News in July 2008
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The Codex Alimentarius Commission and its member countries approved on July 4
bulletthe Annex on Food Safety Assessment in Situations of Low-Level Presence of Recombinant-DNA Plant Material in Food (LLP Annex),
bulletthe Annex on Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant DNA-Plants Modified for Nutritional or Health Benefits, and
bulletthe Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Animals.
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION, 31st Session, Geneva, Switzerland, 30 June – 5 July 2000.

Books & Articles

Farm policy reform urgent amid rising world food prices, says Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries at a Glance: Press Release | Book Announcement | Book on Online Bookshop | Book on SourceOECD
Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects, 1996-2006
Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, Web dated Jul. 21, 2008

Genetically modified (GM) crops have been grown commercially on a substantial scale for eleven years. This paper updates the assessment of the impact this technology is having on global agriculture from both economic and environmental perspectives. It examines specific global economic impacts on farm income and environmental impacts associated with pesticide usage and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for each of the countries where GM crops have been grown since 1996. The analysis shows that there have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $6.94 billion in 2006 and $33.8 billion for the eleven-year period (in nominal terms). The technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 286 million kg and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops by 15.4%. GM technology has also significantly reduced the release of GHG emissions from this cropping area, which, in 2006, was equivalent to removing 6.56 million cars from the roads. [full text and tables at link above]

OECD: Environmental Performance of Agriculture at a Glance

Provides comprehensive data and analysis on the environmental performance of agriculture in OECD countries since 1990, covering soil, water, air and biodiversity and looking at recent policy developments in all 30 countries.

Now available from the Online Bookshop.
Open science in Europe

Scientists, policymakers, journalists and other professionals from around the world gathered at the third Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Barcelona, Spain, last week for an open discussion on science. Visit SciDev.Net's blog to read and comment on news and thoughts from our contributors.

Food Security Assessment, 2007
Stacey Rosen, et. al., USDA Economic Research Service (Outlook Report No. GFA-19), July 3, 2008

The number of food insecure people in the 70 lower income countries covered in this report rose between 2006 and 2007, from 849 million to 982 million. Food insecure people are those consuming less than the nutritional target of 2,100 calories per day. The food security situation of these countries is projected to deteriorate over the next decade. The distribution gap - an indicator of food access - is projected to rise from 44 million tons in 2007 to more than 57 million tons in 2017. This is more than seven times the amount of food aid received by these countries in 2006. Sub-Saharan Africa, already the most vulnerable region with the lowest calorie intake levels, will suffer the greatest deterioration in food security.

Planning Environmental Risk Assessment for Genetically Modified Crops: Problem Formulation for Stress-Tolerant Crops.
 - T. Nickson2008. Plant Physiology. 147: 494-502

A scientifically sound environmental risk assessment is required for crops derived from modern biotechnology (also referred to as genetically modified [GM]) prior to unrestricted release into the environment. The scientific principles underlying the environmental risk assessments completed for herbicide-tolerant and insect-protected GM crops commercialized to date are now being applied to crops currently under development that are modified for improved tolerance to abiotic stresses.

These principles, and the processes built upon them, have been shown to be sufficiently robust to provide the appropriate information for regulatory decision making and to ensure an adequate level of environmental protection. This article describes the initial steps in the environmental risk assessment process and illustrates an approach that could be taken for GM crops tolerant to an abiotic stress (e.g. water, salt, cold, and heat). The discussion below begins with an overview of the initial steps in an environmental risk assessment, known as problem formulation (US EPA, 1998).

A general overview describing how problem formulation has been applied for the first GM crops is presented next. Finally, the approach is applied to a hypothetical drought-tolerant maize (Zea mays) product as an example of how problem formulation can guide the environmental risk assessment for a specific abiotic stress tolerant crop.
Biopress selection - New selections of articles available

Editor's Choice Series: The Next Generation of Biotech Crops
Plant Physiology 147:3, July 2008

Bioinformatics, Genome Analysis, Biochemical Processes And Macromolecular Structures, Cell Biology And Signal Transduction, Development And Hormone Action, Environmental Stress And Adaptation To Stress, Genetics, Genomics, And Molecular Evolution, Plants Interacting With Other Organisms, Whole Plant And Ecophysiology, Systems Biology, Molecular Biology, And Gene Regulation.

EU Research for the Environment

New publication: The Role of Science and Technology in GEOSS
Issue III of " EU Research for the Environment " newsletter is available

Protecting Europe's biological data resources

Biologists are producing major benefits for society. But information on these benefits needs to be collated and made available to fellow scientists if these advances are to be fully exploited. Now the future of Europe's biological data resources has been secured following an award by the EU. The money will be used to develop the infrastructure for maintaining valuable research information. This will help Europe to retain its position as a world leader in developing new scientific knowledge.

The Tolerance of Food Contamination in Europe by Andrew R. Apel
Labelling Genetically Modified Food: The Philosophical and Legal Debate
Paul Weirich , Oxford University Press, Nov 2007, Pages: 272

This book surveys various labelling policies and the cases for them. It is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment of the debate about labelling genetically modified food. The contributors include philosophers, bio ethicists, food and agricultural scientists, attorneys/legal scholars, and economists.

Paul Weirich is Professor of Philosophy at University of Missouri-Columbia.

  1. A Scientific Perspective on Labelling Genetically Modified Food, Michael W. Pariza
  2. Genetically Modified Organisms for Agricultural Food Production: The Extent of the Art and the State of the Science, R. Michael Roberts
  3. Biotechnology and the Food Label: A Legal Perspective, Frederick Degnan
  4. Traceability and Labelling of GM Food and Feed in the European Union, Margaret Rosso Grossmann
  5. Genetically Engineered Animals and the Ethics of Food Labelling, Robert Streiffer and Alan Rubel
  6. Mandatory GE Labels and Consumer Autonomy, Peter Marie
  7. Market Evidence of Consumer Response to Mandated Genetically Modified Food Labels, Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Leonie A Marks, and Steven S. Vickner
  8. Frankenfood Free: Consumer Sovereignty, Federal Regulation and Industry Control in Marketing and Choosing Food in the U.S., Thomas O. McGarity
  9. Regulatory Barriers to Consumer Information, Philip G. Peters and Thomas A. Lambert
  10. Labelling GM Foods: Rights, Interests, Enforcement, and Institutional Options, Clark Wolf
  11. Different Conceptions of Food Labels and Acceptable Risks: Some Contingent/Institutional Considerations in Favor of Labelling, Carl Cranor
  12. Using Food Labels to Regulate Risks, Paul Weirich


International symposium on induced mutations in plants, Vienna, Austria
FAO and IAEA (web posting), June 30, 2008

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are organising the 'International symposium on induced mutations in plants' (ISIM) from 12 to 15 August in Vienna, Austria.

