News in September 2008
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Brussels, 11th September 2008

The Joint Research Centre issued today the report that reconfirms the results of a 2001 Commission study concluding that no demonstration of any health effect of GM food products has ever been reported and the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny very likely makes them even safer than conventional plants and foods.

That food made from biotech crops is safe for human and animal consumption is not exactly news. The 2001 study by the European Commission covering 15 years experience with agricultural biotech products affirmed exactly that, and so did the more recent reports by the WHO, the French and British Academies of Medicine and other renowned institutes.

"We hope that the European policymakers who have insisted on verifying this fact again will now act in accordance with the findings in the form of more timely and actual approvals of biotech products.“ says Willy De Greef, Secretary General of EuropaBio.



Increased agricultural production is the way out of the global food crisis. This was underscored by Food and Agriculture Organization Director General Jacques Diouf during a joint hearing on the impact of higher food prices on food security by the Foreign and Agricultural Committees of Italy's Senate and Chamber of Deputies. View the FAO press release at

Bioenergy and Agricultural Biotechnologies - FAO Forum

FAO Biotechnology Forum ( will host its next e-mail conference from 10 November to 7 December 2008 and that it will be exploring the role that application of agricultural biotechnologies may play for production of bioenergy in developing countries, with a major focus on liquid biofuels. It is being organised in collaboration with the FAO Working Group on Bioenergy. As part of the build up to the conference, an FAO seminar on the same subject was held in Rome on 12 October 2007 - see for papers and presentations.

If some of your colleagues wish to subscribe to the conference, they should first join the Forum and then the conference i.e. they should send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two separate lines:

subscribe BIOTECH-L
subscribe biotech-room
John Ruane, PhD, Forum Administrator;
FAO Biotechnology Forum website

Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects, 1996-2006
Gaham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, PG Economics Ltd., Sep. 1, 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.

World's crops to be screened for climate traits
Katherine Nightingale
22 September 2008 | EN | 中文

An international foundation is funding a drive to screen thousands of crops for traits that will be useful in adapting food production to climate change.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing around US$300,000 of funding this year for researchers in 21 agricultural institutions in 15 countries across the developing world. Around US$200,000 will be spent next year with a continued commitment in the long term.

Crops from banana to sweet potato will be screened to identify material that plant breeders can use to produce varieties adapted to conditions associated with climate change. Crop diversity is the biological foundation of agriculture, says Cary Fowler, executive director of the trust. Researchers will screen the crops by growing them in different stress conditions — such as high salinity or high temperature — and assessing how well they grow.

Transgenic wheat badly needed
Canberra – James Grubel, Reuters, September 03 2008

Japan and Europe need to embrace genetically modified wheat to combat food shortages in poor countries, rather than pander to consumer fears said Thomas Lumpkin, head of CIMMYT - the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. CIMMYT is a global wheat research centre with offices in 100 developing countries, and aims to improve livelihoods and boost food security in developing nations.

„Resistance from the public and consumer groups in rich countries to genetically modified (GM) wheat has forced major producing countries, such as Australia, the United States and Canada, to steer away from growing GM crops. But GM crops can boost yields and help poor countries feed their people at a time of food shortages and rising world prices“, said Lumpkin. "Governments should try to help the public appreciate how much the high price of food affects the poor in developing countries. By denying them this technology, you are keeping them hungry, they are dying."

Wheat and maize account for 40 percent of the world's food and 25 percent of calories consumed in developing countries, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Wheat prices have risen strongly over the past two years, more than doubling from 2006 to March 2008's peak of $454 (about R3 533) a ton, before falling back. Food prices rose 50 percent worldwide over the same period.

Focus on yield - Biotech crops; evidence, outcomes and impacts 1996-2006

PG Economics September 1st 2008 Dorchester, UK: In the light of the current world food security and price debate, PG Economics is releasing a summary of the yield effect of GM crops. This summary is supplemented by a more detailed examination of the yield impacts and the broader reports on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the technology 1996-2006 - AgBioForum 11(1):21-28 2008.

The summary on GM crop yields documents from peer reviewed papers the real contribution of biotech crops to improving global crop yields and increasing production over the period 1996-2006.

