AS SCIENCE JOURNALISM DECLINES,
SCIENTISTS MUST RISE UP AND REACH OUT
Editorial, Nature 458, 260
(March 19, 2009)
Science journalism is one of the numerous casualties in media
meltdown. Many science journalists are losing their jobs, and those
who remain are being asked to provide content for blogs, podcasts,
online videos and other new media. Although it is difficult to know
what effect these cutbacks have had on the public's understanding of
science, the general feeling is that the quality of science coverage
in the conventional media is declining - as is the media's ability
to play a watchdog role in science, ferreting out fraud or other
True, there is no shortage of scientific information on the web.
In principle, anyone with an Internet connection now has access to
more, and better, scientific coverage than ever before.
In practice, however, this sort of information reaches only those
who seek it out. An average citizen is unlikely to search the web
for the Higgs boson or the proteasome if he or she doesn't hear
about it first on, say, a cable news channel.
Scientists are blogging in ever increasing numbers, and the most
popular blogs draw hundreds of thousands of readers each month.
These blogging scientists not only offer expertise for free, but
have emerged as an important resource for reporters. A Nature survey
of nearly 500 science journalists shows that most have used a
scientist's blog in developing story ideas.
Sadly, blogging will not help, and could even hurt, a young
researcher's chances of tenure. Many of their elders still look down
on colleagues who blog, believing that research should be
communicated only through conventional channels such as peer-review
and publication. Indeed, many researchers are hesitant even to speak
to the popular press, for fear of having their carefully chosen
words twisted beyond recognition.
But in today's overstressed media market, scientists must change
these attitudes if they want to stay in the public eye. Even if they
are reluctant to talk to the press themselves, they should encourage
colleagues who do so responsibly. Scientists are poised to reach
more people than ever, but only if they can embrace the very
technology that they have developed.
Successes and Failures with Ag Biotech in
Developing Countries in the Past
FAO Biotechnology Forum; e-mail conference, April 20 to May 17,
The aim of the e-mail
conference is to analyse past experiences of applying different
agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries, to document
and discuss what has succeeded or failed and to determine and
evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their success or
As usual, the conference is open to everyone, is free and will be
moderated. To join the Forum (and also register for the conference),
send an e-mail to
email@example.com leaving the subject blank and entering
the following text on two lines
subscribe BIOTECH-Lsubscribe biotech-room4
For more information, contact
Vatican Cheers GM
Anna Meldolesi, Nature Biotechnology 27, 214 (2009)
door meeting to be held at the Vatican in Rome in May will see
leading scientists gathering to discuss a campaign backing
agricultural biotech. The study week has been organized by Ingo
Potrykus, co-inventor of the fortified Golden Rice technology and
president of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, on behalf of the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The Vatican has long been concerned
about food security, and advisors from the academy, which holds a
membership roster of the most respected names in twentieth-century
science, have recognized that plant biotech has the potential to
benefit the poor.
Global Crisis 'to Strike by 2030'
Christine McGourty, BBC News, March 19, 2009
Growing world population will cause a "perfect storm" of food,
energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief
scientist has warned. By 2030 the demand for resources will create a
crisis with dire consequences. "It's a perfect storm," Prof
Beddington told the Sustainable Development UK 09 conference.
"There's not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start
getting really worrying if we don't tackle these problems." Demand
for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by
30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in
London. Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable
ways, he added.
Prof Beddington said the looming crisis would match the current
one in the banking sector. "My main concern is what will happen
internationally, there will be food and water shortages," he said.
"We're relatively fortunate in the UK; there may not be shortages
here, but we can expect prices of food and energy to rise."
The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread
water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025. The amount
of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to
decline sharply in that time. The issue of food and energy security
rose high on the political agenda last year during a spike in oil
and commodity prices.
At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease
before they are harvested. Professor Beddington said: "We have to
address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant
plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures.
"Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We
need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity - a mixture
of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding.
He wants policy-makers in the European Commission to receive the
same high level of scientific advice as the new US president, Barack
Obama. One solution would be to create a new post of chief science
adviser to the European Commission, he suggested. ''
Rogue's Gallery Opposes Golden Rice
Andrew Apel, GMOBelus, March 21, 2009
It appears that Golden Rice
will be released to farmers in the Philippines by 2012. Already,
deaths worldwide from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) are over 16
million. By 2012, the number of deaths will be millions greater --
perhaps more than those who died from Stalin's intentional
food-deprivation policies during 1932-33.
Opponents of Golden Rice, like those who oppose GM crops
generally, have complained for at least a decade about the ethics of
feeding GM foods to humans without human testing. Now, they're
complaining about human testing.
Who are these people, who are willing to sacrifice human lives
for the sake of elusive, contradictory principles, in the face of
historical experiences universally regarded as misguided, and more
In an open letter to Tufts University, the organization which is
sponsoring three feeding trials of Golden Rice, these people
describe themselves as "all senior scientists/academics with a
professional interest", who view the work as "woefully inadequate"
and "completely unacceptable".
Books & Articles
Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified
Edited by N Ferry, University of Newcastle; A Gatehouse,University
of Newcastle; CABI, Hardback ; February 2009; ISBN: 9781845934095;
The genetic modification of crops continues to be the
subject of intense debate, and opinions are often strongly
polarised. Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops
addresses the major concerns of scientists, policy makers,
environmental lobby groups and the general public regarding this
controversial issue, from an editorially neutral standpoint.