The following topics will be covered:

bulletmolecular genetics and the biology of spontaneous, physical, chemical and transposon-induced mutagenesis;
bullethigh throughput mutation screening techniques, including targeting induced limited lesions in genomes and other reverse genetic strategies;
bulletnew mutation induction techniques, e.g. ion beam implantation and activation of transposition;
bulletdevelopment, characterisation and management of various mutant germplasm collections;
bulletdevelopment of novel mutant traits and their application in crop breeding;
bulletmutational analysis and gene discovery of important crop characteristics (tolerance to abiotic stress, resistance to diseases and insects, quality and nutritional characteristics, etc.);
bulletsocioeconomic impact of widespread mutant varieties.
The symposium is tailored for scientists working in the fields of plant sciences, functional genomics and plant breeding as well as managers of both public and private institutions in these sectors. For further information
EFB, is pleased to announce a top speaker line up at this year’s European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology which is to take place this 15-17 September in Brussels, Belgium
"Microbial Stress: from Molecules to Systems", which will be held in Semmering, Austria, from May 7th - 10th, 2009. Please put this date in your diary now if you are interested in attending. Details of the meeting can be found here h
International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants (ISIM).  12-15 August 2008, Vienna, Austria.  "The year 2008 will mark the 80th anniversary of mutation induction in crop plants. The application of mutation techniques, i.e. gamma rays and other physical and chemical mutagens, has generated a vast amount of genetic variability and has played a significant role in plant breeding and genetic studies. The widespread use of induced mutants in plant breeding programmes throughout the world has led to the official release of more than 2600 mutant crop varieties. A large number of these varieties (including cereals, pulses, oil, root and tuber crops, and ornamentals) have been released in developing countries, resulting in enormous positive economic impacts. The International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants (ISIM) will be the eighth in the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme’s Symposium series dedicated exclusively to harnessing and disseminating information on current trends in induced mutagenesis in plants".

Workshop on Mixed Models for Plant Improvement:  2-5 November 2008, International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research, the University of Western Australia, Perth.  This workshop will present advanced statistical methods for the design of plant breeding trials and analysis of data in plant improvement programmes. Topics will include the design and analysis of single/multi environment and single/multiphase experiments. Methods will also be presented for the integration of molecular marker and pedigree information into the analysis. Workshop participants are expected to be currently engaged in plant breeding or closely allied fields, and have advanced undergraduate skills in genetics and biometrics.
China International Seed Summit
Shenyang.Liaoning Industrial Exhibition Center, September 10-12

China is the second lagest seed market, and China Seed Expo 2008 is the first National level and professional seed trade exhibition, it is strongly supported by China Ministry of Agriculture, Liaoning Provincial Government and industrial associations, it is also the first international-standard trade event of its kind in China. The Expo will feature about 500 exhibiting booths in an area of 12,000 square meters, showcasing the latest development of seed products and technologies around the world.

Guests and agenda:


The perils of neglecting water

A leading researcher warns that the world is facing an imminent water crisis that could perpetuate the current food shortage, and that spending must be increased on water research and development, as well as infrastructure, if such dire consequences are to be avoided h

GIPB (Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building) Knowledge Resource Center provides a wide array of plant breeding and related information, tools and resources, such as:
bulletA worldwide assessment of plant breeding capacity;
bulletNewly published plant breeding and related literature;
bulletOpportunities in training and capacity building;
bulletLinks to plant breeding news in the world media;
bulletAnnouncements of important events related to plant breeding;
bulletLinks to organizations and networks that have direct connections with plant breeding;
Click here to see these and other features. Enjoy your visit and send comments and suggestions to
UN Food Summit in Rome

At the opening of the recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted that food prices threaten to harm the world's poorest. World Bank President Robert Zoellick has suggested that food prices would set progress against poverty back seven years. National and international actors do need to take steps to limit the malnutrition and starvation that rising food prices will cause. But they also need to understand both the causes and consequences of their combined neglect of agricultural investment.

Harlan II: An International Symposium - Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, & Sustainability, 14–18 September 2008 — University of California Davis.  "Agricultural biodiversity is now at the crux of several societal trends and concerns that have gradually surfaced over the last decades. These include an increasing interest in the origin of agriculture as a major milestone in the evolution of humans; concerns about the loss of biodiversity not only of crops and farm animals and their wild relatives, but also natural ecosystems in general; an awareness of the role of agricultural biodiversity in ecosystem function and agricultural sustainability; and the public’s interest in learning more about food, fiber, and feed production, as it relates to the quality and health of agricultural products and the environmental impact of agricultural production".

Europe - EU

Working document from France Presidency

to Ad hoc Working Party on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) schedule at 5 September 2008 was published on July 24 as a AGRILEG ENV DS 751/08.

Scientific opinion of the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms
European Food Safety Authority, July 11, 2008


Hungary submitted to the European Commission additional information regarding the cultivation of genetically modified maize MON810 to support a safeguard measure initially notified, under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC, by the Hungarian authorities on 20 January 2005 to provisionally prohibit the use and sale of the authorised genetically modified maize MON810 on its territory. The European Commission received from Hungary a written submission made of four supporting documents.

As a consequence, the European Commission requested in a letter, dated 18 April 2008, the EFSA's Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Panel) to assess whether the information submitted by Hungary comprises information affecting the environmental risk assessment of existing information on the basis of new scientific knowledge such that detailed grounds exist to consider that the above authorised GMO, for the uses laid down in the corresponding consent, constitute a risk to the environment.

In the light of the information package provided by Hungary in support of its safeguard clause and, having considered all relevant publications, the GMO Panel concludes that, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, no new scientific evidence was presented that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of genetically modified maize MON810. The GMO Panel also concludes that no new scientific data or information was provided in support of adverse effects of maize MON810 on the environment and on human and animal health in Hungary.