The paper summaries some of the key yield and production impacts of the technology detailed in the peer reviewed scientific journal article Global impact of biotech crops: socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2006. For additional information, contact Graham Brookes. Tel 00 44 (0) 1531 650123

Global aggregated yield effects by crop, PG Economics

Books & Articles

Information Systems for Biotechnology - ISB News Report, September, 2008
Full Issue at
A newly released book, Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops within IPM Programs, provides the first comprehensive synthesis of the role of insect-resistant GM crops in crop protection. The book was edited by Jörg Romeis (Agroscope ART, Switzerland), Anthony Shelton (Cornell University, USA) and George Kennedy (North Carolina State University, USA) with the goal of providing an overview of the role insect-resistant GM plants play in different crop systems worldwide. A total of 42 authors from around the globe have reviewed the latest available information on insect-resistant GM crops, ranging from their biological and ecological activity to their economic and social impact. The editors hope the book will contribute to a more rational debate about the role GM crops can play in IPM for food and fiber production.

The book content and ordering information is available at

Biopress selection
New selections of articles available.
Online Bibliography of Assessment Studies on GE Crops.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has compiled a web-based bibliography of peer-reviewed applied economics literature called bEcon, to assess the impact of genetically engineered (GE) crops in developing economies. bEcon contains 190 articles organized under four major themes that address the different areas of impact: advantages to farmers, consumer preferences and willingness to pay, size and distribution of benefits, and international benefits of trade. The literature is searchable by author, year, and keyword. bEcon is updated every three months, and a CD-ROM is produced on an annual basis for those with limited or no internet access. For more information on bEcon, visit


Diversifying Crop Protection - 12-15 October 2008, La Grande Motte, France

Advances in crop protection have greatly contributed to high yields and consistency in production, but new concerns about human health and the environment, and increased consumer awareness about pesticide use, call for the development of alternative farming systems that are less reliant on pesticides.
In Europe, tougher regulations on the registration of plant protection products and the protection of water resources are coming into force and a thematic strategy is being developed to fill the legislative gap regarding the use-phase of pesticides. This Directive will establish the framework for Community action to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides.

To support these changes, more diversified crop protection strategies based on new technologies, new approaches and a broader range of tactics need to be developed. Stakeholders, especially policy makers, need independent science-based advice to help them implement the new regulations.

Agenda | Abstract submission | Registration Online

The Second International Conference on Computer & Computing Technologies in Agriculture (CCTA2008) –
Call for Papers - 18 – 20 October - BEIJING, China

The conference will focus on Computer and Computing Technologies in Agriculture and targeted participants are from universities, institutes, research organizations, government, large companies, and regional development agencies and consultants all over the world. The conference will provide a forum for original research contributions and practical system design, implementation, and applications of computer and computing technologies in agriculture.

International Soybean Conference V Soybean for Human Health and Happiness.
Date: 10 - 14 December 2008, Bhopal.

The ISPUC-V will focus on the emerging technologies in soybean processing and utilization as food for nutritional enhancement and health promotion. Also, it will promote sharing / exchange of scientific and technical information on all aspects of research and development of soybean processing and utilization. Contact Details: Dr. S D Kulkarni, Organizing Secretary, ISPUC-V 2008 & Project Director, Soybean Processing and Utilization Centre, Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Nabi Bagh, Bhopal - 462 038, Madhya Pradesh, India. Email:, Tel: +91 755 2730987, 2521061. Fax: +91 755 2734016

Europe - EU

EC-US Task Force on Biotechnology Research
Updated information on the current working groups
Getting to the root of plants

A diverse team of researchers from Europe, Asia and the USA have unearthed new information on how roots grow and develop. Specifically, how roots are able to move out sideways out of the central root and into the soil.


The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) has published a report commissioned by the European Commission's Joint Research Center on the Consequences, Opportunities and Challenges of Biotechnology in Europe. The IPTS' mission is "to provide a customer-driven support to the EU policy-making process by rewarding science-based responses to policy challenges that have both a socio-economic as well as scientific/ technological dimensions".