Details and Intro plus sample chapter at
Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically
Modified Crops within IPM Programs
Edited by Jörg Romeis, Anthony M. Shelton, George G. Kennedy;
Hardcover: 441 pages; Springer; 1 edition (September 11, 2008);
Insect pests remain one of the main
constraints to food and fiber production worldwide despite farmers
deploying a range of techniques to protect their crops. Modern pest
control is guided by the principles of integrated pest management (IPM)
with pest resistant germplasm being an important part of the
foundation. Since 1996, when the first genetically modified (GM)
insect-resistant maize variety was commercialized in the USA, the
area planted to insect-resistant GM varieties has grown
dramatically, representing the fastest adoption rate of any
agricultural technology in human history.
The goal of our book is to provide an overview on the role
insect-resistant GM plants play in different crop systems worldwide.
We hope that the book will contribute to a more rational debate
about the role GM crops can play in IPM for food and fiber
Three-Year Field Monitoring of Cry1F
Event DAS-O15O71, Maize Hybrids for Nontarget Arthropod Effects
Higgins, Laura S. et al. Environmental Entomology; Vol. 38, No. 1,
pp. 281-292(12); February 2009
Results of these
studies confirm earlier laboratory testing and support the
hypothesis that Cry1F maize does not produce adverse effects on
nontarget arthropods occurring in maize fields.
The iPlant Collaborative
will bring together researchers in every plant biology
discipline-from those working at the microscopic level, such as
molecular biologists, cellular biologists and geneticists, to those
working on the ecosystem and planetary level-in partnership with
computer scientists and engineers, information scientists,
mathematicians and social scientists, in order to facilitate
communication and collaboration across all of these disciplines and
provide tools so that these specialists can work together more
effectively than they have in the past.
Agricultural Productivity, Food & Nutrition
In the recently concluded 5th World
Islamic Economic Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia, Joachim Von Braun,
Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute
highlighted three important strategies that policy makers,
development practitioners, donors and private sectors need to engage
into, to combat hunger and poverty in the coming decades. These are:
Increase investment in agricultural productivity, facilitate trade
in regional and global grain reserves, and invest in social
protection and child nutrition. He said he was optimistic that these
measures accompanied with national policies and international
cooperation, and commitment by the global community will help
significantly in reducing the number of poor, hungry, and
For details see the press statement of the director general at:
US: Compendium of Transgenic Crop Plants, 10
Wiley-Blackwell (Via Agnet)
The Set offers a comprehensive review of the commercially relevant
transgenic plants developed and presently utilized. Volumes 1-9
cover around 100 plant species, from crops to forest trees. Volume
10 is the master index volume.
Each chapter covers one particular species (or sometimes group of
closely related species) and the transgenic versions developed for
that particular species.
Transforming Agricultural Education for a
New book by NAS, 206 pages, 2009, $47.00 ISBN-10: 0-309-13217-7
During the next ten years, colleges of agriculture will be
challenged to transform their role in higher education and their
relationship to the evolving global food and agricultural
enterprise. If successful, agriculture colleges will emerge as an
important venue for scholars and stakeholders to address some of the
most complex and urgent problems facing society.
Ecological Impact of Genetically Modified
14-16 May 2009, Rostock, Germany
ACHEMA 2009 29
Ausstellungskongress für Chemische Technik, Umweltschutz und
Biotechnologie Frankfurt am Main, 11. - 15. Mai 2009
3rd European Course for Biobusiness
June 24 – 28, 2009
Hotel Bildungszentrum 21, Basel, Switzerland
8th International Symposium in the
RECENT ADVANCES IN PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY
NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN GREEN GENE TECHNOLOGY
1-4 September, 2009 – Szeged, Hungary
European Congress on Biotechnology (ECB-14)
which will be held in Barcelona from 13 to 16 September, 2009.
Abstracts submission deadline is April 1. Early bird fees deadline
is June 14. Check out the congress programme on the website (www.ecb14.eu)
to see all the details – and register.
African Crop Science Society Conference
The 9th African Crop
Science Society Conference is scheduled to be held on 28 September
2009 at Cape Town, South Africa. The theme of the conference will be
"Science and Technology Supporting Food Security in Africa". Aspects
such as agronomy, horticulture, crop improvement and physiology,
post harvest handling and food sciences and rural socio-economics
and agricultural extension will be covered.
Agriculture: Africa's Engine for Growth
The Association of Applied Biologists is organizing an international
conference that will be held at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden,
Herts, UK on 12-14 October 2009. With the theme Agriculture:
Africa's Engine for Growth - Plant Science & Biotechnology Hold the
Key, the international symposium is designed to bring together
scientists from Africa, Europe and the USA to examine how new
advances in plant science research and developing technologies can
be used to the benefit of African agriculture.
Europe - EU
EU regulation as a Barrier
Cisgenesis Boosts Apple Disease Resistance
Brian Lovelidge, HorticultureWeek via
Apples are being genetically modified in the Netherlands to make
them resistant to scab and in due course other diseases, too. The
technique being used should be more acceptable to environmentalists
and consumers because the resistance genes being used come from wild
apple species rather than a foreign source.
