News in April 2006
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Ultimate Lithography and Nanofabrication for Electronics and Life Science
Location: Marseille, France. Date: 25 - 30 June 2006.

Trends in Nanotechnology
Location: Grenoble, France. Date: 4 - 8 September 2006

Agricultural Biotechnology Research for Public Goods and Private Goods: The Roles of University-Industry Relationships. Washington, D.C., May 1, 2006

Featured speakers include Roger Beachy, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and Lawrence Busch, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University. The program, which can be found at, addresses salient issues in the public and private sectors. A central purpose of the conference is to identify policy options for university-industry collaborations to foster both public science and commercial technology development in agricultural biotechnologies. A facilitated exercise will draw from contributions by speakers and the audience to discover innovative public policy alternatives and industry strategies to improve the relationships.

'Biosafety Research and Environmental Risk Assessment'
The 9th International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms. Jeju Island, South Korea, September 24-29, 2006;

Organized by the International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR), will explore the relationship between biosafety research and environmental risk assessment. The objectives of the 9th ISBGMO are to: 1. Promote discussion and broader understanding of current theory and practice of risk assessment among biosafety researchers, risk assessors and regulators in order to enable each to understand the contribution of the other in the risk assessment process. 2. Facilitate risk assessments by emphasizing the types of information needed. 3. Present the latest research on topical issues and new developments in the field of environmental biosafety.

Conservation of agrobiodiversity
Location: Ahmedabad, India Date: 27 - 29 May 2006

Science journalism workshop
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa Date: 28 - 30 March 2006

Environment 2007
Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Date: 28 - 31 January 2007

Bioenergy: Economic and Scientific Issues. The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research ( ICABR ) organizer of the 10th International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology: Facts, Analysis and Policies that will take place in Ravello (Italy) on June 29 - July 2, 2006, announces a pre conference event that will precede the inaugural session of the Conference.

Conference on electronic publishing and dissemination
Location: Leiden, The Netherlands Date: 6 - 8 September 2006

International Conference on Sustainable Agriculture for Food and Nutritional Security
New Delhi, India; May 25 - 27, 2006. Organised by: TERI School of Advanced Studies. Contact: Vibha Dhawan vibhad(at)

The proposed conference is envisaged as a forum for formulating a road map for food and nutritional security and sustainable agricultural practices in the twenty-first century. Link for the agenda at

Books, articles and databases

Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life.
Lee M. Silver, $16.98, Hardcover: 464 pages, Publisher: Ecco (June 1, 2006). ISBN: 0060582677

Lee Silver exposes the often dangerous consequences of a passion for spiritual and religious explanations that is innate in the minds of some people. His book is imbued with courage, suffused with humanity and written with grace." -- Matt Ridley

"A superb and sensitive account of the scientific facts" -- Lord Robert May

GMO-Compass Newsletter Issue 4, 31/03/2006

"The Future of Food" Movie Now Online Andy Apel
It is now possible to watch the movie, "The Future of Food," online. Here's the link:

Genetic Roulette - New book on GMOs by Jeffrey M. Smith-
GMO Pundit will look out for research results that address the issues touted by the book, which will appear August 2006.

Management of the Appropriate Agricultural Biotechnology for Small Producers:
Bolivia Case Study Teresa Avila and Juan Izquierdo, Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, Vol. 9 No. 1, January 15, 2006

The Bolivia study is part of an ongoing multiple case study organized by the FAO's Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the activities of the Technical Cooperation Network on Agricultural Biotechnology (REDBIO/FAO).

Full paper at

Video portal: UN Launches Online Video Portal in Partnership with Greenpeace, Friends of Earth and Organic Industry..

"The land that we all live on is the solid part of the Earth's surface known as the lithosphere. The surface of the Earth is shaped by a combination of natural processes, including volcanoes, shifts of rocks and sediments, and flows of river and ice.

Increasingly, human activity, agriculture, cities, mining, logging - also shapes the texture of the land. The stories in's land channel will cover the wonder and the blunders of life on land."

Chinese science journals given global reach
For the first time, 34 Chinese science journals that publish in English are available internationally via an online database.

Europe – EU

GM Maize for Bioethanol Production

The Swiss agribiotech company Syngentia recently submitted an application to the EU for the authorisation of a new line of GM maize intended to facilitate ethanol fuel production. This transgenic maize line (3272) possesses a gene isolated from a heat tolerant bacterium, which codes for a heat stable version of the enzyme alpha amylase. Alpha amylase breaks apart starch, which is the first step in ethanol production. The heat stable form of alpha amylase will remain active at high temperatures, accelerating the ethanol production process. The resulting ethanol will mainly be used as fuel, which can be mixed with petrol at a ratio of up to five percent.