Therefore, no specific scientific evidences, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, were provided that would justify a prohibition of use and sale of maize MON810 in Hungary.
Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Greece on maize MON810 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC - Scientific opinion of the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms
European Food Safety Authority, July 11, 2008


On 13 September 2007, Greece notified to the European Commission a ministerial decision concerning the extension of validity and amendment of an existing safeguard measure invoked under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC and Article 18 of Directive 2002/53/EC (safeguard clause) to provisionally prohibit the cultivation of the authorised genetically modified maize MON810 on its territory. The European Commission received from Greece a written submission, composed of two notes accompanied with supporting documents.

As a consequence, the European Commission requested in a letter, dated 18 April 2008, a scientific opinion as to whether there is any scientific reason to deem that the placing on the market of MON810 seeds is likely to cause any adverse effects on human health and the environment justifying the Greek safeguard measure.

In the light of the information package provided by the Greek authorities in support of its safeguard clause and, having considered all relevant publications, the EFSA's Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Panel) concludes that, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, no new scientific evidence was presented that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of genetically modified maize MON810. The GMO Panel also concludes that no new scientific data or information was provided in support of adverse effects of maize MON810 on the beekeeping industry in Greece, nor on human and animal health.

Therefore, no specific scientific evidences, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, were provided that would justify a prohibition of cultivation of maize MON810 authorised in Greece.
BASF Plant Science takes Amflora case to EU Court
BASF Plant Science (press release/web posting), July 24, 2008*II
bulletBASF filed action against the EU Commission for failure to act
bulletApproval for Amflora still not granted despite positive safety assessments and a 12-year approval process
bulletAmflora is a safe and environmentally friendly product that brings a yearly added value of more than Eur100 million to Europe's farmers and potato starch industry.
bulletThe Amflora approval process was initiated 12 years ago with the request for authorization submitted in August 1996.
bulletDuring the moratorium on genetically modified products between 1998 and 2004, no approvals for genetically modified plants where granted in the EU.
bulletBASF Plant Science resubmitted a dossier for cultivation and a dossier for food and feed use in 2003 and 2005, respectively, due to modified EU regulations.
bulletIn 2006, EFSA concluded for both dossiers that Amflora is as safe for humans, animals and the environment as any conventional potato.
bulletIn November 2006, Commissioner Dimas forwarded his proposal for authorization of cultivation of Amflora to the EU Member States.
bulletAfter two inconclusive votes in the Regulatory Committee in December 2006 and the Council of Agricultural Ministers in July 2007, Commissioner Dimas failed to adhere to the defined approval procedure defined by the EU and to adopt the proposal for cultivation.
bulletBASF addressed the issue through an open letter to Commissioner Dimas on April 17, 2008.
bulletThe dossier for food and feed use was voted upon in the Standing Committee in October 2007 and Council of Agricultural Ministers in February 2008. According to the defined EU approval procedure, the responsible Directorate-General Health and Consumers has been responsible for adopting the proposal since February 2008. * In its "orientation debate" on genetically modified plants on May 7, 2008, the Commission decided to request EFSA to prepare a new consolidated scientific opinion on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically modified plants by September 30, 2008. Such a marker gene is also used in Amflora.
bulletIn a press release following the debate, Commission President Barroso stated that Amflora will be approved "if and when" EFSA confirms the safety of antibiotic resistance marker genes.
bulletEFSA responded recently that an opinion can be finalized not earlier than by December 15, 2008.
bulletOn May 19, 2008, BASF Plant Science formally requested access to any documents in the possession of the EU Commission in connection with the authorization procedure for Amflora. These documents did not reveal any new scientific evidence regarding the safety of Amflora.
bulletToday, one year after the vote in the Agricultural Council, the last formal step prior to adoption of a decision, BASF Plant Science filed an action with the European Court of First Instance against the EU Commission for failure to act.

To get clear picture how EU works under the JUDr Stavros Dimas dictatorship, please compare:

EFSA GMO Panel reconfirms that the use of the nptII gene as a selectable marker in GM plants does not pose a risk to human or animal health or the environment

Last updated: 13 April 2007
Publication Date: 13 April 2007
European Commission adopts proposal on traditional varieties.  The European Commission approved a proposal on Friday June 20, 2008 to help preserve traditional crop varieties. EU Member States have already endorsed the proposal, which aims to protect seed varieties of agricultural crops which may be threatened by genetic erosion.  It will also enable small breeding businesses to supply markets with locally adapted materials.  The proposal foresees "derogations from the EU seed marketing legislation for seed varieties that are naturally adapted to local conditions, but which currently cannot be marketed because they do not fulfil certain criteria".
Farmers praise GM crops in EU study
Vanessa Mock, The Independent (UK), June 30, 2008

Scientists from the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's scientific body, surveyed more than 400 Spanish farmers who grew Bt maize - the only GM crop allowed for cultivation in the EU. They found they produced higher yields and earned up to EUR122 more per hectare (Ł50 per acre) than conventional maize farmers.

The European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, wants to remove regulatory obstacles to the controversial technology, arguing that GM crops could counter soaring food prices. However, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who takes over the EU presidency tomorrow, will be calling for more controls on GM organisms. Environ-mental groups accuse the GM industry of exploiting the global food crisis to win approval for its products.
INFO DAY on Biorefinery Joint Call
16 September 2008
Brussels, Belgium

The aim of this one-day event is to provide information on the Biorefinery Joint Call launched by the Research DG and the Energy & Transport DG. Underlining the relevance of the subject and the importance of the joint effort among different FP7 Themes, the European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik will open the event. The morning session will continue with a general presentation of the rationale for this Biorefinery Joint Call, its modalities for implementation, the call text and the different aspects that will need to be considered by the potential applicants in order to fully address the integration and multidisciplinary features of the joint call. The afternoon programme is dedicated to a brokerage event.

Further information & registration form
Cell therapy

Researchers define cell therapy as the transplantation of living cells for the replacement or repair of damaged tissue and/or cells. Hot on the heels of stem cell therapy research is a group of leading cell imaging experts who are participating in ENCITE, a four-year project supported by the EU with EUR 11 million in funding.
European Research Area logo

You can download the ERA logo in English, French and German, as well as guidelines for it's use.


The Scientific Solution
Rachel Sixsmith, Red Orbit, July 8, 2008

Dr. Julian Little, Chairman, Agricultural Biotechnology Council

This season, hundreds of potato growers are tentatively watching their crops for signs of one of the most virulent strains of blight to have so far evolved in the UK - genotype 13. Given these circumstances, a genetically modified (GM), blight- resistant crop could be a saviour to many potato growers - as could other kinds of GM crops to a number of growers.