This type of genetic modification, called cisgenesis, was
described by Henk Schouten of Plant Research International, based at
Wageningen University, at Agrovista's spring fruit meeting, which
took place on 11 February at Ashford, Kent. He explained that with
conventional breeding the production of scab-resistant varieties of
good eating quality and suitability for commercial production takes
as long as 50 years. This has been done using a crab apple, Malus
floribunda, as the source of scab resistance. The trouble is that
only one resistance gene is involved and in Holland this resistance
has broken down within 10 years of the resistant variety being
The big advantages of cisgenesis, Schouten claimed, are that it
is a much quicker process; several resistant genes can be used,
making the breakdown of resistance unlikely; and the genes are
inserted into the genomes of good-quality, established varieties, so
no lengthy cross breeding is required to get commercially acceptable
"Science now knows how to isolate genes (for resistance) and
introduce them into the DNA of existing varieties," said Schouten.
"Once we've got the right gene in our hands it will cost about
EUR500,000 (Ł440,000) to get it into a
However, he admitted that there is a potential problem in getting
a cisgenesis variety approved by the EU Commission for commercial
production. This is because EU laws do not differentiate between
varieties containing genes introduced from foreign and same-species
sources and to get a GM variety approved is very time-consuming and
costs around EUR 6.8m.
Test Failures A Threat for Organic Pesticides
William Surman, Farmers Guardian (UK), March 26, 2009
Nearly half of the pesticides
specially approved for use in organic farming have failed EU safety
tests and more could follow as the rules are tightened, according to
the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).
Most organic food is produced without the use of pesticides but
farmers are allowed to use a limited range as a last resort on
particular crops. Some pesticides approved for organic farming
failed safety tests 'based on good science' and more could be
removed when rules tighten.
As part of the ongoing assessment of all pesticides, the European
Food Safety Authority has approved just 14 of the 27 organic
pesticides put before it since the EU's Plant Protection Products
(pesticides) regulations came into force in 1996, although many have
received a derogation for continued use. The ECPA said the
pesticides had failed the safety tests 'based on good science' but
warned tighter rules on pesticides due next year could remove more
organic pesticides from farmers' armoury.
It said new pesticides regulation could result in reduced yields
and force organic prices up for no good reason. "Our concern is that
pesticides could be removed from organic farmers under the new
regulation that is not based on rational science or risk analysis,"
said an ECPA spokesman. "Organic farmers already have limited
options for crop protection and if more products are removed
productivity could fall and prices could increase."
He added the organic industry would find it increasingly
difficult to meet food production targets and supply the growing
organic market. "We are concerned about sustaining Europe's ability
to maintain a sufficient and affordable food supply if too many pest
management solutions are lost too quickly," he said.
EuropaBio calls on EU political leaders to
offer EU farmers the freedom to cultivate GM crops
number of EU farmers wanting the choice to cultivate biotech crops
is on the increase reported
EuropaBio; a recent set of surveys carried out across Europe echo
the ever increasing worldwide demand for biotech crops.
Water-Wise Solutions from Agricultural
EuropaBio, Brussels, March 20, 2009
Fresh water is one of the
world's most valuable resources and in the future it is going to be
even more precious. Agriculture accounts for 70% of all human water
use and, if current trends continue, water shortages will be the
single most significant constraint on crop production over the next
"Worldwide, agricultural biotechnology could play a significant
role in providing farmers yield stability during periods when water
supply is scarce by mitigating the effects of drought - or water
stress - within a plant" said Nathalie Moll "We already know that
areas of high water stress in Europe are likely to dramatically
increase in the coming years1. Yet what is less certain, is if and
when EU farmers, whose land is currently 80% rain-fed, will be
offered the choice of growing crops which can reduce water loss and
improve drought tolerance"
Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging
reality with seeds expected to be commercialized by 2012. Field
trials for drought-tolerant maize conducted last year in the Western
Great Plains in the United States have met or exceeded 6-10 percent
target yield enhancement over the average yield of 70-130 bushels
per acre (equivalent to approximately 4.4-8.1 metric tons per
hectare). In addition, agricultural practices have already been
developed that reduce the amount of ploughing required before
Germany’s minister considering the ban of
genetically modified Bt maize
Germany’s minister of
agriculture, Ilse Aigner (CSU), annouced that she will be
considering a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified Bt
maize in Germany, has brought forth intense reactions. Please read
the whole text: "It undermines the credibility of biosafety
Ecologist Dr. Stefan Rauschen, who has for many years been
actively conducting research into issues relating to the
environmental safety of Bt maize, has written an open letter to
Aigner and the Bavarian environment and health minister, Markus
GERMANY GIVES € 1.35 MILLION TO DEVELOP
NITROGEN EFFICIENT RICE
The German Federal Ministry of
Education and Research has awarded Freie Universität Berlin and
China Agricultural University a € 1.35 million (US$ 1.74 million)
grant for a project that could speed up the development of nitrogen
use efficient rice varieties. The scientists working on the project
will focus on deciphering the molecular structures responsible for
urea's absorption and metabolism in the crop. Urea is the
nitrogenous fertilizer most commonly used in agriculture around the
world, particularly in Asia where it accounts for more than half of
the fertilizers used. Availability of nitrogen use efficient rice
varieties can significantly reduce the amount of fertilizers farmers
apply to fields. This can increase farm productivity and reduce the
ecological impacts associated with nitrogen fertilizers.