The report covers a study conducted from autumn 2005 to spring 2007 utilizing stakeholder groups to obtain the first comprehensive evaluation of the contribution of modern biotechnology in the context of major European policies. The report assessed the applications of modern biotechnology in medicine and health care, in primary production and agri-food, in industrial production, energy and environment, and analyzed the economic, social and environmental impact of modern biotechnology. The authors hope that the report can be a valuable basis for the better understanding of biotechnology, its impacts and challenges. It has already been used by the Commission to help draw its midterm review of the EU strategy of Life Sciences and Biotechnology. The full report can be downloaded at:

Trace and Traceability--A Call for Regulatory Harmony
Koreen Ramessar, Teresa Capell, Richard M Twyman, Hector Quemada & Paul Christou, Nature Biotechnology 26, 975 - 978 (2008) (University of Lleida,, Spain.; University of York,  UK; Calvin College, Michigan; Institucio Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avancats, Barcelona, Spain.;

Genetically modified (GM) crops were grown commercially in 23 countries in 2007, with a further 29 allowing the import of GM crops for food and/or feed use and release into the environment1. Despite encouraging evidence concerning the positive socioeconomic and environmental benefits brought about by the adoption of GM technology1, 2, we wish to highlight the fact that further development is being hampered by a lack of harmonization among national regulatory frameworks relating to research, biosafety and to the trade and use of GM crops. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the laws and regulations governing the tolerance levels for GM material in non.

As the prevalence of GM crops continues to grow, we foresee real problems with the trade and use of food and feed if the regulations are not harmonized on a global level. US food exporters and biotech companies have already complained about the EU's slow and obscure approval process, and bans by individual EU countries on GM products approved by the EU as a whole5. This ongoing dispute has been intensified by the EU's introduction of mandatory labelling. The role of the World Trade Organization's (Geneva) legal framework regarding trade in GM products (the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade; has played a significant role in stifling the opportunities offered by GM products. Strict labelling, identity preservation and import requirements impose additional costs and reduce public confidence, which in turn affects trade. The decline in US corn exports to the EU has been blamed on the EU's strict approval and labelling requirements, with some EU countries banning GM products all together, even after they have been approved as safe by European Food Safety Authority (Parma, Italy), the EU's own regulatory agency on GM6. Developing countries have also been drawn into this dispute as both sides try to win their support. Many developing countries have banned GM products owing to consumer and environmental concerns, only to find themselves excluded from markets and refused financial support from industrialized nations to conduct research and build human capital for biotech activities.


Czech Republic: Areas under genetically modified maize exceeded 8 000 hectares
Press release of the Czech Ministry of Agriculture
Prague, September 18 2008

In 2008 the areas under genetically modified maize – Bt maize - keep growing. Following the evidence of Ministry of Agriculture and in agreement with the statistics of the Ministry of environment 8 380 ha of Bt maize was planted by 171 farmers.

As usually, most of it (over 2 000 ha) was registered in South Moravia, in Central Bohemia (over 1 600 ha incl. Prague) and Pilsner region (over 900 ha).

Farmers appreciate advantages of Bt maize, viz. important reduction or complete elimination of moulds infection and significant lower damage of plants. In this way yield increased in average by 10 percent comparing with classical varieties. The decrease in pesticide application is an essential point as well as better quality of feed obtained. Bt maize is not used for food in the CR.

GM the Way Forward, says former EU Farm Commissioner
Joe Watson, The Press and Journal, September 12, 2008

Europe's former farming commissioner has said that biotech crops might be the only way for the world to feed itself ' if climate change keeps accelerating. Franz Fischler also said the time had come for a new debate on the controversial issue of using genetically modified plants in Europe. He told the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists congress in Austria that the discussion on GM had become ideological, rather than based on fact.

Mr Fischler said that, with all international experts pointing to increasing climate change, the use of GM had to be considered. He added: "The real challenge is just how fast climate change is and how fast nature can adapt to that. If climate change is faster than nature can adapt, then the only way out for us is to use biotech. "It is important to think about the fundamentals (of GM). This is what is needed. We need a more realistic approach to the discussion."

Mr Fischler questioned why the various approaches taken to food safety globally were not used for GM and an entirely different stance taken ' particularly in Europe where resistance to the technology remained considerable.