The applicants are seeking authorisation for import and processing, but have chosen not to seek authorisation for cultivating 3272 maize in the EU. The scope of the application also covers use in food and feed. Animal feed is made from plant by-products of ethanol production. Authorisation for food use is being sought to exclude risks to human health in the event of unintended mixing.


Are Europeans Really Antagonistic to Biotech?
Rafael Pardo & Felix Calvo, Nature Biotechnology, v.24, p393; April 2006).

On the whole, the European population is largely inattentive to biotech advances but is globally positive about biotech. The European public employs a sort of 'risk rhetoric' that stays largely on the declarative or ritual plane and exerts little real influence on the perceived 'usefulness' of applications or people's readiness to 'encourage' them.

University Giessen announces the planting of transgenic barley
CheckBiotech, April 26, 2006, Translated by Mark Hutko.

The Justus Liebig University Giessen wants to plant transgenic barley on an experimental field-site. This would be the first time in Germany that such plants were planted outside of a laboratory, said professor Karl-Heinz Kogel on Monday in Giessen. It is expected that enough seed for about 5000 plants will be sown on a 12 square meter area. The scientists want to find out whether or not the transgenic plants have a detrimental effect upon beneficial soil fungi. Two barley varieties will be planted: one of which contains an additional gene which makes the plants resistant to pathogens. The second barley variety has an enzyme which allows it to be used as chicken feed. "It is out of the question that the barley variety spreads, or ends up in the food chain via animals", emphasized Kogel. The pollen of these plants cannot be dispersed by airborne means, and apart from that, barley is a self-pollinating plant and is fertilized only by its own pollen. "Spreading is out of the question". "Less fertilizer and pesticides necessary".

Senate sows seeds of GM ban in Poland.

Warsaw Business Journal, by Andrew Kureth, 24th April 2006. Poland's upper house of parliament has passed a bill on banning genetically modified (GM) seeds throughout the country, raising the specter of yet another clash between Warsaw and Brussels. The bill passed by the Senate effectively represents a nation-wide blanket ban on all GM crops. It still must be approved by Poland's lower house, the Sejm, and signed by the President before it becomes law. The bill was pushed through by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and some smaller parties, who fear contamination of non-GM crops and want to build Poland's image as an environmentally friendly country. So far, no GM seeds have been planted in Poland, and PiS members have suggested that the government could look to change the bloc's policy on GM crops. (Reuters).

The proposed ban has already drawn criticism from the European Commission (EC) - the EU executive - for potentially breaking EU regulations, specifically those ensuring a single market within the Union. The EC holds the position that any country banning GM crops must do so only when it is scientifically justified and crop-specific. Last year the EU's second-highest court upheld the EC's position, after Brussels blocked an attempt by Austria to create a GM-free zone. The EU has also threatened legal action against Italy for a law passed last year banning GM crops until all of its regions agree on regulations for the technology.

IOL, April 10 2006 Paris
Thousands of protesters in 70 countries demonstrated on Saturday in Paris against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), answering a call from the environmental organisation Greenpeace, it claimed. A spokesperson said there had been demonstrations in Australia, Bolivia, India, South Africa and the United States, among other countries. In France, the chief protest was held in the west of the country, with the organisers claiming 12 000 participants and the police putting the number at 5 000. The minister responsible for new legislation governing GMO crops is mayor of the town. Campaigner Jose Bove said operations against GMO crops would be resumed unless the government amended its planned legislation. Demonstrations occurred on a small scale in major French cities.

DuPont and Syngenta form joint venture to facilitate the out-licensing of seed genetics and biotech traits.
Wilmington, Delaware, USA, and Basel, Switzerland 10 April, 2006.

DuPont and Syngenta today announced in Chicago, Illinois the formation of a  joint venture and licensing agreements that will bring expanded choice to North  American farmers through broader access to the companies' proprietary corn and soybean genetics and biotechnology traits. for more information:


World Bank: Global assessment on agricultural science & technology gets new boost

Unique process involves governments, private sector, and civil society from around the world.

The World Bank today approved a $3 million Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a unique global effort that will evaluate the relevance, quality, and effectiveness of agricultural science and technologies - from organic to indigenous and traditional practices, to biotechnology and transgenic approaches.