A blight-resistant potato crop is currently being trialled in Leeds, but it was vandalised two weeks ago. One man who was particularly disappointed to hear of this crime is Dr Julian Little. But Little insists that, despite the vandals, there has been a "fundamental change" in the public's overall attitude towards GM. Little, who is also the public and government affairs manager for Bayer CropScience, could be right in his observation. Last month, the BBC ran a series of programmes on how GM foods can help us. Meanwhile, newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph are running articles on "Why We Need GM Foods". He also blames non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Greenpeace for taking advantage of this Zeitgeist. "They were in a situation where they could see an opportunity to promote organic farming... and demonise some of the more scientific parts of agriculture."

The EU is now under increasing pressure to ease up its policies, and some politicians are pro-GM. But the general consensus is that EU ministers are still uncomfortable with the idea.
A report by European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation Fefac, European traders in grains and oilseeds (Coceral) and welcomed by the Agricultural Industries Confederation warns that EU legislation based on zero tolerance of genetically modified varieties is restricting the flow of globally traded and adding to the rising price of raw materials. GM variety approval in the EU is continually frustrated at the political level and creating a widening gap in approvals between the EU and the rest of the world. The results have been dramatic and have effectively stopped imports of maize by-products.

Germany publishes online map of GM cultivation

Since the beginning of July, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has complemented its public register of commercially-grown or trial-released genetically modified organisms with an interactive map. While allowing easy orientation in the geographical distribution of GM crops country-wide, the resolution also may be sharpened even to the community level. Cultivation areas are listed separately on additional spreadsheets and users may choose between the read-out of commercial or trial fields. Detailed information on individual fields are given via links to a data base that begins the first introduction of the official register in 2005. The new map also features the possibility of checking for GM cultivation in a given community by entering its postal code.
Activists Destroy Three GM Fields in France
Sybille de La Hamaide and Laure Bretton, Reuters via PlanetArk, July 2, 2008

PARIS - Three fields of genetically modified (GM) maize were destroyed over the weekend in southwest France, the farm ministry said on Tuesday, calling the acts illegal and irresponsible for France's research sector. Attacks on GM tests have become common practice in France, Europe's largest grain producer. The attack, on Sunday night, was the first of the season. The attacks came only a few days after the promulgation of a new law governing the growth of GM organisms in France, which promises a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine of 150,000 euros when an experimental GM field is destroyed.

The experiments were carried out by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta and Pioneer, a unit of DuPont Co, near the city of Condom and another test, near Mauroux, was owned by US biotech giant Monsanto.

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, along with Research Minister Valerie Pecresse, condemned the action. "For the two ministers, this destruction of experiments aimed at testing new GMOs irresponsibly sap (France's) research capacity," the farm ministry said in a statement.
Europe needs to protect its transgenic crop research
Howard J. Atkinson & Peter E. Urwin, Nature, June 18, 2008

Sir - On 5 June 2008, our authorized, small-scale field trial of transgenic potato plants for nematode control was destroyed by people seeking to coerce government and society. It was one of only two trials authorized in the United Kingdom this year.

What is the distinction between burning university books 75 years ago and now destroying university research intended for publication in scientific journals? European governments must ensure that science in our universities can progress without coercion.

If EU governments cannot protect the trials they authorize, they should establish secure, vandal-proof national testing centres.
BBC Farming Today
BBC Radio 4, July 29, 2008

The professor in charge of a trial of GM potatoes has compared the trashing of the crops to the burning of books in Nazi Germany. The trial by Leeds University was supposed to last three years but was destroyed in June, just a few weeks after it had started. Professor Howard Atkinson was so frustrated he used a London press conference to attack anti GM campaigners. Friends of the Earth have called on him to apologise. Listen Again to hear more or download a podcast.

Nick, Southampton
I agree with Howard Atkinson - there are some people whose minds are closed to knowledge. I suspect activists trash GM crop trials because they know the results won't back up their biased position on GM. It seems that secret trials are the only way to go.As I care about the environment I hope we will see food from GM crops on our supermarket shelves sometime in the not too distant future.

Thomas Van Oss
The Friends of The Earth spokesperson who advocated public identification of all GM food trial sites this morning completely undermined that organisation's reputation for even-handednesses. How can we debate the pros and cons of GM if all the trials are sabotaged? Friends of the Earth should know better (or the spokesperson should be replaced). I have just cancelled my membership.

Link and more discussion at
High prices nudge Europe nearer to GM food
Sam Cage, Mantik Kusjanto, and Nigel Hunt, Reuters, July 8, 2008

ZURICH - Like many in Europe, Switzerland's Coop supermarkets do not specify whether goods are genetically modified -- none are. But a wave of food inflation may help wash away resistance to "Frankenstein foods". "I think there's a lot of resistance in Switzerland," said shopper Beatrice Hochuli, picking out a salad for dinner at a bustling supermarket outside Zurich's main station. "Most people in Switzerland are quite against it."

Consumers are rarely first in line to adopt new technologies: even with food prices up more than 50 percent since May 2006, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Price Index, relatively wealthy Europeans remain wary of foods derived from tinkering with the genetic make-up of plants.

The European Commission has said it believes biotech crops can alleviate the current crisis in food supply, although it added in June that expediency should not overrule strict scientific scrutiny of the use of GMO technology.

The market represents a substantial opportunity for GM companies: the European seeds market is worth $7.9 billion (4 billion pounds) from a global total of $32.7 billion, according to data from consultancy Cropnosis. The global GM seeds market was worth $6.9 billion in 2007 and is set to grow further.

Agrochemicals companies are riding a wave of high food prices and roaring demand for farm goods -- and Monsanto, DuPont Co and Switzerland's Syngenta AG have all raised 2008 earnings forecasts already this year.
Adoption and impact of the first GM crop introduced in EU agriculture: Bt maize in Spain
Manuel Gómez-Barbero, Julio Berbel, et. al., European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, June 2008


This report analyses the process of adoption by farmers of the only GM crop cultivated in Europe. Bt maize is a transgenic crop resistant to an important group of pests (the maize borers). The report used data from a survey carried out among 402 commercial maize farms, including both adopters and non adopters of Bt maize during three growing seasons (2002-2004). Farmers were based in three Spanish provinces (Zaragoza, Lleida and Albacete) situated in leading Bt maize growing areas of Spain. All farmers were producing maize for feed manufacturing.