He said the biggest problem up to now in gaining consumer support for biotech in Europe had been in the agricultural sector and those behind the technology being unable to communicate the benefits of it. "If you can buy a non-GM product for the same price you can get a GM product for in a supermarket, then there is no chance of GM succeeding," he added. He was in no doubt that GM was the way forward. "We should not ignore the problems that are ahead of us. Biotech must play a role if we are serious." The former commissioner saw particular uses for biotech in providing the fuels of the future.


The Irish Government, through its Irish Aid program, is providing some €4.4 million (US $6.47 million) in research funding to eight Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers working to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries.

Anti-GM and Anti-Nuclear Advocates Need to be Challenged
Dr. William Reville, The Irish Times, Thu, Sep 25, 2008
(William Reville is associate professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer at UCC -

I recently attended a press conference called by anti-GM (genetically modified) protesters at an agricultural biotechnology scientific conference (ABIC2008 in UCC- Ed). Three people, none of whom are scientists, ran the press conference and each made detailed statements. The arguments presented by the amateurs at this press conference were completely at odds with the positions outlined by the experienced scientists.

This scene is typical of what happens nowadays, particularly in environmental areas. Another problem is that the media tends to give every voice, amateur and professional, equal weight. This is not fair to the general public. The media has a responsibility to ask tough probing questions of all who seek a platform for their views.

Environmental activists who take a position on issues contrary to the evidence of mainline science always speak with confidence and passion and often try to shout down opposing voices. They should be opposed with matching vigour. Only then can science win out.

UK: GM Protesters 'On Messianic Mission'
Western Morning News. Sept 23, 2008 (via Agnet)

UK farming minister Lord Rooker last night hit out at anti-GM protesters, claiming they were on a "messianic mission" not based on science and that the public were being "taken for a ride" by campaigners who behaved as if opposition to the technology was a "religion".

"If the ignorance prevails, we don't allow experiments to take place because of the fear you might find a result you don't want. "We just put up with people trashing the crops and magistrates let them off. Frankly, we're just being taken for a ride." He said: "One thing I will not accept is the arguments and the slogans when there isn't any evidence. They are on a messianic mission. It is almost a religion where there isn't any science base to it."

Paul Temple, vice-president of the NFU, said: "Europe is not engaging in the debate. And it's for political reasons in Europe. It will cause huge problems in the supply chain in future, and we should be talking about it now. We are driving investment in this technology to North America, South America, India and China. Plant genetics is absolutely vital for the future of agriculture."

Danish Farmers to Grow GM crops
The Copenhagen Post

More than 250 Danish farmers are ready to begin growing genetically modified crops in the autumn of 2009. At the top of the interest list is a type of GM corn that is resistant toweeds as well as a variety of potato that has a starch content suitable for use in the textile industry.  Neither of these crops is currently recognised by the EU, but they are expected to be accepted during the winter and be ready for the following autumn.


The western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgiferai) that has damaged corn farms in North America and in many countries of Southern and Eastern Europe could reach Germany in a matter of time. The damage and the cost in controlling the pest amounted to around one billion US dollars in the USA. If it reaches Germany, current estimates by the Julius Khun Institute in Braunschweig show that it could affect 350,000 hectares of corn fields costing EUR 25 million per year. In order to prevent the spread of the pest in Germany, seeds were treated with an insecticide with the active ingredient Clothianidin. This resulted in deaths of thousands of bee colonies in areas where the treated seeds were sown. In the USA, however, the pest is effectively controlled by using genetically-modified corn containing a special variant of the Bt toxin which specifically targets the larvae of the Western corn rootworm as well as that of the European corn borer.

There are already first release trials with Diabrotica-resistant lines taking place in Spain, Eastern Europe and Germany, but are unlikely to be introduced in the European market in the next few years. In the meantime, as a temporary measure, farmers are breaking up the pest pressure by crop rotation with cereals or leaf crops, but not really eradicating the pest.

For details of the report, see:


The Institute of Food Science and Technology in the United Kingdom has issued an updated statement dated September 2008 on genetic modification and food. It said that:

"Food scientists and technologists can support the responsible introduction of genetically modified (GM) techniques provided that issues of product safety, environmental concerns, information and ethics are satisfactorily addressed. IFST considers that they are being addressed, and need even more intensively to continue to be so addressed. Only in this way may the benefits that this technology can confer become available, not least to help feed the world's escalating population in the coming decades".

