersessional working group on Article 8(j) and related provisions of the
Location: Granada, Spain
Date: 23 - 27 January 2006

World Renewable Energy Congress IX and Exhibition
Location: Florence, Italy
Date: 19 - 25 August 2006

Summer course on biosafety assessment and regulation of agricultural biotechnology
Location: Ghent – Belgium
Date: 31 July 2006 - 11 August 2006

Europe – EU

What is new

bulletDirectorate- General for Research
Calls for tender
European textbook on ethics in research - OJ: 31/01/2006 Ref. 2006/S 20-021422
bulletEuropean Food Safety Authority: Call for expressions of interest, deadline on 17 February 2006
bulletForum of National Ethics Councils (NEC Forum)
- Agenda and minutes of the 6th NEC meeting available for download (PDF)
bulletNew EU project will expand Europe’s biodiversity research area
During the last four years the European Commission has successfully supported the creation of an EU-wide network of national, European and international players engaged in biodiversity research.
bulletEuropean Research Advisory Board (EURAB)
bulletEURAB Advice: EURAB Report and Recommendations on "Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs) and ERA" (December 2005)
bulletConference, review: Reaping the first buds of the knowledge-based bio-economy
Most people with some grounding in EU policy will have heard of the knowledge-based economy. The knowledge-based bio-economy represents the cutting-edge of a €1.6-trillion slice of the European economy. A recent conference explored how the life sciences and biotechnology can promote growth in this important sector.
bulletRenewable energy, strategy: Towards greener energy with Biomass Action Plan
As the latest UN Climate conference breathed new life into the Kyoto Protocol, the EU launched its ambitious Biomass Action Plan which seeks to reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emission by developing and using renewable bio-energy technologies.
bulletResearch, funding: Final deal on FP7 tops Austrian presidency’s agenda
As Austria takes over the reins of the EU presidency for the first half of 2006, it has indicated its intention to wrap up a deal between Member States on the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme for research (FP7) to ensure that it kicks off on time in 2007.
bulletBrochures & Reports
- The fight against obesity: Examples of EU projects in the field of nutrition and obesity
bulletOfficial documents
- Life Sciences and Biotechnology – a Strategy for Europe; Third Progress Report and Future Orientations (plus Annex)
bulletBiopress selection
- Several new articles added
bulletNews Alerts
Independent expert group urges Europe’s leaders to take radical action on research and innovation “before it is too late”
In a final report submitted to the European Commission today, an independent Expert Group has called for a Pact for Research and Innovation to be signed by political, business and social leaders to show their commitment to creating an Innovative Europe.
bulletQuality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme
Implemented under the Fifth Framework Programme (1999-2002)


bulletOn the biological security of genetically modified cereals: Effects of transgenic plants on beneficial fungal microorganisms
bulletDeliberate release of glyphosate tolerant H7-1 sugarbeet for the use in field trials in Castilla y León (Spain). This application under Directive 2001/18/EC, Part B is for deliberate release of sugarbeet plants, derived from transformation event H7-1 (which is tolerant to treatment with glyphosate), to complete residue data after application over the crop of glyphosate herbicide.
bulletField trials of genetically modified herbicide tolerant maize event GA21 to be carried out between 2006 and 2009.
bulletRelease into the environment of genetically modified potatoes with increased amylose content
bulletRelease into the environment of genetically modified potatoes with increased amylopectin content

To access the summary notification please visit the website:

Greece to lift its ban

BRUSSELS (MarketWatch) -- The European Commission Monday ordered Greece to lift its ban on one type of U.S. biotech giant Monsanto Co.'s (MON) genetically modified corn seeds.

In September 2004, the Commission authorized 17 different strains of Monsanto maize for planting and sale within the 25 E.U. countries. But the Greek government banned the seeds in April 2005, saying it believed the products presented a health danger. "Greece did not supply the necessary information to support this move," the document said. The Monsanto product "had been fully assessed as safe for both human and environmental health."

European GMO labeling thresholds impractical and unscientific
- NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY 24, 23-25 (2006), By Florian Weighardt
via Milano 1095, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy.