The survey found that Bt maize, like other pest-control technologies, produced variable impacts on maize yields in different provinces, ranging from neutral to 11.8% yield increase. All things considered, the impact of Bt maize adoption on gross margin obtained by farmers in different provinces ranged from neutral to EUR 122/ha and year. In the survey, the reason most quoted by farmers for adopting Bt maize was "lowering the risk of maize borer damage" followed by "obtaining higher yields".
Presence of genetically modified organisms in food products must be declared
Moldova Azi, July 3, 2008

The presence of genetically modified organisms in food products must be included compulsorily in customs declarations from now on, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Violetta Ivanova told journalists after a Government sitting. In her words Moldova ratified a respective convention, which obliges our country to fulfill the convention's provisions, though there has been no evidence in the world that such products are harmful for human health. Genetically modified products will not be forbidden, but they must be marked in a compulsory order. Soya (61%), maize, rape and cotton may be among genetically modified products. When such products are used as food, they can cause allergic reaction or intoxication.


Nigeria: 'Genetically Modified Food Good for Nigeria'
Ekene Ezugwu, Daily Trust (Abuja) via, Jul. 16, 2008

At a recent roundtable Conference on the introduction of Genetically Modified Crops in Nigeria, the Minister of Science and Technology Chief (Mrs.) Grace Ekpiwhre said that in the specific case of Nigeria, the current agricultural growth is put at a meager 4.5% which is far below the ever increasing food demands of our rising population. As a way of short-circulating the problem, Mrs. Ekpiwhre made a strong case for the utilization of transgenic crop technology for increased agricultural productivity, better nutrition and improved crop resistance to pests and drought.

The National Biotechnology Development (NABDA) of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is currently spearheading the gains of "Biotechnology" to all sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Using various genetic manipulation techniques, many Crops such as Cotton, Cowpea, Corn, Rubber, Palm tree, Cassava, Cocoa and Rice are being improved upon to produce higher yields and make them resistant to pests, diseases and environmental stresses.

The agency has successfully developed bio-resource centers in some parts of the country, the most notable being the one at Odi, Bayelsa State.

The centres teach entrepreneurs to establish farms for small to medium scale commercial production of such items as fish, snail, cane rat (grass cutter) and mushroom. It is cheering to note that the products of the Farms can be developed to the volume required for export. Many of the items are viable export commodities with high demand in the regional and international markets.

By using tissue culture technique in collaboration with Raw Materials Research and Development Council and National Root Crops Research Institute, the National Biotechnology Development Agency is mass propagating elite varieties of cassava.

At present, tissue culture planting materials developed by the Agency for hundreds of economic and food crops including yam sweet potatoes, plantain, pineapple, passion fruit etc. are being sold to interested farmers.

In order to reap maximally from Biotechnology, a technology aptly described as the "technology of hope" for its vast potentials in the food, health and environmental sustainability, the federal government must facilitate demand-driven research projects that are relevant to given ecological zones as well as specific industries.
Potent potato to boost food security
Business Report (South Africa), Jul. 24, 2008

Johannesburg - The development of a genetically modified potato by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is a major boost for the biotech sector in South Africa, said AfricaBio executive director Jocelyn Webster. The potato developed by the council is resistant to the potato tuber moth, which causes losses of up to R40 million each year to the South African potato industry.

"To control the tuber moth, producers have to rely on insecticide spraying at weekly intervals, depending on infestation, from to eight to 12 times a year.
Malawi govt. okays research into genetically modified crops
Afrique-Actualité (Africa), June 30, 2008

Blantyre, Malawi - Malawi has finally opened its doors to genetically mod ified crops (GMOs) despite fears still lingering among consumer rights groups. "Yes, cabinet has approved the National Bio-technology and Bio-safety bill," said Alec Manda, the acting Director of the National Research Council of Malawi. Manda said with the policy now in place Malawi can now start using products that are genetically modified. He said what remains now was for scientists to start field trial in testing genetically modified crops developed outside the country.


Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. Overview
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, July 2, 2008

The following tables provide the data obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the June Agricultural Survey for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked if they planted corn, soybeans, or upland cotton seed that, through biotechnology, is resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded. Stacked gene varieties include those containing GE traits for both herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (Bt).

Study predicts crop-production costs will jump dramatically in 2009
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (press release) via EurekAlert, Jul. 23, 2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.  -  Soaring energy prices will yield sharp increases for corn and soybean production next year, cutting into farmers' profits and stretching already high food costs, according to a new University of Illinois study.

Rising fuel prices will make GM crops even more attractive than before, because they reduce the need for tillage and pesticide spraying.

DuPont Co. has received U.S. regulatory approval for the use of the herbicide tolerance trait Optimum GAT in soybeans. Optimum GAT seeds are resistant to both glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto Co. as Roundup, and ALS (acetolactate synthase) inhibiting herbicides. It is the company's first proprietary genetically engineered trait. Currently, the herbicide-tolerant soybeans sold by DuPont carry the Roundup Ready trait licensed from Monsanto. DuPont said it is planning demonstration trials in 2009 and 2010 and will introduce commercial soybean varieties with the herbicide tolerance trait in 2011. Pending regulatory approvals, the company said that it is planning to introduce the trait in corn in 2010.

The media released is available at

Monsanto's Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean has received regulatory approval in Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, the European Food Safety Authority has released a positive scientific opinion saying that the herbicide tolerant soybeans are safe for import as food and feed. Monsanto says that the GM soybean lines will be introduced on 1 million to 2 million acres for the 2009 season as part of a controlled commercial release, followed by a large-scale product launch of 5 million to 6 million acres scheduled for 2010. Currently, Roundup Ready 2 Yield is approved in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

The media releases are accessible at and
New soybeans produce 10% yield advantage
Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, July 11, 2008

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a Johnston-based unit of DuPont, launched Thursday what it is calling "a new generation" of soybean varieties designed to increase soybean yields by 40 percent during the next 10 years.

Burkina Faso joins countries growing Bt Cotton
Africa Science News Service, July 12, 2008

Burkina Faso has commercialized Bt cotton, making it the third African country after South After and Egypt to join the ranks of biotech crop countries.


China's huge biotechnology budget
Niu Shuping and Nao Nakanishi, Reuters, July 10, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - for research of genetically modified crops amid growing concerns over food security, a move scientists say may speed up commercial production of GMO rice or corn.