The statement noted that GM crops have already provided "significant improvements in the quantity and quality of the food supply while reducing economic cost, energy usage, pesticide usage, fuel usage, soil erosion and carbon emissions, with no scientifically-documented evidence of harm to human health." It also adds that the second generation of GM crops have the potential to deliver crops to provide much needed nutritional benefits, among others.

Download for a copy of the statement.


Biotechnology 'no cure-all' for food insecurity
Ochieng' Ogodo
26 September 2008 | EN

NAIROBI] Biotechnology is no panacea to the food insecurity and poverty problems in Africa and other developing countries, warned scientists at the first All Africa Congress on Biotechnology in Nairobi, Kenya, this week (23 September).

"This is no silver bullet to the food insecurity in Africa and the rest of the developing world, but it must be looked at as one of the most important tools that will contribute to increased food production and thus, poverty reduction," said Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

"We have to take the best of conventional technologies like no-till or low-till farming and combine it with biotechnology for increased food production."

GM Potato Blessing for Small Farmers: South African Group

The availability of a new genetically-modified (GM) potato variety will be a blessing for South African small-scale farmers, GM interest group AfricaBio has said here. The group said it supported the introduction of a GM version of the Spunta potato variety, which has been developed by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). The new variety is resistant to the potato tuber moth, the nemesis of small scale farmers without the resources to store crops under ideal conditions.


The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports the initiatives of the African Green Revolution Conference in upholding new agricultural technologies in Africa. At the conference, IFAD's President Lennart Bĺge stated that "Smallholder farmers in Africa need to be empowered to become rural entrepreneurs who can build productive and profitable partnerships with the private sector."


Scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Kenya have successfully identified and transferred genes that confer resistance to the parasitic weed Striga using marker-assisted selection. Also known as witchweed, Striga infests some 50 million hectares of cereal crops, specifically maize, sorghum and millet and costs Africa some US $7 billion crop loss annually. For more information, contact Catherine Mgendi ( or visit


Chinese innovation 'too isolated'
Jia Hepeng
23 September 2008 | EN | 中文

ZHENGZHOU AND BEIJING] For China to become a world leader in innovation, it should address regional differences and promote corporate input, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The report, released this month (11 September), acknowledges that with spending on research and development (R&D) matching that of Germany, China is already a global player in science and technology.

But the country lags in innovation capability and performance compared to OECD countries with a similar level of R&D investment, although China ranked second in global publications levels in 2006.

According to the report, China's innovation system is not fully developed and inadequately integrated. It describes the system as an "archipelago", a large number of "innovative islands" with insufficient links between them.

Current regional patterns of R&D and innovation create too great a physical separation between knowledge producers and potential users, the authors say.

In addition, although foreign investment in China has increasingly contributed to innovation, the domestic business sector has been slow to make productive use of accumulated R&D investment, human resources for science and technology, and related infrastructure, the report indicates.

The Chinese government is looking to address this. For example, a recent study found that of 22 Chinese biotechnology firms investigated, all had received government funding (see Regulations 'hinder' China biotech investment).

China pushes US$3.5 billion GM project
Source: Science
5 September 2008 | EN | 中文

China has already widely planted insect-resistant GM cotton, which occupies 70 per cent of the area devoted to growing the crop in China. Chinese scientists have also successfully developed several types of GM rice, whose field trials have shown higher yields and less pesticide uses. But the government has delayed commercialisation of GM rice due to biosafety concerns.. The new initiative will also include a public education initiative to try to ease public safety concerns over GM. Chinese scientists say that legitimate concerns over GM crops' biosafety should not be used to mislead the public in the name of environmental protection.

Genetically modified crops in China seem to protect their wild-type neighbours
Jane Qiu, Nature News, Published online 18 September 2008 |  Nature , doi:10.1038/news.2008.111

A ten-year study in northern China shows that large-scale cultivation of cotton plants genetically modified to produce an insecticidal toxin is associated with a reduction in pest populations in unmodified crops nearby. The finding adds to the ongoing debate about the role of genetic modification in pest control.



Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the Indonesian government has increased to 20% the State Revenue and Expenditure Budget (APBN) to be granted for Agricultural Research and Development. Furthermore, he pointed out that seven non-rice main food commodities should be developed such as wheat, soybean, chicken meat and egg in order to release Indonesia from a "food trap" made by developed countries and global capitalism. These seven commodities currently vary depending on import products. For more details visit: or contact Dewi Suryani from the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center at

Biosafety Regulations in Asia-Pacific Countries
Crop Biotech Update

A report on "Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries" has been published by the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), a program of Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). Brief descriptions are provided of the biosafety regulatory instruments (including laws, decrees, rules, and regulations) in 39 countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

It includes chapters on: 1) Status of Agricultural Biotechnology in Asia-Pacific; 2) Biosafety Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology; 3) International Agreements Related to Biosafety; 4) Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries; 5) Overview of Biosafety Regulatory Systems in Asia-Pacific; and 6) Regulatory Management - the Way Ahead. The report at:


The Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (APAARI) expert consultation meeting on agricultural biotechnology this year was hosted by the Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute (MARDI) with the support of Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation and the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC). The meeting was officiated by the Minister for Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Dato' Mustapa Mohamed who acknowledged modern biotechnology, particularly GM technology, as one of the tools that will help countries to transform their agriculture sector.

This expert meeting saw the convergence of prominent experts in the area of agribiotech from around the world to discuss how agribiotech could play a key role in addressing the global food crisis and security issues. The meeting discussed the recent research advances in agribiotech, status of agribiotech research and applications in the Asia Pacific region as well as the African regions, the adoption of GM crops to ensure food security, and global status on the adoption of GM crops among other topics. Special lectures focused on the use marker aided selection and genomics for crop improvement, and producing disease free planting material and germplasm conservation using biotechnology. The meeting also deliberated on global and regional partnership programmes such as Golden Rice, ABSP II, APCoAB, and AARINENA.

In an attempt to bridge the communication divide between scientists and the members of the media, the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) organized a one-day colloquium in collaboration with University Malaya's Centre for Civilization and Dialogue. Malaysia has a strong biotechnology agenda and to realize this, coherent efforts in communicating biotechnology to the public is of paramount importance.

For details of  the meeting and for information on biotechnology in Malaysia, contact Mahaletchumy Arujanan at of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center.

News in Science


A study by scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research shows that the decline of pollinators would have a tremendous effect in global agriculture. In the 2005 estimates, the worldwide economic value of the pollination service provided by insect pollinators, bees mainly, was €153 billion for the main crops, 9.5% of the total value of the world agricultural food production. The study published in the Ecological Economics Journal on the decline of pollinators is focused on three main crop categories: fruits and vegetables, valued at €50 billion each, followed by edible oilseed crops with €39 billion. Based on the vulnerability ratio, defined as the ratio of the economic value of insect pollination divided by the total crop production value, the stimulant crops coffee and cocoa which are insect pollinated have a maximum vulnerability ratio of 39%, nuts 31% and fruits 23%. Although the results of the study mean that the decline in main crop pollinators is not really catastrophic, a substantial economic loss however necessitates measures to conserve these pollinators.

For details of the article see:


The publication of the complete grapevine genome has opened the possibility for an in-depth analysis of its content. This sequencing revealed that 41.4 percent (average value) of the grapevine genome is composed of repetitive/transposable elements. Indeed, transposition has played a major role in grapevine domestication and evolution. For instance, the skin color in white grapes, a highly desired trait for grape berry and wine quality, has been shown to be the consequence of a retrotransposon insertion in the promoter of a gene that regulates anthocyanin biosynthesis. Download the article at


Only a few studies have dealt with the effects of insect-resistant transgenic crops on solitary bees, and Roger Konrad and colleagues from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and University of Newcastle Upon Tyne add their research to the tally as they investigate the "Potential effects of oilseed rape expressing oryzacystatin-1 (OC-1) and of purified insecticidal proteins on larvae of the solitary bee Osmia bicornis". The paper published by the online journal PLoS ONE reports that transgenic plants expressing the cystein protease inhibitor OC-1 and the Bt toxin Cry1Ab would pose a negligible risk for the bee larvae. Snowdrop lectin (Galanthus nivalis agglutinin) expressing plants, on the other hand, could cause detrimental effects if the bees were exposed to high levels of the protein. These results obtained for O. bicornis as model species may be relevant for a large portion of the approximately 700 solitary bee species assumed to occur in Europe since many of them are also polylectic (collect pollen from a wide variety of flowers), forage on agricultural crops and reproduce during the bloom of such crops.

