News in May 2010
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General - Global

Greenpeace lies and misinformation
concerning GMO are confronted with facts in 24 references of publications in the EuropaBio Weekly 4-10 May

In April 2008, Greenpeace circulated four “Fact sheets on Genetically Modified Organisms”. Many claims made in these fact sheets are one-sided, misleading or incorrect claiming that the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are violating their obligations.

Greenpeace is ideologically opposed to biotechnology in agriculture consequently, Greenpeace claims about GMOs must always be checked, because the information it provides is frequently inaccurate.

No link found between mobile phones and cancer
Claims that mobile-phone use causes cancer are shown to be overblown.
Published online 17 May 2010 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.246

The results of a major study into mobile-phone use and cancer were released this week, but media interpretation of the findings has varied wildly.

One British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, stated that the study had "found people who speak on their handset for more than half an hour a day over 10 years are at greater risk of brain cancer". Reporting on the same work, the French news wire AFP said that the study showed "no clear link to brain cancer".

The study at the centre of the media storm is an international collaboration called INTERPHONE, run by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, part of World Health Organization. It is a case-control study, in which people with certain types of cancer were interviewed about their mobile-phone usage. This information was correlated with data from interviews of similar people without these cancers. The study hoped to establish whether usage of mobile phones increased the risk of the two main types of brain cancer — glioma and meningioma. It involved 2,708 people with glioma, 2,409 with meningioma and 7,658 matched controls.

Some results from the 13 individual countries collaborating in INTERPHONE have previously been released, but the latest paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology is the first to combine results from all 13 nations involved1. The study received some funding from mobile-phone companies, but this was governed by guarantees of INTERPHONE's complete scientific independence.

On completing their analysis, the researchers found that being a regular user of a mobile phone seemed to reduce the risk of glioma or meningioma by around 20%. But Anthony Swerdlow, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Cancer Research in London who was involved in the UK arm of the study, says that this result is highly likely to be down to problems that were inherent in the study design.

"We have evidence that the people who refused to be controls are people who didn't use phones," says Swerdlow. This meant that the control group, consisting of people without cancer, was rather skewed, appearing to have more mobile-phone use than would be found in a representative sample from the general population. "The controls were over-represented with phone users," he adds.

Equally, some of those individuals in the top 10% of reported phone usage gave what Swerdlow calls "incredibly implausible values", such as an average of 12 hours of mobile use per day, every day.

Studies to validate the data-collection methods used in INTERPHONE found that asking participants about the number of calls they had made provided more accurate information than asking about how much time participants spent on the phone. When researchers analysed the number of calls made, the top 10% of participants showed no increased risk of cancer.

Some animal and cell studies have apparently shown an increase in cancer from mobile-phone-type radiation, but these findings have proved difficult to replicate.

"Generally, the biological and cellular testing is inconclusive. There's really no consistent evidence or explicable mechanism by which effects can be seen," says Patricia McKinney, an epidemiologist at the University of Leeds, who also worked on the UK arm of the INTERPHONE study.

Studies in humans have generally not managed to establish any link between mobile-phone use and cancer. Swerdlow notes that one group in Sweden has found an increased risk, but he says that this is an "outlier in the literature".

In addition, despite the ubiquity of mobile phones, there seems to have been no increase in the total number of brain tumours reported in statistics since the advent of the mobile phone.

So what's the bottom line about a causal link between mobile-phone use and cancer?

No link has been established.

1. "There are standard criteria for assessing whether data from epidemiological studies show causality or not," says Swerdlow. "The results for this study don't get close to passing the standard tests for whether the results show causation."  The INTERPHONE Study Group. Int. J. Epidemiol. advance online publication doi:10.1093/ije/dyq079 (2010).

Society deserves to see a return on its investment in science, but researchers need help to make their case.
Nature Volume: 465, Page: 398; Date published: (27 May 2010) DOI: doi:10.1038/465398a

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) is unique among the world's science-funding agencies in its insistence that every proposal, large or small, must include an activity to demonstrate the research's 'broader impacts' on science or society. This might involve the researchers giving talks at a local museum, developing new curricula or perhaps forming a start-up company.

The requirement's goal is commendable. It aims to enlist the scientific community to help show a return on society's investment in research and to bolster the public's trust in science — the latter being particularly important given the well-organized movements currently attacking concepts such as evolution and climate change.

Such an infrastructure does exist in embryonic form. For example, a few research institutions, including Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, already have centres that aim to connect scientists with experts in teaching, education and public outreach, to equip them with the necessary skills and to disseminate best practices. And a few places, such as the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, have developed workshops in which graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty members get professional training on how to interact with the public, media and government. Such efforts need to be expanded and institutionalized throughout the country.