The State Council, or cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, gave the green light on Wednesday to a program aimed at promoting indigenous genetically modified crops (GMO), Xinhua news agency said. „There is significant growth in budget at between 4 to 5 billion Yuan ($584- 730 million) in the coming years," Lu Barong, a professor with Fusan University and also a member of the country's biosafety committee with the agriculture ministry. "Particularly a large budget was allocated on GMO safety research.“

Xinhua said the program aims to obtain genes with great potential commercial value whose intellectual property rights belong to China, and to develop high-quality, high-yield and pest-resistant genetically modified new species. China, the global leader in developing GMO rice, has put off commercialization of such varieties due to global consumer concerns over safety of transgenic crops, partly fuelled by GMO contamination also in rice products exported from the country. Xue said the programme also included research for livestock.

"GMO technology is the only solution right now for the country to raise yield and reduce use of pesticide, which is harmful for the environment," said Huang Dafang. China aims to produce 500 million tonnes of grain a year by 2010, but demand -- estimated at 518 million tonnes this year -- is projected to outstrip the pace of grain output.

Still, China will likely not have to import grain in the next year or two because it has ample grain reserves.
Food concerns prompt China to prioritize GM rice
Bill Smith, Deutsche Presse Agentur via Monsters and Critics, July 15, 2008

Beijing - China's leaders decided in early July to go all-out to develop genetically modified organisms (GMOs), prompted by rising prices and concerns that the nation of 1.3 billion people may become more reliant on expensive exports. Food prices have risen by around 20 per cent this year, helping to fuel inflation of about 8 per cent in the consumer price index. Premier Wen Jiabao led a meeting of the cabinet which said the development of GMOs was of 'great strategic significance to strengthening innovation in agricultural technology, lifting the level of plant cultivation, promoting higher efficiency and yield, and raising the nation's international competitiveness in agriculture.' Agricultural official Chen Yao recently said this year's target for rice production was 185.7 million tons, up by 0.1 per cent from 2007.

Agricultural scientists at China's Zhejiang University announced in March that they had developed a way to create 'selectively terminable' GM rice, a breakthrough which they hope will lead to the industrialization of GM rice seeds. The scientists said the pest- and disease-resistant GM rice plants can easily be killed through genetically conditioned high sensitivity to a specific herbicide, eliminating concerns about them becoming wild or cross-pollinating with normal rice plants.

The Zhejiang project's lead scientist, Shen Zhicheng, said genetic modification was the best way to increase food production and played down fears that experimental plants could be secretly used for mass production or mixed with unmodified varieties.

The third-largest country by land area possesses only 7 per cent of the world's cultivated land from which to feed one-fifth of the global population.

It already allows farmers to grow GM peppers, tomatoes and papaya, and it imports large quantities of GM soybeans, mainly from the United States.
Government Plans Development of Five Bio-Agricultural Parks
China Economic News Service, June 27, 2008

The Council of Agriculture (COA) has earmarked NT$1.47 billion (US$474.19 million at NT$31:US$1) for the establishment of five bio-agricultural parks designed to boost Taiwan`s biotechnology industry and help transform traditional agriculture into bio-agriculture.

The five parks are the Pingtung Agricultural Biotechnology Park, Changhua National Center for Flower-Breed Development, Taiwan Orchid Plantation Park, Chiayi Spice and Herb Biological Technology Park, and Yilan Marine Biotechnology Park. Together, the five will employ an estimated 17,000 people and generate a projected NT$29 billion (US$935.48 million) in production value in 2012. That same year, the bio-agricultural industry in Taiwan as a whole is predicted to have a production value of more than NT$71 billion (US$2.29 billion). Worldwide, the figure is expected to reach US$500 billion that year.

Observers believe that the five parks will give a strong shot in the arm to Taiwan`s bio-agricultural industry, and that they will help stimulate business in the areas around them.
China Certifies LibertyLink Soybeans
Farm Chemicals International, Jul. 22, 2008

A safety certificate for Bayer CropScience's LibertyLink soybeans, which allows soybean imports into China - the largest importer of US soybeans - has been granted by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, bringing it closer to commercialization in that country.


Lugar Suggests Increase in Genetically Modified Seed Research

Earlier this week Indiana Senator Richard Lugar sent a letter to President Bush outlining his recommendations for responding to the current world food crisis by the international community. Lugar's suggestions were meant to serve as a US agenda for the G8 summit next week. An irrational opposition to gm crops and food by many European nations is literally starving people in Africa and other parts of the world. G-M seeds have been demonstrated to dramatically increase yields and hold great promise to reduce poverty. Yet some nations with chronic food insecurity have turned away emergency food assistance because it might contain gm foodstuffs. Others have refused to cultivate gm crops for fear and not being able to export to Europe." Senator Lugar's complete address can be seen online:

New Bt cotton variety developed in Andhra
oneindia, July 24, 2008

Hyderabad: In a major effort to compete with private seed companies, three prestigious agriculture institutes across the country have developed 'Bikaneri narma', a new biotech cotton variety which is not only pest-resistant, but also cheaper than the other varieties available in the market.

The New Delhi-based Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur and University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Dharwad have jointly developed the cotton variety.

The new Bt cotton variety was pest-resistant and about 20 to 25 per cent cheaper, but provided yield equivalent to the Bt cotton varieties being sold by the private companies, he added. The new variety was also suitable for different soil conditions.
Biotech regulator on anvil
The Statesman (India), June 30, 2008

NEW DELHI: The department of biotechnology (DBT) has initiated the consultative process with all the stakeholders for discussing the establishment plan and draft Bill for setting up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA). The NBRA would be set up as an independent, autonomous and professionally led body to provide a single window mechanism for bio-safety clearance of genetically modified products and processes. As part of the above process, a consultation with senior media representatives was held under the chairmanship of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan here.

Why Indian farmers lust after genetically modified eggplant
Andrew Leonard, Salon, July 1, 2008

In May, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved a request by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co. (Mahyco) to begin "experimental seed production" of genetically modified Bt eggplant.
After China, India is the world's largest producer of eggplant, or brinjal, as it is known on the subcontinent. Primarily cultivated by small farmers, it is plagued by a devastating pest, the fruit and shoot borer. But Bt brinjal incorporates a variation of the cry1Ac gene, which works as potent built-in pesticide against the borer. For these farmers, the primary, overriding issue is economic. They are already going broke applying conventional pesticides to which the fruit and shoot borer has developed resistance. If they can save money and boost yields by adopting GM eggplant, they will do so.

