News in May 2006
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Genetics of Industrial Microorganisms
Location: Prague, Congress Centre
Date: 27June 2006.

Solar cooking and food processing international conference
Location: Granada (Spain)
Date: 12 - 16 July 2006

Workshop on capacity building for sustainable development
Location: Trieste, Italy
Date: 10 - 13 October 2006

International Symposium on Molecular Farming in Plants
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Date: 13 - 15 June 2006

World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing 2006
Location: Toronto, Canada
Date: 11 - 14 July 2006

2nd annual Agri-Food Innovation Forum
Location: Toronto, Canada
Date: 11 - 14 July 2006

Books and Papers

New desert science dossier

SciDev.Net has launched a new resource for policymakers, teachers and researchers. Produced with the support of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the dossier addresses science and policy issues relating to drylands and desertification.

OECD biotechnology statistics – 2006

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just published "OECD biotechnology statistics - 2006" by B. van Beuzekom and A. Arundel. The 157-page report includes data for 23 OECD countries and 2 observer countries, plus China (Shanghai) and comparable indicators given include the number of biotechnology firms, business expenditures on biotechnology research and development (R&D), biotechnology R&D in the public sector, biotechnology employment, and sales of biotechnology goods and services, plus patents, venture capital, genetically modified (GM) crop hectares and GM field trials. See (850 KB) or contact for more information.

IFPRI discussion papers on regulation of GMOs

As part of its EPT (Environment and Production Technology Division) Discussion Papers series, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has recently published "A gap analysis of confined field trial application forms for genetically modified crops in East Africa: Evaluating the potential for harmonization" by N.A. Linacre and J.I. Cohen. See (302 KB) or contact for more information. IFPRI Division Discussion Papers contain preliminary material and research results and are circulated in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment.

World Bank papers - GM cotton

As part of its Policy Research Working Paper series, the World Bank has recently published 2 studies on genetically modified cotton. The first, paper 3917, is entitled "Recent and prospective adoption of genetically modified cotton: A global computable general equilibrium analysis of economic impacts" by K. Anderson, E. Valenzuela and L.A. Jackson. The second, paper 3918, is entitled "The World Trade Organization's Doha cotton initiative: A tale of two issues" by K. Anderson and E. Valenzuela. The Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates findings of work in progress to encourage the exchange of ideas about development issues. See or contact for more information.

Threshold of Toxicological Concern - a tool for assessing substances of unknown toxicity present at low levels in the diet - Type: Scientific peer reviewed article - Issue date: 09/05/2006 – Produced by: ILSI Europe a.i.s.b.l. - Author(s): Susan Barlow

Short description: Through diet, mankind is exposed to a large variety of chemicals, both of natural and man-made origin. Many of these, especially the man-made ones, have undergone extensive risk assessment to determine their safe exposure levels. Increased sensitivity of analytical instruments has led to the detection of compounds in food at concentrations that were previously too low to be detectable, and this development is expected to continue. To prioritise and test the safety of these chemicals, scientists from academia, government and industry jointly invest considerable time and resources, and sacrifice many animals. Nevertheless, it is clearly not feasible to test all known chemicals and probably unnecessary to apply full toxicological evaluation.

Europe – EU

European Science Advice Network for Health, EuSANH

Short description: The overall goal of the European Science Advice Network for Health is to share information and expertise between science advisory bodies in Europe active in the field of health, to avoid duplication of effort and facilitate an evidence-based health policy within European countries and throughout Europe.  (upon registration).

BASF expands crop biotech capabilities, 26/05/2006

BASF's acquisition of CropDesign, a Belgian biotech company, will help establish the German chemical giant as a leader in the development of important crop traits in corn, soy bean and rape seed.

The acquisition complements BASF Plant Sciences existing gene discovery activities and extends its position in access to agronomically important genetic traits. CropDesign specialises on traits for yield-enhancement, drought tolerance and improved nutrient use efficiency of crops such as corn and rice. BASF's recently announced plans to invest $320 million over the next three years in the development of what it calls 'next generation' biotech crops. This announcement, together with the recent acquisition, demonstrates BASF's intention to expand its involvement in agriculture and nutrition.

"BASF has identified plant biotechnology as the largest of five key future-growth clusters," said Dr Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science. "CropDesigns excellent portfolio of important agronomical traits will significantly strengthen our product pipeline of higher yielding crops," said Hans Kast, president and CEO of BASF Plant Science.


Is the Cartagena Protocol a waste of time and money?

SciDev.Net readers debate the relevance of a UN agreement intended to protect biodiversity from potential threats posed by genetically modified organisms.

Hubert Zandstra, emeritus director general, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru:
Too often, the environmental benefits of GM crops are ignored. Farmers growing them can substantially reduce their use of farm chemicals, whose threats to human health and the environment are increasingly well documented. Using conventional breeding approaches instead of GM technology to develop pest-resistant crops is not easy.

One area of continued concern is the impact of gene flow from GM crops to traditional varieties and wild relatives in regions where our major food crops originated. These dangers can be managed with practical protocols and constant vigilance.