The press release at
BULGARIA SUPPORTS HUNGARY'S ANTI-GM STANCE
Bulgaria's Environment Ministry announced that the country is
backing up Hungary's decision to stay GMO free, according to a
report by Bulgaria's national English-language newspaper the Sofia
Echo. The announcement was made by Ministry of Environment secretary
Djevdet Chakurov during a visit by Hungary's ambassador to the
Bioethics conference in Brussels attracts over
50 people from industry, research and EU institutions
50 participants attended the February 9th bioethics conference in
Brussels (held as part of the EU FP6 project “From GMP to GBP”)
jointly organized by EuropaBio and France Biotech. Lively
discussions were held around a number of topics, including bioethics
and clinical trials, bioethics and genetic testing, bio-banking and
gene and cell therapy.
Dr Ewen Mullins, Sunday Times (UK) March 15, 2009
(Dr Ewen Mullins is a senior research officer at the Teagasc Crops
Research Centre in Carlow.
This is an excerpt from recent research
published in Annals of Applied Biology.)
When the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was in place, Ireland
concentrated on boosting crop yields by increased use of pesticides
and fertilisers. Between 1985 and 2006, Irish cereal production
increased by 4.6%, yet the area under cereals declined by 29%, from
380,000 hectares to 270,000. But these dramatic efficiencies came
with a significant social and environmental cost. The number of
agricultural workers in Ireland has declined to approximately 40% of
what it was in 1973 and there has been an enormous deterioration in
water and soil quality. There has been a noticeable reduction in
biological diversity on farms. Equally dramatic changes are expected
to occur in agriculture between now and 2030.
The principle reason is the current suite of EU-approved GM crops
is not suited to Ireland's agri-environment. But this will change in
the near future as new varieties with increased disease resistance,
elevated protein content and improved bioenergy potential come on
The relevance of these crops is all the more real in light of the
challenges facing Irish agriculture. Climate change will be hugely
demanding for tillage farmers. By 2040, temperatures in Ireland are
predicted to increase by 1.25-1.5C, with rainfall expected to
increase by up to 15% in the winter months and to decrease by up to
20% over the summer.
Reducing the use of fungicides and herbicides is a critical goal.
In 2004, total chemical inputs for arable crops in Ireland totalled
1,520 tonnes, including 663 tonnes of herbicide, 619 of fungicide,
29 of insecticide and 209 of other products. New crops that are
modified to resist disease will give Irish farmers the opportunity
to reduce use of fungicides.
Potato varieties resistant to blight have been created and are
now being tested. Potato farmers currently spray their crop with
fungicides up to 14 times per growing season; a blight-tolerant
variety could eliminate this. That would save the farmer up to €200
a hectare and reduce the crop's environmental impact. The
introduction of GM crops has been greeted with scepticism,
especially among the public. But the increase in food and feed
prices, and the shortages of both experienced last year, may
eventually change the public's opinion.
Randomly against Biosciences
Thomas Deichmann, Novo, Feb. 24, 2009
A recent demonstration, which took place in Vienna backed the
Austrian government's position against Green Biotechnology. Vienna
has obstructed the cultivation of genetically engineered plants for
years, even though this is legal according to EU-law. In a
voodoo-like appeal, genetic engineering is linked with "a drastic
increase in allergies and cancer".
in Germany, the anti-GM-activist Vandana Shiva tours the country
again. The Bavarian government has recently announced, to put even
more obstacles in the way for the cultivation of genetically
More than ten years ago, the (Green) Federal Minster of
Agriculture, Renate Künast has turned GM technologies into a
projection surface for irrational anxiety and anti-americanism. Her
successor, the Christian Democrat Horst Seehofer kept these
principles, because he realized quickly, how easy Bavarian
crackerbarrels can be conquered with hollow greenish slogans. Now
Ilse Aigner, also Christian Democrat, followed Seehofer to the
Federal Ministry for Agriculture, being quick to announce, to review
this year's Bt-corn cultivation anew, just because GM-technology had
"no significant benefit for the people in this country".
MALAWI'S AGRICULTURE MINISTRY RELEASES
DROUGHT-PROOF MAIZE VARIETIES
The country's Agriculture
Ministry has recently released two drought-proof maize varieties in
the Balaka District, a
drought-prone region in Southern Malawi. The varieties, developed by
the Agriculture Ministry in collaboration with the International
Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), can tolerate the
region's dry, infertile soil. Both are open pollinated varieties.
They are also resistant to an array of diseases that plague maize
crops in sub-Saharan Africa, including the maize streak virus and
the gray leaf spot.
According to Africa News Science, the new maize varieties will be
included in Malawi's national agricultural input subsidy program.
This program is credited as being the force behind the country's
food self sufficiency. Agriculture Secretary Andrew Daudi said,
"Farmers have embraced these new varieties and have even given them
local names, meaning that they appreciate them, especially ZM 309,
an early maturing, dwarf and disease-resistant variety."
The complete article is available at
MOU TO STRENGTHEN BIOTECH AWARENESS IN AFRICA
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the African
Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA)
AfriCenter to strengthen biotechnology and biosafety awareness
creation and knowledge-sharing in Africa through the Open Forum on
Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB).
For more information contact Daniel Otunge of ISAAA AfriCenter at
Mauritius to Implement Biosafety Framework
African Press Agency, Port Louis (Mauritius)
Mauritius will implement a national biosafety framework on the use
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to ensure that the health
of the population and the environment are not put in danger,
Agro-Industry and Food Production Minister Satish Faugoo announced
Ghana to Undertake Field Trials on GM Crops
Ghana will soon begin field trials with Genetically Modified crops,
which, when successful, will help enhance agricultural modernization
and productivity. This follows the coming into force of a
legislative instrument in May 2008 allowing research into GM crops
pending the passage of the Biosafety Bill. A secretariat is to be
set up to ensure the smooth administrative implementation of the
Bill Gates to Fund $47m Anti-drought GM Maize
Halima Abdallah K The East African, Feb 28, 2009
The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and the Howard G Buffett Foundation are to sponsor a
five-country study on a drought-resistant maize variety to a tune of
$47 million. The five-year research programme, to be carried out
through the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, will kick
off in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Uganda under
the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project in June.