For details, read the complete article at


After observing the field densities of herbivorous plant bugs in an area planted with the Diabrotica-resistant Bt corn MON88017 and three conventional varieties, researchers at Germany's RWTH Aachen University and University of Göttingen concluded that MON88017 has no impact on the rice leaf bug Trigonotylus caelestialium.

Stefan Rauschen and colleagues planted the rootworm resistant MON88017, its near-isogenic line DKC5143 and two conventional hybrids Benicia and DK315 in a four hectare field for three successive years. Through transect-wise sweep net sampling, the group observed bugs belonging to more than five different genera.
The rice leaf bug, which is the most abundant species, was determined though ELISA tests to have consistently ingested Cry3Bb1 at all stages of their life. Their nymphs contained on average 8 nanograms Cry3Bb1. Despite the exposure, the researchers report that the field densities of the rice leaf bug were always similar in MON88017 and the near-isogenic line.

For details, the full paper is available to subscribers of the Transgenic Research journal at


DNA barcoding is a technique for characterizing species of an organism using short genetic tags. These tags are from a standard and agreed-upon position in the genome, usually from the mitochondria. It is possible to catalog all life on earth using these genetic markers, similar to products in stores labelled with unique barcodes. Scientists foresee a future hand-held device, akin to a supermarket scanner, that would sequence the DNA tag of an organism, compare it with a library of barcode sequences and spit-out the species' name.

In a study published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists found out that current barcoding approaches churn out results as erroneously. Current techniques can mistakenly record the non-functional copy of the tag present in the nucleus instead of the standard barcode gene in the mitochondria. The non-functional copy can be similar enough for the barcoding technique to capture, but different enough to call it a unique species, which would be a mistake.


According to US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Mallikarjuna Aradhya, ARS is expecting the completion of its grapevine sequencing project next year. Nearly all of the 2,800 wild, rare and domesticated grape varieties in a genebank in northern California will have their genetic profile taken. These genetic profiles will help grape breeders pinpoint unusual characteristics, such as increased anthocyanin and resveratrol levels, which might appeal to shoppers in tomorrow's supermarkets.

Aradhya and his team have already fingerprinted 1,100 better-known grapes and 300 wild specimens. They are using pieces of DNA called microsatellites as genetic markers. Eight markers are all that are needed for a genetic fingerprint of more familiar grapes, like close relatives of those already used for making wine or raisins or for eating out-of-hand. Lesser-known grapes, on the other hand, require twice as many markers for reliable identification. Aradhya said that this is due in part, to the fact that the taxonomy, or relatedness of one kind of grape to another, is quite jumbled.

The complete article is available at


Scientists from the Purdue University are zeroing in on genes involved with plant cell wall generation, as they believe that these genes will help develop new, more productive sources of transportation biofuel. A team headed by Nick Carpita and Maureen McCann will study genes involved in the formation of cell walls in monocot plants, which include corn and switchgrass. Researchers already know that most plants use about 10 percent of their entire genome for cell wall construction, but very little is known about the specific functions of those genes. The goal will be to learn the specific function of several cell wall genes and how can they be used to produce more biomass containing more sugars that can be efficiently processed into biofuel. A U.S. Department of Energy/U.S. Department of Agriculture research program to accelerate development of biofuels from plants will fund the genomic plant cell wall construction study with a US $1.2 million grant.



Gibberellins (GA) are phytohormones that play important roles in key physiological processes including stem elongation, cell division, seed germination and flowering. Using sugarbeet as a model, a group of scientists from the United Kingdom have shown that modification of the GA signaling pathway can be used to improve crops by manipulation of the transition to reproductive growth. Sugarbeets, as spring crops in temperate European climate, are vulnerable to vernalization-induced premature bolting (stem elongation) and flowering resulting in reduced crop yield and quality. The scientists introduced the gai and GA2ox1 genes from Arabidopsis and bean, respectively, to repress GA signaling. The transformation resulted in agronomically significant bolting time delays of 2-3 weeks.