Plant Science Technologies Help Preserve Biodiversity While Increasing Food Production
CropLife International, May 21, 2010

CropLife International Welcomes International Day for Biological Diversity.

Plant science innovations are key to helping farmers conserve biodiversity while providing a sustainable food supply to meet global demand. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that food production needs to increase by 70% if we are to feed nine billion in 2050. To achieve this, a further 30 million hectares of cropland may be needed (OECD). If biodiversity is to be preserved, the amount of parkland, forests and natural habitats brought into agricultural use must be minimised. Recent data from the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership and the UN show that further biodiversity loss is likely.

Land grabbing by EU
Land grabbing: is the EU the largest net importer of agricultural produce and 'virtual' land? OPERA/Research Centre of Universitŕ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (press release), May 11, 2010

The independent Research Centre OPERA* presented today (Tuesday 11th May 2010) in Brussels, a new research report that warns that the European Union must encourage agricultural innovation and productivity increases to avoid charges of territorial "land grabbing".

Authors of the study are Professor Harald von Witzke of the Humboldt University of Berlin and Steffen Noleppa of agripol - network for policy advice. The research details the development of EU agricultural trade between 1999 and 2008 and quantifies the substantial acreage cultivated in other countries to fulfil Europe's demand for food, animal feed and biofuels. It shows that in 2007/2008 almost 35 million hectares of land beyond European borders was used for the benefit of Europeans, with the EU the world's largest importer of agricultural products.

"That's an astonishing figure: it's almost equivalent to the entire territory of Germany," said Professor Ettore Capri, Director of OPERA Research Centre. "This is exactly why we wanted bring these figures to the table so that the decision makers can take them into account."

The report is called "EU Agricultural Production and Trade: Can More Efficiency Prevent Increasing 'Land-Grabbing' Outside Of Europe?" It gives the most comprehensive analysis of agricultural trade with Europe, and the impact of this trade on land-use decisions outside the EU. It's the first such analysis embracing all 27 European Member states and it covers approximately 40 crops and 240 tradable commodity groups - more than any recent study available.

It finds that the EU has become the world's largest net importer of agricultural produce, and therefore the largest user of agricultural land that is not its own. In 2008 the 27 Member states of the EU exported US$127.6 billion of agricultural commodities, but imported produce valued at US$173.1 - a net import of US$45.5 billion.

The report's authors use a complex indicator-based approach to convert the EU.s international agricultural trade data into trade in 'virtual. land' "For instance, if it takes 'X' hectares to produce one metric ton of wheat, then exporting that wheat to Europe is equivalent to exporting 'X' hectares of virtual land," said Humboldt University's Harald von Witzke, leading author of the "Land-Grab" report.

The EU is now a net exporter of virtual land in wheat and coarse grains only. It's importing virtual land in all other commodities and commodity groups. Soybean alone accounts for more than 50% of the net import of virtual land.

"We're quick to raise our eyebrows at the acquisition of land in other countries by resource-hungry nations," von Witzke said. "But we're doing exactly the same, albeit virtually through market forces instead of foreign investment."

The Humboldt University/agripol analysis shows that between 1999 and 2008 Europe's use of foreign land for its own agricultural production has grown by 40%, or 10 million hectares. It says the issue is compounded by change in land use in many virtual land-exporting countries, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the conversion from forests, grasslands and refuge into cropland.

It analyses the effect of three potential scenarios within a reformed European agricultural policy; enhancing agricultural yields, increasing area under organic farming, and expanding the use of biofuels. Of these, enhancing the yields in Europe, seems the solution to reduce circumvent externalisation of food sources.

The report maintains that encouraging agricultural innovation and increasing productivity in major crops by just 0.3 percentage points per year would reduce the need to farm 5.3 million hectares of cropland outside the EU. If annual incremental growth rate in the EU.s agricultural production had doubled between 1999 and 2008, it says, the importation of virtual land would have been about 10 million hectares less and would have remained roughly at the 1999 level. By contrast, expanding the acreage of organically farmed land to 20% would increase virtual land importation by almost 30%.

And policies to achieve the EU's 10% biofuel objective would also increase the rate of land-grabs. OPERA's Policy Team Coordinator, Alexandru Marchis says the EU is not only morally obliged to enhance agricultural yields and use its own land as effectively as possible, but should also be looking at the issue from a strategic perspective.

The term 'land grabbing' has hugely emotive connotations but the EU has to acknowledge the global implications of its policy decisions and the effects generated by not tackling the issue of competitiveness and productivity of European agriculture. "Long-term food security is a major issue. The EU should be working now to encourage all means of increasing the productivity of our farmland," Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mairead McGuinness said at the panel discussion which followed the event.