To the editor:

First, no data are available on whether different lines of the same plant species exhibit a conserved ratio between the weight of what is considered an ingredient and the number of genomes contained in it. Second, it is well known that some species of cultivated plants, like maize (Zea mays), show significant intraspecies variation in nuclear DNA content. Third, if we consider diploid organisms, both the genetic modification and the species-specific reference marker could be found in homozygosis or in heterozygosis. As a consequence, the ratio between the genetic modification and the normalizer could be 1:1, 1:2 or 2:1. Finally, the ploidy of the tissue that the ingredient is derived from could vary from the usual diploid asset of organisms. Several cultivated hybrid plants are tetraploid or polyploid. In addition, the endosperm of seeds, composed mostly of starch-containing cells, is a triploid tissue arising from the fusion of a sperm nucleus with two polar nuclei of the egg cell. In some seeds, for example in maize, the endosperm persists as a storage tissue and is used to nourish the germinating seedling16. These facts, along with what is described in the previous point enhances the degrees of variability of the ratio between the GM trait and the species-specific normalizer.

Taken together, these problems create an unclear environment in which the regulations are unenforceable using the molecular analytical tools available. Every analytical result could potentially be invalidated by means of scientific data demonstrating that the CRMs used are not representative for the samples under analysis.


Asia 'leads Europe' in science spending

UNESCO's Science Report 2005 shows that Asian nations, and China in particular, are providing an increasing share of global spending on research and development.

Germany Starts Sowing GM Seeds
Deutsche Welle, Dec. 22, 2005

In a sharp departure from existing policy, Germany's new agriculture minister is promoting genetically modified technology instead of organic farming. Now, the first three types of GM corn have received approval.
Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred, which produce the three types of newly approved MON 810 seed for general use and sale by German farmers, hailed the decision as a break from the ideological agriculture policy propagated by former agriculture minister and Green party member Renate Künast. "The seeds have been stuck in the system for a while," said Heinz Degenhardt of Pioneer Hi-Bred. "The regular approval process could have actually been finished a long time ago, if it was not slowed down for political reasons."

European Union farm chief defends more GMOs in organic farming
Reuters, 24 Jan 2006

BRUSSELS: Europe's farm chief defended her plans to permit more genetically modified (GMO) content into organic farming, saying it would be too costly for farmers to achieve higher purity in their organic produce.
Questioned about her draft law that would allow products with up to 0.9 percent of GMO content to retain a label of ''EU organic'', EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel yesterday said the recommended labelling threshold was a realistic one.

''It's a standard threshold in the regulation,'' she told a news conference, referring to the 0.9 per cent label level that is already enshrined in current EU law on biotech food and feed.

In Praise of GM Foods - Peter Raven
Irish Times, January 21, 2006, Excerpt... (Thanks to Vivian Moses)

It comes as a surprise to hear a passionate advocate of environmental conservation and biodiversity unequivocally defend the use of biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) food. Peter Raven insists, however, that opposition to the development of GM crops is "emotional, personal, and political".

He argues that there is no scientific evidence that either GM crops or the transmission of their genetic modifications to wild species threatens human health or ecosystems.

Starvation, he says, is the real threat to human health. The scale of this threat creates a moral imperative to increase agricultural productivity. He claims that the resultant rise in yields per acre will mean we can reduce the amount of land dedicated to agriculture. Biodiversity could then flourish in land restored to wild habitat.

Europe is Missing Out - Marc Van Montagu
....on the agricultural biotech revolution, says pioneering agbiotech scientist
SeedQuest, January 19, 2006

Brussels, Belgium - Prof. Dr. Marc Van Montagu, Chairman, International Plant Biotechnology Organisation (IPBO), Gent University and president of the European Federation of Biotechnology, told journalists at a press conference in Brussels, today, that Europe is missing out on the biotech revolution in agriculture. Europe is lagging behind its worldwide competitors and European farmers are deprived of access to one of the fastest growing technologies in agriculture.

Marc Van Montagu is the inventor of the technology to create genetically modified (GM) plants and produced the first GM plant in Europe. He is convinced that technology transfer and plant biotechnology research oriented to the needs of the developing countries is important: "Fighting the vicious circle of hunger and poverty is the most urgent task that faces our society, and will require a reformulation of current models of agriculture," he said.