Martin Livermore, consultant, Cambridge, United Kingdom:
We have to get our priorities right: why continue to spend more time and effort on an issue when earlier concerns about GM have been shown to be unjustified, and when developing countries could be concentrating on using their genetic resources for the benefit of their citizens? International agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol foster bureaucracy and processes that are hard to stop. There are better ways to use our energies and resources than waste them pursuing the sterile path of the biosafety protocol.

Merete Albrechtsen, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Denmark:
Far too many resources are spent on fruitless discussions and meaningless experiments regarding GM safety. These resources should be used to implement biotechnology for the benefit of everyone.

Josias Corr?a de Faria, National Rice and Beans Research Center, Brazil:
GM technology has been treated with the same kind of suspicion as nuclear weapons. While safety is important, there is no need for panic. After ten years of intensive research and growing GM crops, there is now strong evidence that genetic engineering is as safe as any genetic manipulation achieved through traditional crop breeding in the past. In Brazil, a lack of public understanding of GM technology is the main barrier to its acceptance.

Symon Mandala, senior science and technology officer, Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology, Malawi:
The Cartagena Protocol is both irrelevant and obsolete. Instead, resources must be channelled into building scientific capacity in developing countries. This would help them to make informed decisions on GM technology and to harness and safely manage modern biotechnology to meet the challenges of development. We need a better, more harmonised approach with a clear direction and timeframe to resolve concerns about modern biotechnology. Policymakers should base their decisions based on scientific data. Unfortunately, the debate seems to be dominated by politicians and other groups who choose to ignore scientific evidence.

Arab strategy to boost science literacy gets go-ahead

The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) has approved its first strategy for promoting science literacy as a tool for development in the 22 Arab states. The plans are wide-ranging, and include using television programmes, the Internet and printed publications, as well as science festivals and special events for schools to raise public understanding of science.

ALECSO will develop courses and workshops to help scientists communicate about their work and its historical, cultural and economic significance. It will also create an online database of educational resources, including suggestions for laboratory experiments and science trips for schools.

The strategy emphasises the importance of holding scientific meetings in the Arab world to promote science and technology as tools for development. Specialists from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia among others prepared the strategy. It was supported and coordinated by ALECSO with partial funding from the Libyan National Bureau for Research and Development and Libya-based World Islamic Call Organisation.

World Bank slammed over malaria policy

Researchers have accused the World Bank's malaria programme of medical negligence, dishonesty and breaking its promises.


Brazil launches lab for agricultural nanotechnology

Brazilian scientists are to use nanotechnology to strengthen natural fibres and refine how pesticides are applied.

Brazil fulfils US$200m pledge on frozen science funds

Brazil's government has fulfilled a promise to release US$200 million in research funding it had withheld as part of an economy safety net.


Technology boost for millions of Chinese farmers

Farmers in China are set to benefit from a US$8 million project to train them how to use relevant technologies.

The Young Professionals' Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) will be formally launched in November during the Global Forum on Agricultural Research in New Delhi, India.

The organisation is the brainchild of Balasubramanian Ramani, an Indian crop researcher based at the University of Hannover in Germany.

Under the plan, YPARD will encourage professionals under the age of 40 to share information and engage in policy debates on issues such as research priorities and genetic engineering.

Next month, it will create a website ( to host online forums and databases of young professionals' contact details. It will also list training opportunities, funding, jobs, conferences and relevant organisations.

Lebanon announces US$33 million science plan

Lebanon has announced a five-year plan to boost science, technology and innovation.

Iraqi scientists get free access to research journals

An online science library has been launched to help revitalise Iraq's beleaguered research community.

Saudi Arabia and Zambia to get science universities

Plans for private universities dedicated to scientific research and teaching have been announced in Saudi Arabia and Zambia.

Sowing trouble: India's 'second green revolution'

Suman Sahai argues that India's new agricultural biotechnology deal with the United States will take power away from farmers and endanger a rich genetic heritage.

Science communicators 'must promote public debate'

[SEOUL] Science communicators should encourage public debates about science and technology, rather than simply tell people about the subject, a conference has heard.

The call was made yesterday (17 May) at the ninth conference of the International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) in Seoul, South Korea.

New scientific findings

Researchers find malaria-resistant mosquitoes

Researchers who have discovered mosquitoes with natural resistance to malaria hope to find ways to eliminate non-resistant insects. (Source: Science)

Vaccine protects infected monkeys from Marburg virus

A vaccine against the Marburg virus has helped infected monkeys survive, a 'surprising result' say researchers.

Ancient trees reveal climate change in Pakistan

Snowfall has increased dramatically in northern Pakistan because of human-induced climate change, say researchers.

GM cassava has 'super size' roots

Scientists have used genetic modification to dramatically increase the number and size of cassava plants' starch-rich roots.

Despite Pesticide Reductions, Transgenic Cotton Fails to Improve Biodiversity
David Biello, Scientific American, May 2, 2006

A study of randomly chosen cotton fields reveals that although this genetically modified cotton did reduce pesticide use, it did not reduce use of herbicides nor did it improve biodiversity when compared to unmodified strains.

Single gene is both friend and foe to rice

One gene regulates rice's ability to reproduce as well as its ability to resist a major bacterial disease, say researchers.

GM cotton cuts pesticide use, says study

Growing genetically modified cotton can reduce the use of pesticides and does not harm non-target species, says a major study.

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