It is estimated that maize products developed over the next 10
years could increase yields by 20 to 35 per cent under moderate
drought compared with current varieties. This should translate into
an additional two million tonnes of maize during drought years,
capable of feeding about 21 million people.
OBAMA SIGNS MEMORANDUM ON SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY
"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival
as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It's time
we once again put science at the top of our agenda and work to
restore America's place as the world leader in science and
technology." With this pronouncement United States President Barack
Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity.
The Memorandum aims to "restore scientific integrity in
government decision making." Hence, the Administration's decisions
about public policy will be guided by the most accurate and
objective scientific advice available. "The public must be able to
trust that advice, as well, and to be confident that public
officials will not conceal or distort the scientific findings that
are relevant to policy choice," the Memorandum noted.
Read more on the Memorandum at
MSU ARSONIST SENTENCED TO 21 YEARS
Marie Mason, an environmental activist, was sentenced to 21 years
and ten months in prison for her role in an Earth Liberation Front
arson at the Michigan State University (MSU) in 1999. Mason's group protested the University's
involvement in transgenic research. Aren Burthwick and Stephanie
Fultz were also indicted and charged with assisting in a cover-up
related to the case and failing to report the arson to authorities.
Read more at
CHINA GIVES USD 30 MILLION TO BOOST AGRICULTURE
IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
China's Ministry of Agriculture has
signed a USD 30 million cooperation deal with the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve agricultural
productivity in developing countries, particularly in Africa. "This
historic agreement underlines the importance of the role which China
has come to play in the global arena today," said FAO Assistant
Director-General José Maria Sumpsi. Sumpsi signed the agreement in
Beijing with Chinese Vice-Minister for Agriculture Niu Dun.
The FAO-China fund will have a strong focus in Africa, but will
not exclude other regions, the UN agency said, with Beijing
releasing USD 10 million a year. China will provide experts to
developing countries for technical assistance and training as well
as agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds. Read the press
Chinese Academy of Sciences and Agrobiological
Professor Lu Yongxiang, vice head of the National People's Congress Standing
Committee and president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)
said: "Agro-biological research must rely on the innovation of
science and technology. We need to upgrade our agriculture industry
framework, and develop a high quality and effective agricultural
ecosystem. Establishing a high value bioindustry that guarantees
food and agriculture product security is imperative." He made these
remarks during a visit to the Institute of Genetics and
Developmental Biology (IGDB) where he also discussed activities of
the Plant Gene Research Center, Molecular Agro-biology Center,
Developmental Biology Center and National Plant Gene Platform of
Dr. Xue Yongbiao, director of IGDB, said that there is a need to
set up the science and technology innovation system for modern
agriculture. Dr. Zhang Zhibin, Director of Bureau of Life Science
and Biotechnology, CAS and Director Pan Jiaofeng of Bureau of
Planning and Strategy, CAS also attended the meeting.
For the Chinese version of the press release, visit
India outshines China
Sudhir Chowdhary, Financial Express (India), March 9, 2009
An interesting game of
research might is being played out between India and China in the
realm of biotech crops. After years of extensive field trials, China
is getting ready to launch biotech (Bt) rice for commercial use
within 24 months. The development is significant as rice is the most
important food crop in the world, especially for the poor.
Therefore, it could answer the current food security problem.
Not to be left far behind, researchers at various government and
private institutes in India are conducting extensive field trials
on, not only biotech rice but, a host of other biotech crops before
they are made available for cultivation on a commercial scale.
Specifically to biotech rice, field trials are being conducted at
Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, Mahyco,
Mumbai, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Hyderabad and
Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad.
However, biotech eggplant (brinjal) may be made available as the
first biotech food crop in India within the next 12 months. In
total, there are now 10 biotech crops in field trials in India.
These include cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn, groundnut, okra,
potato and tomato. Clearly, India's increased public and private
sector investments including government support for crop
biotechnology has helped it outshine China.
Scientists to Develop Hybrid Cotton Varieties
At Lower Cost
Jacob P. Koshy, livemint.com, March 2, 2009 via
DELHI, India - Indian scientists plan to launch hybrid varieties of
genetically modified cotton seeds at nearly one-third the price
charged by most seed companies in the country, said a scientist on
condition of anonymity.
The hybrids will be developed from a genetically modified variety
of cotton-Bt Bikaneri Narma, which has been developed by a
consortium of research institutions and universities, including the
Central Institute for Cotton Research, or CICR, Nagpur, and the
University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka.
BAYER INVESTS IN HYBRID RICE IN THAILAND
Germany-based Bayer Group plans to invest 100 million baht
(approximately US$2.8M) between 2008 and 2012 on hybrid rice
development in Thailand. It expects to commercialize hybrid rice
seed under the Arize brand in 2011. Currently, Charoen Pokphand
Group, the country's largest agriculture company, is one of a
handful of active players in hybrid rice technology. Thailand is the
world's sixth-largest rice producer but the biggest exporter,
shipping 60 percent of output abroad.