Case of Irina Ermakova
Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, 5 December 2005

The Committee has examined a report provided to it by Dr Irina Ermakova containing preliminary results from a study of genetically modified (herbicide-tolerant) soya that was conducted in Russia. The report described reduced growth and increased mortality amongst pups born to rats given soya flour from GM soya beans, when compared with those born to rats given non-GM soya flour or a control group given no soya. The report lacks detail essential to meaningful assessment of the results. In particular, it does not provide key information concerning the composition and nutritional adequacy of the test diets. Also, the Committee notes that these are preliminary results; the study has not been quality-controlled through the normal peer review process preceding scientific publication.

In conclusion, there are a number of possible explanations for the results obtained in this preliminary study, apart from the GM and non-GM origin of the test materials. Without information on a range of important factors conclusions cannot be drawn from this work. The Committee Secretariat is contacting Dr Ermakova to obtain further information on this study and the Committee will consider any further information that can be obtained and review the position if a full report of the study is published in the peer-reviewed literature.

The Committee also notes that Dr Ermakova's findings are not consistent with those described in a peer-reviewed paper published in 2004.1 In a well controlled study no adverse effects were found in mice fed on diets containing 21% GM herbicide-resistant soya beans and followed through up to 4 generations.

Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to Drive Up Food Costs

Makati City - Compliance with the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to the Convention of Biological Diversity will increase the cost of imported food and feeds, a study of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IFATPC) said recently.

The study said developing countries would be particularly affected and compliance with the protocol could eventually defeat the role of biotechnology in helping address health and food supply problems, especially in poor countries. A study on the annual cost of testing for LMOs in US and Argentine maize export, for example, revealed that for each sample, the additional cost to determine if it the shipment contains LMOs would amount to $936,650. The identification of the LMOs would cost $2,342,900, while determining the quantity of the LMOs would require $4,356,900.

Consumer Benefits and Acceptance of Genetically Modified Food
- John G. Knight, Damien W. Mather, David K. Holdsworth, Journal of Public Affairs, Vol. 5 (3-4), 226 - 235; Oct 27, 2005 (via Vivian Moses)

Abstract - Much of the resistance towards genetically modified foods appears to stem from public perceptions that they offer no consumer benefits. In order to test whether clearly defined consumer benefits would change behaviour, a purchasing experiment has been conducted in New Zealand, where the genetically modified issue has been highly politicized.

Cherries labelled as spray free-genetically modified, organic or conventional were offered for sale in a roadside stall, with price levels manipulated to test price se2nsitivity of the different options. Approximately 27% of consumers proved willing to purchase genetically modified labelled cherries when all three types were priced at the prevailing market price, and this market share increased to 60% when the price was discounted by 15% and organic was priced at a 15% premium.

Biotechnology research honoured
Cornell University, January 10, 2006, By GENEVA, NY - Anthony 'Tony' Shelton, Cornell University professor of entomology at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, received the 2005 Recognition Award of the Entomological Society of America (ESA).

Sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection, the award recognizes entomologists who have made, or are making, significant contributions to agriculture. The award was presented on December 15 during the ESA's annual meeting, which was held in Ft. Lauderdale. Shelton's research and extension program focuses on developing sound pest management strategies for vegetables. Components of his program, which are both basic and applied, involve insect population ecology, insecticide resistance, biocontrol, plant resistance, agricultural biotechnology, insect movement, trap cropping, and plant productivity as a function of insect infestations. Shelton is also the director of international agriculture at Cornell, with projects in Central America, India, Vietnam, and China.

India Recognizes Norman Borlaug with a National Award
C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India

Norman E Borlaug, the still vigorous 91-year old Iowa plant breeder, who was recently awarded the U.S. National Science Medal, is honoured by the Government of India, with Padma Vibhushan, the second highest national award, announced on the eve of the Indian Republic Day (January 26, 2006).

Where Next for Genome Sequencing?
Peter Raven, Claude Fauquet, M. S. Swaminathan, Norman Borlaug, Cristián Samper; Science, January 27, 2006; Vol. 311. no. 5760, p. 468

The successful sequencing of the human genome, along with those of Arabidopsis thaliana and rice, raises the question of what we should do next with the significant sequencing infrastructure and technical capacity that has been developed. Although the costs of sequencing are falling, sequencing eukaryotic genomes still requires a minimum commitment of U.S. $5million to $10 million. For those who can raise such funds, the resulting information will provide an invaluable resource, underpinning research and technology development in their chosen organism and related species for decades to come. Our concern is to ensure that this powerful capacity directly addresses the needs of the majority of the world's people. Cassava (Manhiot esculenta Crantz) offers one such important opportunity. Cassava retains a largely untapped potential for genetic improvement.