The article published by the journal Transgenic Research is available to subscribers at


Transgenic approaches were successful in enhancing the levels of pro-vitamin A in maize kernels. A group of researchers at Iowa State University reports that the transgenic maize they have developed using the Hi-II germplasm  can produce high levels of provitamin A comparable to 50% of the US Institute of Medicine Estimated Average Requirement.

The maize lines were transformed by overexpressing the bacterial crtB and crtI genes in an endosperm-specific manner, using a modified and highly active -zein promoter. The researchers attribute the increase in the total carotenoids from the overexpression of the crtB (for phytoene synthase) and crtI (for the four desaturation steps of the carotenoid pathway catalysed by phytoene desaturase and -carotene desaturase in plants).  The levels of carotenoid attained (up to 34-fold) were found to be reproducible over at least four generations. Nutritionists have estimated a goal of 15 µg provitamin A g-1 dry weight of kernel, the Iowa State GM maize came very close with 13.6 µg g-1 of provitamin A g-1 dry weight kernel.

The open access article published by the Journal of Experimental Botany can be found at

African scientists reveal origins of maize virus

Carol Campbell, 25 August 2008African scientists have uncovered how one of the world's most economically devastating crop diseases emerged, and hope to genetically engineer disease resistant crops using the information. Researchers compared the genetic sequence of the virulent maize streak virus (MSV) with ten less harmful strains of the virus from across the continent, which infect other grass food crops such as wheat and oats. "We found that two relatively mild grass viruses had merged through genetic recombination," says researcher Arvind Varsani, from the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa.

Journal of General Virology doi 10.1099/vir.0.2008/003590-0 (2008)

Cold tolerance in corn - Longer growing season
American Society of Plant Biologists (press release) via SeedQuest, Aug. 29, 2008

Drs. Dafu Wang, Archie Portis, Steve Moose, and Steve Long in the Department of Crop Sciences and the Institute of Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois may have made a breakthrough on this front, as reported in the September issue of the journal Plant Physiology.

Plants can be divided into two groups based on their strategy for harvesting light energy: C4 and C3. The C4 groups include many of the most agriculturally productive plants known, such as corn, sorghum, and sugar cane. All other major crops, including wheat and rice, are C3. C4 plants differ from C3 by the addition of four extra chemical steps, making these plants more efficient in converting sunlight energy into plant matter.

Until recently, the higher productivity achieved by C4 species was thought to be possible only in warm environments. So while wheat, a C3 plant, may be grown into northern Sweden and Alberta, the C4 grain corn cannot. Even within the Corn Belt and despite record yields, corn cannot be planted much before early May and as such is unable to utilize the high sunlight of spring.

Recently a wild C4 grass related to corn, Miscanthus x giganteus, has been found to be exceptionally productive in cold climates. The Illinois researchers set about trying to discover the basis of this difference, focusing on the four extra chemical reactions that separate C4from C3 plants.

Each of these reactions is catalyzed by a protein or enzyme. The enzyme for one of these steps, Pyruvate Phosphate Dikinase, or PPDK for short, is made up of two parts. At low temperature these parts have been observed to fall apart, differing from the other three C4 specific enzymes. The researchers examined the DNA sequence of the gene coding for this enzyme in both plants, but could find no difference, nor could they see any difference in the behavior of the enzyme in the test tube. However, they noticed that when leaves of corn were placed in the cold, PPDK slowly disappeared in parallel with the decline in the ability of the leaf to take up carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. When Miscanthus leaves were placed in the cold, they made more PPDK and as they did so, the leaf became able to maintain photosynthesis in the cold conditions. Why?

The researchers cloned the gene for PPDK from both corn and Miscanthus into a bacterium, enabling the isolation of large quantities of this enzyme. The researchers discovered that as the enzyme was concentrated, it became resistant to the cold, thus the difference between the two plants was not the structure of the protein components but rather the amount of protein present.

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