For more information from the Biotechnology and Biosafety
Information Center (BBIC-Thailand) visit http://www.safetybio.agri.kps.ku.ac.th/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5015&Itemid=42
INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT AND PIONEER HI-BRED ENTER
For the first time, the Indonesian government
will team up with a multinational company to breed and market hybrid
rice. DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred was granted access by the
for Rice Research (ICRR) to test and commercialize its rice hybrids
in Asia. The hybrid rice varieties will primarily be exported to the
Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and India. ICRR and Pioneer Hi-Bred
signed a memorandum of agreement last Monday at the Indonesian
Agency for Agricultural Research and Development. Financial details
of the agreement were not disclosed.
For more information, read
(article in Bahasa
Enabling Bio-innovations for Poverty
Alleviation in Asia:
Call for proposals
Enabling Bio-Innovation For Poverty Alleviation in Asia" is a
competitive research grants awarding program supported by Canada's
International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Asia Regional
Office Singapore) in partnership with the Asian Institute of
Technology (AIT,Thailand). The project aims to stimulate and enable
research on bio-innovation in Asia that addresses poverty
alleviation, and to initiate and support the building of a network
of researchers and scholars committed to understanding and enhancing
bio-innovation towards economically progressive and socially
IRRI TO CELEBRATE 50TH YEAR IN 2010
Fifty years of rice research by 2010. The International Rice
Research Institute celebrates its golden anniversary as Asia's
largest and oldest international agricultural research organization.
IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler said IRRI's celebrations will
focus on the "enormous challenges faced by poor rice farmers and
Among the scheduled events include the launch of IRRI's 50th
anniversary by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of
Thailand on November 17, 2009 at IRRI in Los Bańos,
Philippines. She will also open the 6th International Rice Genetics
Symposium in Manila that same month. The 3rd International Rice
Congress is set to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam In November 2010 with
the theme Rice for Future Generations. The congress will include the 28th
International Rice Research Conference, 3rd World Rice
Commerce Conference, and 3rd International Rice
Technology and Cultural Expo.
Email Sophie Clayton for details of the anniversary activities at
BIOTECH MINISTERS SUPPORT THE USE OF BIOTECH
FOR FOOD SECURITY
A three day International Conference on
Plant Breeding and Seed for Food Security was recently held at the
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Dhaka, Bangladesh with
both Ms. Matia Chowdhury, Minister for Agriculture and Dr. M. A.
Razzaque, Minister for Food and Disaster Management supporting the
use of biotechnology as the prime option for food and nutritional
security for Bangladesh.
Ms. Chowdhury assured that the government will continually
support initiatives for food security using high tech agriculture.
Dr. Razzaque on the other hand, emphasized the development of world
class biotech laboratories and research institutions that will
conduct significant research to address agricultural problems such
as salinity, waterlogging, drought, diseases and pests. He
further suggested to develop varieties for improved water/nutrient
use efficiency and more photosynthetic ability like converting C3 to
Similarly, Bangladesh Food and Agriculture Organization
representative Ad Spijkers expressed his support to biotech and
basic research especially for developing saline tolerant crops and
other varieties of crops with important traits for food security.
The conference was attended by 600 scientists, seed growers,
farmers, researchers and was chaired by Dr Kazi Badruddoza, National
For details of the conference, contact Dr. K. M. Nasiruddin of
Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at
Field trials of GM Projects Yield 'Promising'
Philip Hopkins, Business Times, March 29, 2009
Preliminary trials in
Victoria show that genetically modified wheat could lift production
yields by about 20 per cent and GM pastures could economically boost
the dairy, beef and wool industries. Molecular Plant Breeding CRC
chief executive Glenn Tong said trials of its drought-tolerant wheat
in 2007 and last year were "very promising" - with yields of the GM
wheat up to 20 per cent higher than non-GM wheat under drought
"We have to be very cautious about the interpretation of these
preliminary results and bear in mind that there are many field
trials to come," Dr Tong said. Similarly, he said CRC modelling
indicated dairy cows eating GM varieties of perennial ryegrass could
produce 20 per cent more milk.
Dr Tong showed the preliminary results of the various trials and
economic impact modelling to the annual conference of the Victorian
Farmers' Federation Grains Council last week. Molecular Plant
Breeding CRC, based at Bundoora in northern Melbourne, is conducting
the $28 million, seven-year GM drought-tolerant wheat project in
partnership with BASF Plant Science, a plant biotechnology
subsidiary of German chemical giant BASF.
'The GM drought-tolerant wheat is not expected to be released to
the market for at least another eight years. "There will be another
four or five years of trials," Dr Tong said, followed by three or
four years to gain regulatory approval, for example from the Office
of the Gene Technology Regulator in Australia and similar
Dr. Tong said a big side-benefit could come from animals
producing less methane. "If the grass is more digestible, this could
translate to more efficient fermentation, which in turn could
translate to less methane being produced," he said. "But this
hypothesis needs to be tested in animal trials in the future." Dr
Tong said he estimated the ryegrass project should create a
commercial product by about 2015.
CLIMATE CHANGE MAY PROMPT WEED ATTACK
Scientists from Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization
(CSIRO) warned that climate change could spell big trouble for
Australia. The country has suffered an epic drought in 2006 and
2007, attributed to Global Warming. Now CSIRO scientists believe
that climate change will cause some of Australia's potential weeds
to move south by up to 1000 km. Weeds cost Australia some 4 billion
AUD (2 billion USD) either in control or lost production annually.