Is There a Bug in Your Juice? New Food Labels Might Say
Jane Zhang, The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2006;  Full article at

Food makers may not want to dwell on it, but the ingredient that gives Dannon Boysenberry yogurt and Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice their distinctive colors comes from crushed female cochineal beetles.
Pressed by consumer advocates, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to publish a food-labeling proposal online today that would require companies to disclose when a food contains beetle-derived colorings including vivid-red "carmine" and bright-orange "cochineal" (pronounced coach-in-EEL). The public has 60 days to comment before a final ruling is made.

China and GMOs : The Rules
- High Plains Journal, By Tan Lin, Jan 9, 2006

BEIJING (DTN) In June 2001 the Chinese State Council published regulations pertaining to the development, distribution and use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture. The document has eight chapters and 56 articles and covers GMO research, testing, producing, processing, distributing, importing and exporting. But, as with most of China's regulations, it's vaguely worded. It is, however, the fundamental document for GMO issues in agriculture business.

Almost Half of Soybean Crop in Brazil is Transgenic
Eduardo Mamcasz, Agencia Brasil, Jan. 23, 2006

Brasília - Nearly half the 58 million tons of soybeans that Brazil expects in its next harvest are transgenic. This phenomenon, which is no longer just a subject of debate, but a significant aspect of the new Brazilian agricultural landscape, was the focus of a special program, "Soybeans - A Big Business," broadcast on Friday (20) by the Radio Nacional and available in its entirety to listeners on the Agoncia Brasil's website.

Ghana Can Produce Own Genetically Modified Seeds
Isabella Gyau Orhin, Public Agenda News, Jan17, 2006 
The Coordinator of the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) for West and Central Africa Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan has said Ghana can produce its own genetically modified seeds that farmers can keep.

Genetically modified papaya, rice, abaca now in the pipeline
- Business World (Philippines), January 12, 2006

Amid global developments in the use of biotechnology in crops, the development of genetically engineered papaya, rice, eggplant, and abaca will soon add to the current commercialized use of genetically modified corn.

The controversies and misgivings about Bt cotton
The Hindu, January 10, 2006 BANGALORE –

The controversies and misgivings about Bt cotton and biotechnology are on account of the failure to provide information about their benefits to farmers, Minister for Agriculture K. Srinivasa Gowda said on Monday. Inaugurating a three-day international conference on "Biotechnology approaches for alleviating malnutrition" at the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS, GKVK campus) here, the Minister said awareness of the benefits of biotechnology (BT) should be created among farmers.

Philippines' GM Crop Areas
Asia Pulse, January 12, 2006 MANILA,

Areas planted to genetically modified (GM) plants in the Philippines grew by 40 per cent last year, signifying Filipinos' acceptance for biotech crops, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2005 executive report bared. "This unprecedented high adoption rate reflects the trust and confidence of millions of farmers in crop biotechnology," Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the ISAAA told media during the launch of the ISAAA 2005 executive report in Makati City.

Bt corn in Philippines
University of Philippines study cites genetically modified corn's potentials BUSINESSWORLD, By Romer S. Sarmiento, January 11, 2006

General Santos City - In a study, titled: "The economic impact of Bt corn in the Philippines," Dr. Jose Yorobe, Jr, a fellow at the UPLB College of Economics and Management, said Bt corn harvest is 34.32% higher than non-Bt corn varieties in either wet or dry seasons. "In terms of pesos, Bt corn growers earn P1.34 more per kilogram than their non-Bt corn counterparts," Mr. Yorobe's study covered 107 Bt corn and 363 non-Bt corn farmers in the provinces of South Cotabato, Bukidnon, Isabela and Camarines Sur. For all locations in both dry and wet seasons, farmers earned an additional P10.132 per hectare for planting Bt corn, according to his study released recently.

Philippines rejects GMO mandatory labeling 
Business World Online, January 3, 2006, By Paul C.H. How

The chairman of the Philippino House agriculture and food committee has rejected a proposal to require labeling of genetically modified products, saying this would be unfair to producers. This was in reaction to a call by several local government units and various sectors for lawmakers to legislate mandatory labeling as a safety measure.