"Agriculture is vital for the health and well-being of the world's poorest people," said Robert T. Watson, World Bank Chief Scientist and Director of the IAASTD project, "seventy-five percent of whom live in rural areas. We need to make informed decisions now in order to meet the future needs of growing populations and changing diets, and to improve the health and well-being of poor people. These decisions must also protect the environment and ensure broad-based economic growth, as little in our lives would be the same without the agricultural products that nourish and enrich us."

The IAASTD process brings together representatives from governments, UN agencies, the private sector, the scientific community, and civil society organizations from around the world to work together to give decision makers the tools and information they need to answer policy questions and to shape the future of agriculture. Over 400 experts from around the world are involved in the preparation of the IAASTD, which will:

bulletAnalyze new and existing technologies, and their impact on development,
bulletHighlight key uncertainties and risks, and
bulletPoint to where research and investment are most urgently needed.

For further information on Bank's GEF program, visit
For further information on GEF, visit
For more information on the IAASTD, please see the website:

Philippines and Cartagena protocol ABS-CBN INTERACTIVE, 10 April 2006

Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Romeo Recide of the Department of Agriculture said the implementation of biosafety protocol in the Philippines should be done on a calibrated basis.

Ratify the protocol - Saturnina Halos, head of the department's biotech advisory team, said the country has already been implementing the strict biosafety policy embodied in the Cartagena Protocol since 1990, so there is no reason for the Philippines not to endorse its ratification. "We are running out of time and we are running out of funds. The Philippines may no longer be able to get funding from the United Nations environmental program for strengthening of the country's biosafety if the government continues to delay the ratification," she said.

Eufemio Rasco, former dean of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, argued that the protocol was drafted based on the wrong assumption that biotechnology, particularly genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is a weapon of mass destruction. "The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was created by framers on the wrong assumption. It is already obsolete," Rasco said.

Clear-cut policy - Teresita Espino, head of the University of the Philippines' National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, wants the government to make a clear-cut policy starting with the proper identification of GMOs that are to be regulated. "Not all GMOs pose danger to the environment. We must identify the them and draft specific regulatory framework for each," said Espino, adding that GMOs are widely accepted in advanced countries. Some scientists believed that adopting the Cartagena Protocol might cause trade disruptions and could result in additional costs of up to US$10 million annually.

GM cotton researchers win award.
Australian Broadcasting Center, By Helen Carter, 27 April 2006.

Research that led to genetically modified cotton, Australia's first transgenic broadacre crop, has been awarded a prestigious award. Three CSIRO scientists were last night presented with an ATSE Clunies Ross Award for their work on Bt cotton. They were among researchers in the fields of environmental science, metallurgy, information technology and physics to be presented with an award, in recognition of their "outstanding achievements in the application of science and technology for the social and economic benefit of Australia". CSIRO's plant molecular biologist Dr Danny Llewellyn, plant breeder and agronomist Dr Greg Constable and entomologist Dr Gary Fitt were awarded jointly for their work in combating the moth Helicoverpa armigera, the most destructive pest to broadacre crops. "It used to cost A$200 million annually to spray cotton crops with pesticide to control the moth but now they only use about 10% of the insecticide they used to use," says Constable, the team leader. "The main issue was insecticide could contaminate land, air and water so this is safer for the environment and everyone as it only kills the moth, without harming other helpful insects, creatures or humans."

GM crops, drugs critical for India's development: minister
YAHOO NEWS, 19th April, 2006

Chicago - Biologically engineered crops and pharmaceuticals are critical to the long-term economic and agricultural security of India, the science and technology minister Kapil Sibal said at a biotechnology conference in Chicago.. India cannot afford not to invest in technologies that will boost production and can also serve to address the nutritional deficiencies of India's largely vegetarian population. "We can't close our eyes to biotechnology for agriculture," he said "At the same time we cannot deviate from the goal of sustainable development in terms of environment and the basic interest of the farmer and consumer safety.

Boosting science

Cuba Promoting Genetically Engineered Agriculture.
Cuban News Agency, April 23, 2006. Havana, April 21 (ACN)

Over 100 million genetically engineered plants have been produced in Cuban biotechnological institutions since their opening in 1988. According to Rafael Gomez Koski, organizer of the 7th International Symposium on Plant Biotechnology, taking place in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, this method is being used in the production of high-quality seeds year round and in the search for rapid cures of plant diseases. Villa Clara's Institute of Plant Biotechnology (IBP) has made great contributions in the research of a species of pineapple immune to harmful agents. In addition, the IBP is carrying out research to obtain resistant varieties of banana and papaya plants. The application of biotechnology in agriculture has saved some $29 million for Cuban economy. Among the advantages of this application are a reduction in the use of pesticides and decreased seed import.  Cuba's progress in the field of biotechnology is internationally recognized. The island has also exported technology for the creation of bio-institutes to Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, where there is an increasing demand for Cuban products.