The CSIRO researchers looked at what effects climate changes
anticipated for 2030 and 2070 might have on the distribution of 41
weeds that pose a threat to agriculture and the natural environment.
South east and south west Australia are the regions most threatened
by weeds, according to CSIRO researcher John Scott. Weeds found to
pose the greatest threat under climate change include: karroo thorn
(Acacia karroo), rosewood (Tipuana tipu) and kochia (Bassia
For more information, read
CSIRO PLANS LIMITED RELEASE OF GM WHEAT
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has submitted an
application to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR)
for the limited and controlled release of up to 16 genetically
modified wheat varieties. Grain characteristics, particularly
carbohydrate and protein composition, were altered in the transgenic
lines. These characteristics influence baking qualities and
nutritional characteristics, such as glycemic index and metabolic
health. The GM wheat lines also contain a selectable marker gene (nptII)
which confers resistance to certain antibiotics.
If approved, the release will take place in the Australian
Capital Territory on a total area of up to 1 hectare between 2009
and 2012. OGTR has prepared a Risk Assessment and Risk Management
Plan (RARMP) which concludes that the release poses negligible risks
to people and the environment. OGTR seeks comment on the prepared
For more information, contact
News in Science
Global Wheat Crop Threatened by Fungus:
David Biello, Scientific American, March 20, 2009
(Full interview at
'A new strain of a devastating fungus could impact wheat crops the
world over--and scientists are scrambling to nip it in the bud'
Ten years ago we identified a new stem rust race in Uganda-that's
why it's called Ug99. More than 90 percent of the world's wheat
varieties are susceptible to it. Clearly, this represents a major
threat to production because, historically, stem rust was the most
important wheat disease.
In the late 1950s stem rust was the first disease for which
agricultural scientists developed resistant wheat strains.
Resistance was so good that for 50 years, we didn't worry. Norman
Borlaug [1970 Nobel Peace Prize-winner and developer of resistant
wheat] saw the susceptibility to Ug99 and he rang the alert bell.
The Global Rust Initiative was established then to fight stem rust
on a global level.
Some 300 to 350 people involved in wheat breeding, and
particularly rust resistance, gathered this week [at the
international symposium] to discuss the latest progress in
developing varieties resistant to stem rust.
How big is the problem?
Stem rust has been confirmed in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen,
Sudan and Iran. Historically, central and eastern Africa is a big
center for new rust races. We know that it spreads very fast from
East Africa to Asia, southern Africa, even Australia.
Will farmers plant these new strains?
We must provide farmers with varieties that are better than what
they currently grow. Farmers haven't seen stem rust for 50 years so
they will just ignore [the threat]. We have to have strains with 10
percent higher yield, otherwise they won't change.
Will these new strains offer benefits for other problems, like
We cannot develop a cultivar only for one specific trait. They
have to have a package. That package includes drought tolerance,
yield, ability to withstand nutrient deficiency, and resistance to a
wide spectrum of disease.
By enhancing the
expression of the Glossy 15 gene, scientists at the
University of Illinois developed transgenic corn plants that produce
more biomass. The gene was originally identified for its roles in
giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen to
protect the young plant. The gene is also responsible for slowing
down shoot maturation.
Stephen Moose and colleagues observed that amplification of
Glossy 15 in corn resulted to bigger plants. Although there is less
grain, the transgenic plants produce more sugar in the stalks. This
makes the corn suitable as biofuel feedstock and livestock feed.
The original article is available at
Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) js
looking forward to the introduction of a new variety of pigeonpea
called Pushkal, the first commercially available hybrid legume in
The new hybrid pigeon pea is resistant to drought conditions and
has a strong root system that aids in nitrogen fixation. In
addition, the new hybrid was found to be highly resistant to
diseases such as Fusarium wilt.
For details of the features of the new hybrid, how it was
developed and the strategies on its distribution, see then news
PLANTS AS SOLAR-POWERED BIOFACTORIE
Scientists at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands achieved
a major advance by developing transgenic potato plants producing
itaconic acid, a valuable raw material used in the production of
high-quality synthetic materials such as resins and acrylic latexes.
Iatonic acid serves as a starting material for production of
methacrylate, building blocks for PMMA or polymethyl methacrylate
acrylic plastic (known also as Lucite, plexiglass or perspex), with
a global production volume of 3 million. PMMA is used as a glass
substitute, radiation shield, and optical media storage and in bone
implants and dentures.
For more information, read
INTERLEUKIN-10 FROM GM TOBACCO
you think of tobacco, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You
won't think of health benefits, of course. Tobacco use has been
associated with numerous diseases, including certain forms of
cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular illnesses. But
that's about to change. Scientists at the University of Verona, led
by Mario Pezzotti, have developed transgenic tobacco plants
accumulating high levels of interleukin 10 (IL10). IL10 is a
regulatory cytokine (signaling protein) that plays a central role in
mediating immune responses. Oral administration of IL10 can prevent
the onset of several autoimmune diseases. IL10 also has the
potential to treat numerous human diseases such as type-1 diabetes
and many types of cancer.
The transgenic tobacco plants were able to produce the correct,
pharmaceutically active form of IL10. The compound was produced in
high levels (up to 37 microg/g fresh leaf), making it possible to
use tobacco leaves without the costly and tedious extraction and
purification processes. The IL10 gene was specifically expressed in
the endoplasmic reticulum of plant cells. The scientists will next
test the effectivity of the tobacco-derived IL10 by feeding it to
mice with autoimmune diseases.