Lanao del Sur Rep. Benasing O. Macarambon, Jr. said manufacturers of genetically engineered products would be put at a disadvantage against organic producers by having to spend for additional labeling costs. GMO producers, he added, would sell at much higher prices than unlabeled organic goods. Mr. Macarambon allayed fears about the safety of GMO products. He said consumers have become paranoid due to opposition to GMOs. He added that so far, there had been "no record of damage to humans" as a result of consumption of GMO products. "There have been no clear indications as to adverse effects [GMO5 may bring]."

Shanghai to build GM food farm, Jan. 6, 2006

Shanghai will build its first outdoor experimental farm to test security procedures for growing genetically modified plants and crops, a key official told Shanghai Daily Thursday.

The new farm, to be completed by the end of the year in Qingpu District, will become a major base for tests on locally developed GM plants and food crops, including corn and fruit.

Zambia ban on Bt corn
Reuters, January 06, 2006 LUSAKA –

Zambia said a ban on gene-altered maize remained in force despite pressure from millers arguing it delayed shipment of grains to the southern African country. Zambia faces severe food shortages and the government declared a national food emergency last year to attract more donor support to save people on the brink of starvation. It says 1.7 million people need food handouts because they are far too poor to afford commercial purchases. "We have never gone back on the ban on GM (genetically modified) maize," Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana told Reuters in Lusaka. He added that all maize being shipped in from South Africa and other destinations had to be tested to verify it was GM-free.

Wasps deliver deadly virus to crop pests

Wasps can be loaded with a lethal virus in a new, cheaper and more environmentally friendly method of pest-control.

Genetic research to rescue Mexico's tequila plant

Mexican tequila producers are turning to modern plant science to improve the genetic diversity and resilience of their crop, reports Rex Dalton. (Source: Nature)

Dead Sea gene
A MAPK gene from Dead Sea fungus confers stress tolerance to lithium salt and freezing-thawing
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2005; 102: 18992-18997

The Dead Sea is one of the most saline lakes on earth, is about ten times saltier than most oceans, and may well be the breeding place of the most salt-tolerant microorganisms in the world. To adapt to such salt stress, microorganisms synthesize low molecular mass compounds, such as glycerol, to balance the high external osmotic pressure.

Eurotium herbariorum, a common fungal species, was isolated from the lake, and it is this species that figures in a research article from the December 27, 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Yan Jin and colleagues from the University of Haifa, Israel find that "A MAPK gene from Dead Sea fungus confers stress tolerance to lithium salt and freezing-thawing: Prospects for saline agriculture."

Researchers isolated and sequenced the EhHOG gene from the fungus. The gene, which codes for a protein that allows cells to produce more glycerol, was found to be highly similar to genes from Aspergillus nidulans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae,and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. When expressed in yeasts made susceptible to high salt conditions, the gene allowed the yeasts to survive even under saline stress.

Researchers found a similar gene in peas (Pisum sativum) which could be used to render plants resistant to salt stress. They, moreover, state that "The Dead Sea is potentially an excellent model for studies of evolution under extreme environments and is an important gene pool for future agricultural genetic engineering prospects."

Transgenic corn and iron deficiency, by Wagdy Sawahel, Jan 4, 2006

Scientists have shown for the first time how genetically modified (GM) maize could be a cost-effective way of tackling iron deficiency in developing countries.

Nearly two billion people, mostly women and children in poor countries, get too little dietary iron. This is the main cause of anaemia, which can stunt children's development and cause chronic fatigue in adults.

Lead researcher Eva Stoger of Aachen University in Germany and colleagues modified the maize by adding genes to its DNA from both soybean and the Aspergillus niger fungus.

The two genes work together to retain iron from the soil and make it available in a form that humans can absorb.
The soybean gene produces a protein that binds to iron the plants take up from the soil - a fact that has been known for a while. Once in the maize kernel, however, the iron can get locked away in such a way that people would not be able to benefit from eating the enriched maize.

Stoger's team, who published their findings in the December 2005 issue of Plant Molecular Biology, showed that cells from the human intestine absorbed three-times more iron from the GM maize than from unmodified maize.

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