At the grass roots level, Indian cotton farmers have legally and illegally planted Bt cotton varieties because they have seen with their own eyes how yields rise and pesticide costs go down in the short term.

Other Asia

S. Korea imports 330,000 T of GMO corn for food
Miyoung Kim, Reuters, June 30, 1008

SEOUL - South Korea imported 330,000 tonnes of genetically modified corn for food use for the first time in May and June, and sees around 160,000 tonnes of the less expensive corn arriving every month, a government source said on Tuesday.

The source at the Korea Food and Drug Administration also told Reuters starch makers in South Korea, the world's third-largest corn importer, are increasingly switching to GMO corn for price reasons and that around 60 percent of the country's imports for food use would be made up of GMO corn this year.


GM bananas set for initial trial
ABC News (Australia), Jul. 24, 2008

Approval has been granted for Australia's first trial of genetically-modified bananas will go ahead in Innisfail in Far North Queensland. Scientists from the Queensland University of Technology will conduct two trials to test their nutrient content and to improve disease resistance. Professor James Dale says the plants are sterile so there is no danger of cross-pollination with other crops.

News in Science

Test for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) approved

Clinical trials of a new molecular technique have found it to be effective at quickly identifying MDR-TB. South Africa's National Health Laboratory Service and Medical Research Council (MRC), and the Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND) collaborated to test 30,000 patients suspected to have MDR-TB in South Africa between 2007 and 2008. They used both the rapid test and conventional testing. The new TB test yielded results on 92 per cent of all samples compared with about three-quarters (77.5 per cent) of samples tested by conventional methods. It takes between eight hours and two days to get a result, compared to six to eight weeks for conventional testing. The test uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to amplify Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA and look for genetic mutations that cause resistance to drugs. As a result, the WHO has endorsed the use of the test in all countries with MDR-TB. At US$5 per patient, the test halves diagnosis costs — excluding associated infrastructure and laboratory capacity costs necessary for molecular testing. Using the tests will still be cheaper than treating a larger epidemic, according to O'Brien.


Among the products of molecular plant breeding include the recent Yield-Guard VT Triple transgenic maize hybrids where herbicide tolerance and multiple insect resistance traits are integrated as one genomic locus, and Golden Rice. Moose and Mumm reviewed that molecular plant breeding in particular has increased favorable gene action, expanded the useful genetic diversity for crop improvement, and increased the efficiency of selection.

The paper, which also reviews historical developments in molecular plant breeding,  is accessible to journal subscribers at
Relief from hay fever

Scientists from the UK-based Institute of Food Research have conducted an innovative human study into hay fever. What they have found is that daily doses of probiotic bacteria can change the immune system’s response to grass pollen, a common cause of seasonal hay fever.
Alleles of homologous genes can silence one another through paramutations
University of Arizona/Tucson (press release) via EurekAlert, June 27, 2008

It was thought that although gene products could be modified during the life of the organism, the genes themselves were unchanged, except for random mutation. Now it appears that one copy of some genes can alter the expression of the other copy, and those changes are passed down to the next generation. These epigenetic alterations, called paramutations may be important in introducing changes when plants and other organisms are environmentally stressed.

Several different components may be involved in paramutation, although they may differ among species. One important player is an array of repeated non-coding DNA sequences that lies upstream of the gene sequence of the paramutagenic allele.

However, RNA also appears to be part of the process. The siRNA (small interfering RNA) could thus act as an intermediary molecule, being sent to silence the homologous allele.

A new research from the University of Toronto found that environmental factors can transform the ratio of females to males in plant populations. The team, composed of Ivana Stehlik, Jannice Friedman, and University Professor Spencer Barrett used genetic markers (known DNA sequences) to identify the sex of seeds. They investigated six natural populations of the wind-pollinated herb Rumex nivalis in the Swiss Alps and mapped the distance between females and neighboring males. They then measured the amount of pollen captured by female flowers and collected seeds from the plants when they were mature.

Barrett and his team found a strongly female-biased flowering sex ratios in these populations. When there were more males surrounding females, females captured more pollen, matured more seed and produced more strongly female-biased offspring.

To read more, visit

Researchers at the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and the USDA-ARS Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center have reported that a transgenic papaya with a snowdrop lectin (Galanthus nivalis agglutin [GNA]) gene exhibited improved resistance to carmine spider mites (Tetranychus cinnabarinus). Lectins are naturally occurring proteins that typically bind to carbohydrates and are found in plants, animals, bacteria and fungi.

The paper is available at the Plant Science journal website at

Genetically modified tobacco can act as a speedy and safe antibiotic factory for personalized treatment against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to new findings from the Stanford University School of Medicine. Follicular Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) has become the most common hematologic malignancy (blood or bone marrow cancer) in the United States with an estimated 54,000 new cases each year. It affects the B-cells, a type of lymphocytes or white blood cells that play a large role in antibody-mediated immunity.

Levy and his team infected the tobacco plants with modified tobacco mosaic virus carrying the antibody gene. When introduced to someone diagnosed with NHL, the plant-derived vaccine stimulates the patient's immune system to find and destroy the malignant cells. In addition, the scientists found out that the way plants attach sugar molecules to the antibody, during biochemical processing, does not impair the immunogenicity or affect the safety of the vaccines. The study presents the first human tests of an injectable vaccine produced from plants.

The paper published by PNAS is available at For more information, read

The gaseous phytohormone ethylene exerts its effect in plant development and growth by regulating the transcription of certain plant genes. The hormone interacts with ERFs (ethylene responsive factors), a group of DNA binding proteins that modulate the expression of several stress-inducible genes. Arabidopsis ERF genes have been shown to play important roles in plant defense response. However, little is known about the functional significance of ERF genes in important crops such as wheat, maize and potato.

Scientists from the Plant Genome Research Center and Seoul National University in Korea showed that overexpression of the pepper ERF gene CaPF1 effectively enhanced tolerance to freezing, heat, heavy metal, and oxidative stress in potatoes. The team also observed that CaPF1 was involved in tuber formation. Microtuber formation was significantly retarded in lines overexpressing the transgene. The results of the study suggest that future research using various transcription factors, particularly ethylene responsive factors, to improve stress tolerance in potato may result in development of high-yielding crops.

The article published by the journal Planta is available to subscribers at Non-subscribers can read the abstract at

Antifreeze proteins (AFPs) refer to a class of polypeptides produced by some animals, plants and bacteria that permit their survival in environments with sub-zero temperature. AFPs play an important role in modifying the shape of ice crystals, inhibition of ice growth and repression of recrystallization.