The paper published by BMC Biotechnology
is available at
BT COTTON DOES NOT AFFECT COTTON APHIDS
Jörg Romeis from Agroscope ART in Zurich, Switzerland, and
colleagues assessed the performance of cotton aphids, Aphis gossypii,
when grown on three Indian Bt (Cry1Ac) cotton varieties and their
corresponding non-transformed near isolines. While plant
transformation did not influence a range of aphid life-table
parameters, some variation was observed among the three cotton
varieties. Furthermore, the authors examined whether aphids pick up
the Bt protein and analyzed the sugar composition of aphid honeydew
to evaluate its suitability for honeydew-feeders. None of the aphid
samples contained Bt protein. As a consequence, natural enemies that
feed on aphids are not exposed to the Cry protein. A significant
difference in the sugar composition of aphid honeydew was detected
among cotton varieties as well as between transformed and
non-transformed plants. However, it is questionable if this
variation is of ecological relevance, especially as honeydew is not
the only sugar source parasitoids feed on in cotton fields.
The study allows the conclusion that Bt cotton poses a negligible
risk for aphid antagonists and that aphids should remain under
natural control in Bt cotton fields.
The article is published online by PLoS ONE. For the full article,
ANTI-CANCER DRUG FROM TRANSGENIC MOSS
Scientists at the Southern Illinois University and Washington
University in the U.S. have developed transgenic moss (Phsycomitrella
patens) accumulating high levels of paclitaxel, a potent
anti-cancer drug. Paclitaxel, or more commonly known by its brand
name Taxol, is widely prescribed to patients with lung, breast and
ovarian cancer as well as to patients with advanced form of Kaposi's
sarcoma. First isolated from the bark of Pacific yew (Taxus
brevifolia), paclitaxel inhibits the proliferation of cancer
cells by disrupting microtubule disassembly during cell division.
Extremely low levels of paclitaxel in Pacific yew prompted
researchers to develop chemical methods to synthesize the
anti-cancer agent. Transgenic expression systems, especially using
bacteria and yeasts, have also been used to produce paclitaxel
precursors. But none of these methods are suitable for large-scale
commercial production of paclitaxel. Currently, the drug is
manufactured from a precursor compound isolated from the needles of
Compared to other plant expression systems, the transgenic moss
that the scientists developed accumulated higher levels of the
paclitaxel precursor taxa-4(5),11(12)-diene (up to 0.05% fresh
weight of tissue). Although this is lower than what can be achieved
when yeasts and bacteria are used, the scientists noted that
microbes have different post-translational modification mechanisms
which may affect the activity of the paclitaxel precursor.
The complete article published by Transgenic Research
available for download at
Cyanophycin potatoes: Plastic form potatoes
A field trial at the University of Rostock is developing methods for
assessing the safety of 2nd and 3rd generation
GM plants long before they are potentially brought onto the market.
One prototype for such plants is a potato that has been genetically
modified so that its tubers and leaves produce cyanophycin, which
can be used to obtain a biodegradable plastic. Two current biosafety
research projects are studying the potential environmental impacts
of cyanophycin potatoes.
Cyanophycin is a protein produced by cyanobacteria (blue-green
algae) and some other bacteria. They use it to store nitrogen, among
other things. One component of cyanophycin is polyaspartate, which
can be used as a biodegradable plastic. Polyaspartate binds calcium
and therefore has potential applications in e.g. detergents as a
Polyaspartate can also be obtained through chemical synthesis,
but is currently produced only in small quantities. It is more
biodegradable than comparable polyacrylates, but not totally
biodegradable like the polyaspartate produced in cyanophycin.
As well as producing cyanophycin in plants, it is possible to
produce it in bioreactors (fermenters) using biotechnology methods
with bacteria or cell cultures. However, this produces genetically
modified bacteria like GM E.coli bacteria, instead of cyanobacteria.
An advantage of producing cyanophycin in plants instead of in
fermenters is that cyanophycin can be produced cheaply as a
by-product. Potatoes grown for starch production can be used to
produce cyanophycin at the same time. No additional fields would be
needed. Years of research.
Researchers have been studying the production of cyanophycin in
plants for years. In a joint project funded by the German Federal
Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV),
scientists at the Universities of Rostock, Berlin, Bielefeld and
Tbingen have developed cyanophycin potatoes and examined them in
detail in the greenhouse.
MAIZE WAS DOMESTICATED IN THE LOWLANDS OF
MEXICO 8,700 YEARS AGO
Maize was domesticated from its wild
weed ancestor, teosinte, some 8,700 years ago, according to two
papers published this week by PNAS. The scientists place maize
domestication in the lowland areas of southwestern Mexico about
1,500 years earlier than previously reported.
The scientists found maize remains, as well as ancient stone
tools used to grind and mill the plants, in an archaeological site
near the Balsas Valley. The region is home to the Balsas teosinte, a
large wild grass that molecular biologists identified as the
ancestor of maize. The findings confirmed the hypothesis that maize
was domesticated in lowland areas, as opposed to being domesticated
in the arid highlands, which many researchers previously believed.
Scientists have been interested in the evolutionary history of
domesticated crops. But it took them until 2005 to include the
Balsas River Valley in their search for the roots of maize
domestication. In 2005, the researchers found evidences, in the form
of pollen and charcoal in lake sediments, that forests were being
cut down and burned in the Central Balsas River Valley to create
agricultural plots by 7000 years ago.
Read the complete article at
The papers published by PNAS are available at