Scientific literacy: a new strategic priority for China
China has announced a 15-year plan to increase public understanding of science, making the activity part of its official development policy for the first time.

Chinese science: forging the future
Richard Suttmeier and colleagues describe how the Chinese Academy of Sciences is changing to meet the challenges of China's long-term scientific ambitions. (Source: Science)

Arab League nations agree to boost science

The commitment was outlined in a declaration made yesterday (29 March) at a summit of the 22-member nations of the Arab League in Khartoum, Sudan.

The Khartoum declaration also calls on Arab nations to increase their research capacity, enact policies to promote quality in science, and encourage public-private research partnerships.

Experts meet for establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network.
CheckBiotech, April 26, 2006.

The first ECO Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network was held in Tehran on April 22-24, 2006, ECO Public Relations Department said in a press release on Tuesday. Experts in the field of biotechnology from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Republic of Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Turkey participated in the meeting. The meeting was inaugurated by Dr. Khayyam Nekoui, director general of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII). He emphasized the need for food security keeping in view the growing world population and benefits of biotechnology in this regard. The director general announced that ABRII is willing to provide access to its facilities for researches and students from the institutes and universities of member states for doing research in biotechnology. Secretary general of ECO, Askhat Orazbay, while mentioning the problems in agriculture like yield and quality losses from pests, inadequate water supply, drought, salinity, soil deterioration, low efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers and absence of appropriate biotechnological tools, said that the biotechnology may provide a significant step forward in increasing yields, improving nutrition and ensuring the sustainability of present fragile agriculture ecosystems.

Delegates from the ECO member countries also delivered Country Reports/Presentations on Biotechnology highlighting the policies, challenges and potentials/opportunities and activities in the field of biotechnology in the countries. The experts approved the three-year project and work plan for establishment of the ECO Agricultural Biotechnological Network (ECO-ABN). It is planned that the network will be operational within two years. These objectives of the ECO-ABN are networking of national biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and administrators, linking regional activities and collaboration to international organizations and laboratories, capacity building and enhancement in the relevant institutes of the member states and conducting joint studies and research projects. Harmonization of biosafety protocols and testing in the ECO Region will also be facilitated through the network.

The meeting established a Steering Committee to monitor the implementation of the project. The Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) will act as Regional Coordination Unit. The meeting identified the following areas for implementation of joint projects:

  1. Production of virus free potato mini-tubers and their propagation
  2. Preparation of Plan of Action for development/harmonization of biosafety regulations in the ECO region
  3. Intellectual Property Rights in biotechnology
  4. Capacity building e.g. establishment of basic labs and training of staff in the member sates.

During the meeting, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of Turkey announced that they can support potato tissue culture activities in Afghanistan and other relevant member countries as there is a great potential in this area. The Republic of Turkey also announced that they can set up basic laboratories in some ECO countries including Afghanistan and extend technical assistance to Afghanistan in fruit tissue culture. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan offered readiness to provide technical support to other member states for research purpose.

India, China Sign Agriculture Cooperation Pact
Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express,  March 31, 2006

India and China have signed an agreement for cooperation in agriculture with exchange of germplasm and development of transgenic crops top on the agenda.  The agreement was signed after official level talks between agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and his Chinese counterpart Du Qinglin. Mr Qinglin alongwith a six-member official delegation is presently on a visit to India.

Scientific projects

The road to better soybeans just got a big boost.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and USDA have joined forces to work on the study of plant and microbial genomics. The project funded by this partnership is an $11-million-dollar effort to decode the soybean genome. "There are a large number of challenges faced by the soybean industry," says Gary Stacey, Associate Director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology at the University of Missouri. The research project that Stacey works on will be one of three soybean checkoff-funded projects that will benefit from the DOE grant. The other two projects are headed by Perry Cregan, of USDA-ARS and Jan Dvorak, of the University of California-Davis. Stacey, Cregan and Dvorak have collaborated closely, and the results of the three projects are being compiled into a fully integrated physical-genetic soybean map that can be used by soybean scientists as a resource.