A group of scientists from Xianjiang University in China developed cold tolerant transgenic tobacco plants overexpressing a beetle AFP.

The researchers observed that the AFP encoded by MpAFP149 was mainly distributed on the cell wall (in the apoplastic space) of the transgenic tobacco plants. Compared with wild type tobacco, the transgenic plants preserved the integrity of their cell membrane when grown at -1°C for 3 days. The scientists are now looking for ways to introduce the gene into cold sensitive crops such as potato and tomato.

Read the paper published by Plant Cell Reports at or
Cows supplemented with rbST reduce agriculture's environmental impact
Cornell University (press release) via, June 30, 2008

Cows that receive recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) make more milk, all the while easing natural resource pressure and substantially reducing environmental impact, according to a Cornell University study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 30, 2008.).

This research found that, compared to a non-supplemented population, giving rbST to one million cows would enable the same amount of milk to be produced using 157,000 fewer cows. The nutrient savings would be 491,000 metric tons of corn, 158,000 metric tons of soybeans, and total feedstuffs would be reduced by 2,300,000 metric tons. Producers could reduce cropland use by 219,000 hectares and reduce 2.3 million tons of soil erosion annually.
Indian scientists developing drought-resistant groundnut
Rajeev Ranjan Roy, India PRwire/Indo Asian News Service, July 3, 2008

Indian farmers will soon get access to a new variety of groundnut that is drought-resistant and can be cultivated even in areas where water is scarce. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored the research on the new groundnut variety. Scientists from Brazil's Catholic University, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, and the University of Georgia are also engaged in the project.

According to ICRISAT, groundnut is the 13th most important food crop of the world, the fourth most important source of edible oil and the third most important source of vegetable protein. It is grown on 26.4 million hectares worldwide in nearly 100 countries with the main producers being China, India, Nigeria, the US, Indonesia and Sudan. An official estimate says that India produced 4.09 million tonnes of groundnut in 2006-07 against 5.94 million tonnes in 2005-06. According to ICRISAT, groundnut in India is grown on 5.7 million hectares of land with an average productivity of 0.8 tonnes per hectare.
Tiny gene discovered hiding in a major family of plant viruses
High Plains Journal, July 3, 2008

Iowa - In an international collaboration, researchers in Allen Miller's lab in the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State University have shown that a tiny gene exists in all members of the largest family of plant viruses. The work was based on a prediction made in the lab of John Atkins of University College Cork, in Cork, Ireland. Without this gene, the virus is harmless. The discovery was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A researcher in Atkins' lab, Andrew Firth analysing the genome sequences of potyviruses observed what appeared to be a new gene that overlaps with a much larger and well-known gene in these viruses. At this stage the possible gene was identified simply as a stretch of nucleotide bases in the viral RNA uninterrupted by a "stop" signal and hence known as an open reading frame or ORF. Firth said he thought this was a "pretty interesting potyvirus ORF" so he called it by the acronym pipo and the name stuck. Turnip mosaic virus.

The researchers altered the sequence of the virus genome so the protein synthesis machinery of the plant cell could not make any protein from the predicted pipo minigene, while all the well-known large genes it overlaps with still could be translated normally. These small mutations "killed" the virus. The normal virus infected plants, causing them to become stunted and glow green under UV light before ultimately dying. The plants inoculated with the mutant virus were healthy and did not glow green because the virus was unable to multiply without the pipo gene.
New flour means bread could fight obesity

Richard Gray, The Daily Telegraph (UK), July 18, 2008The new wheat has been engineered to produce a form of starch, known as resistance starch, that is harder for the body to break down in the stomach. When the wheat is milled, processed and cooked it retains this resistance to digestion, unlike flour containing normal starch.

The scientists will reveal their research on these "super carbohydrates" at a conference today organised by the British Ecological Society.

Researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge have produced a genetically modified form of wheat that releases fewer calories into the body compared to other varieties currently available.

Food made from the new crop is also digested slower, making people feel fuller and less likely to eat more food. The scientists hope that these qualities could help make staple foods such as bread, pasta and other flour products healthier.

"Resistance starch has a low glycemic index and so releases the sugars far slower in comparison to normal starch. By accumulating more of this starch in the grain we can produce better calorific release properties, but it may well have beneficial effects on diet related diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes."
Allergen-free GM plants may boost food safety: experts
Stephen Daniells, Food Navigator, July 21, 2008

Significant research has focused on removing the allergens from peanuts, as these can be deadly. The science has focused on three types of proteins: Ara h1, h2, and h3. "Of these three allergenic proteins, the Ara h 2 glycoprotein is the most potent allergen, with nearly 50-fold greater potency than Ara h 1," wrote Singh and Bhalla.

Using gene silencing techniques, researchers have reported the production of peanut plants with virtually no Ara h2, said the reviewers.

Another plant that has received research attention is the humble tomato, said the Melbourne-based scientists. In this case, the goal has been to remove the ns-LTP protein from the fruit. Despite advances in producing plants with ns-LTP suppression, other allergens exist in tomatoes that have evaded modification. Source: Trends in Plant Science June 2008, Volume 13, Issue 6, Pages 257-260 "Genetic engineering for removing food allergens from plants" Authors: M.B. Singh, P.L. Bhalla
Wheat killer detected in Iran - Dangerous fungus on the move from East Africa to the Middle East.

A new and virulent wheat fungus, previously found in East Africa and Yemen, has moved to major wheat growing areas in Iran, FAO reported today. The fungus is capable of wreaking havoc to wheat production by destroying entire fields.  Countries east of Iran, like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert, FAO said. It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents.

Super-tobacco sees red at land mines
Tamar Kahn, Business Day, South Africa, July 22, 2008

CAPE TOWN - Scientists from the University of Stellenbosch have teamed up with Danish biotechnology firm Aresa to test a genetically engineered tobacco plant that turns red when it grows near land mines, offering hope of a cheap way to help clear fields in post-conflict zones. The plant would be used solely for humanitarian purposes, and there were no plans to seek a commercial permit. Tobacco plants usually only produce red plant pigments in their flowers, which arises from a natural compound called anthocyanin, which is found in fruit such as apples and tomatoes. The technology developed by Aresa activates anthocyanin in the tobacco plant's leaves if there is soil contamination from explosives such as land mines.
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