University of California, Berkeley joins US$17.6m African Biofortified Sorghum ProjectA

Project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges for Global HealthContact: Daniel Kamanga, Communications Director, Africa Harvest International: +27 82 787 4799; Email:

The Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges for Global Health, which seeks to harness the power of science and technology to improve the health of the world's poorest people. With the goal of improving nutrition to promote health, the ABS project focuses on developing a "super sorghum" that grows well in harsh climates and contains high levels of essential nutrients for the people in sub-Saharan Africa. The project is a 9-member consortium of public private and academic organizations led by a Project Steering Committee, which includes Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International ( ); DuPont, through its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (, ); and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research ( ). For more information on the ABS Project, visit

'Urgent need' for rice that tolerates climate change
There is an urgent need to develop rice varieties that can tolerate changes in climate caused by global warming, say scientists.

Genetically modified crops to survive global warming?

Here's a question for the 21st century: Can science save us from ourselves? Last week, attendees at a "Climate Change and Rice" planning workshop in the Philippines were told that global warming is already affecting rice yields in Asia. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the organizers of the workshop, said, "We need to start developing rice varieties that can tolerate higher temperatures and other aspects of climate change right now."

Researchers at IRRI have previously demonstrated that a one-degree rise in average temperatures directly lowers rice yields. The same is true for soybeans and corn. It hardly needs emphasizing how big this problem could be for the world, and in particular for poor farmers in the developing countries that are likely to feel the first impacts of climate change.

Tastier wines.
Chicago Tribune (KRT) Apr. 10

An insect's acute sense of smell enables it to sniff out succulent grape vines and in turn help vintners to produce tastier wines. At least that's the hope of Australian scientists who have begun extracting odor-detecting genes from insects with the goal of turning them into electronic sensors to help grape growers improve their crops. "We are cloning out and setting up assays for olfactory genes from insects," said Bruce Lee, director of food futures program for Australia's National Research Flagship.

Bananas that provide higher levels of vitamin A and iron.

Financed by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, James Dale, director of the center for tropical crops at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, is working on this project. The goal is to improve the health of Ugandans who survive on diets that are roughly 80 percent bananas, Dale said. To give bananas more nutritional diversity, Dale is importing genes from soybeans and corn as well as bringing in genes from other strains of bananas. "Since we are only using genes from plants, we hope this won't raise the political profile of our work too much," Dale said. If the scientific research proceeds as hoped, a healthier strain of banana could be available for planting by Ugandans in 2016, Dale said. Much of the time will be spent proving to regulators in Australia and Africa that the genetically modified bananas don't pose threats to the environment or the health of people who eat them, he said.

Research results

Genetic link to arsenic-related disease found
Indian scientists say a genetic mutation could increase people's susceptibility to a disease caused by arsenic poisoning.

Planting trees 'will not cancel out climate change'
The planet's plant life will not absorb excess emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as previously hoped, say researchers.

Climate change 'worse threat than deforestation'
By the end of the century, climate change could pose a bigger threat to biodiversity than deforestation, say researchers.

Nitrogen emissions threaten biodiversity 'hotspots'
The rising nitrogen emissions from developing nations will put biodiversity at risk, scientists warn.

Spend on science to beat brain drain, says WHO head
The director-general of the World Health Organization has urged African nations to invest in science to tackle the brain drain.

Genetic change helped pig microbe kill 38 Chinese
A bacterium that normally infects pigs appears to have changed genetically, potentially explaining why it killed 38 people last year.

Yeast 'factories' could produce key malaria drug
GM yeast ‘factories’ could become a cheap and productive source of the antimalarial drug artemisinin, currently in short supply, say researchers.

Plants tolerate temperature extremes better, grow faster. The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon), By Janet French, April 27, 2006. A University of Saskatchewan research team has, according to this story, discovered what it calls a "super gene" that makes crops more resistant to heat, Prof. Larry Gusta and his team are now, the story says, wooing biotech companies to use the gene in the development of newly resilient crops, which could help farmers frustrated by drought and wacky weather, with Gusta quoted as saying, "In a way, it is a super gene, and that's why there's several large companies interested in licensing."

Gusta and collaborator Albert Robertson, who is also a farmer, found a gene called Rob-5 is responsible for keeping a hardy perennial plant called brome grass tolerant to drought, heat and freezing. When researchers treated grass cells in a dish with a hormone called abscisic acid, they found it was the Rob-5 gene that sprang into action, spurring the creation of protein to help protect the plant from harsh conditions. Once they figured out which gene was responsible, the team created transgenic crops of canola, flax and potatoes by inserting the brome grass Rob-5 gene into those plants' genes. When they planted the crops in fields across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, they got a 25 to 30 per cent increase in crop yield -- and it was a dry year, Gusta added.

African soils being 'mined of life'
Much of Africa's farmland soil is degraded and nutrient-poor, says a new report.

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