"The challenge is to produce more using less of our scarce resources; land, energy and water. The challenge is also to produce better in terms of high quality, high value produce. " "To secure long-term productivity growth in agriculture not just in Europe, but around the world, it is necessary for countries to provide increased public funding for agricultural research and to create a policy environment that encourages private research investment," added McGuinness.

The full study is available online at

A Brief History of Unnatural Selection
Albert Fuchs, M.D., The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angles, May 21, 2010
Organic Farming Shows Limited Benefit to Wildlife

Organic farms may be seen as wildlife friendly, but the benefits to birds, bees and butterflies don't compensate for the lower yields produced, according to new research from the University of Leeds.

Books & Articles

Science, freedom and trade
Nature 20 May 2010 Volume 465 Number 7296 pp267-390

Michael Shermer enjoys two books that examine economics and politics from a scientific perspective — one explaining the experimental basis for democracy, another placing trade in an evolutionary context.

Michael Shermer reviews The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature by Timothy Ferris; The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley doi:10.1038/465294a

Agriculture and Food: The Genetically Modified Crop Marches On
Clive Cookson, Financial Times (UK), May 4, 2010

GM products so far have delivered their direct benefits to the farmer rather than the consumer.

A new wave of GM crops, to be released over the next few years, may bring more obvious benefits to the consumer, in the form of better nutritional qualities, and to agricultural production, in the form of more resistance to stresses such as drought, salinity and extremes of temperature. An important development will be the commercial launch of drought-tolerant GM maize, scheduled for 2012.

Although GM gets all the attention, there are alternative ways to use science to improve crops. For example Australia's CSIRO announced last month a salt-tolerant wheat that yields 25 per cent more on saline soils than its parent variety. The Australian scientists isolated two salt tolerance genes in Triticum monoccum, a wheat species that grows on poor, arid soils in the Middle East, and introduced them into durum wheat, which is widely cultivated for pasta production - through non-GM breeding aided by the latest molecular marking technology.

A more general way of introducing new traits into crops without inserting foreign genes is "site-directed mutagenesis". Cibus, a privately owned company based in San Diego, is a leader here with its proprietary Rapid Trait Development System or RTDS. This uses the plant's own genetic machinery to change its DNA.

Peer-reviewed surveys indicate positive impact of commercialized GM crops
Janet E Carpenter, Nature Biotechnology 28, 319 - 321 (2010)

This analysis summarizes results from 49 peer-reviewed publications reporting on farmer surveys that compare yields and other indicators of economic performance for adopters and non-adopters of currently commercialized GM crops. The surveys cover GM insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops, which account for >99% of global GM crop area1. Results from 12 countries indicate, with few exceptions, that GM crops have benefitted farmers. The benefits, especially in terms of increased yields, are greatest for the mostly small farmers in developing countries, who have benefitted from the spill over of technologies originally targeted at farmers in industrialized countries.

Genetic research on food crops
Daryll E. Ray, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Southwest Farm Press, May 26, 2010

The United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) just released the May/June issue of their magazine, Agricultural Research. The focus of this issue was announced on the cover, "Fighting World Hunger with Genetics," and includes articles on rice, beans, wheat, corn, and potatoes.

The Science of GM Crops: A New, Fair Report
James McWilliams, The Atlantic, April 29 2010
(James McWilliams is an Associate Professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos.)

Last week the National Research Council (NRC) released the most extensive (and unbiased) report to date on the performance of GE crops since their commercial introduction in 1996. The report was quite explicit about the threat of herbicide resistance caused by over-spraying GE crops with broad-spectrum herbicides (more on this soon). At the same time, it provided several reasons to be optimistic about the responsible use of GE crops, both now and in the future.

Even GE's most ardent detractors should give due consideration to the following sample of findings:

bulletFarmers globally have applied less insecticide per acre as they've increased their use of Bt seed (seed engineered for insect resistance). Beyond the obvious health benefits, reduction in insecticide application has saved substantial aviation fuel, water (to make insecticides), and plastic containers.
bulletFarmers and their families have been safer from chemical exposure as a result of less harsh pesticides and less time spent out in the fields spraying. The authors of the report hypothesize that farmers pay more for GE seeds in part to protect their families and employees from exposure to harsh chemicals.
bulletThe greatest environmental benefit of adopting GE crops may turn out to be the rate at which water is retained as a result of conservation tillage, which herbicide tolerant (HT) crops directly foster. No-till methods also improve soil health, something conventional farming is often accused of ignoring.
bulletEconomically, the savings gained from GE adoption generally outweighed the expense, and the economic benefits gained by adopting farmers also extend to non-adopters as well. In controlling so effectively for the corn borer, for example, Bt corn indirectly protects neighbouring crops. (A very similar thing happened in Hawaii when GE papaya was introduced to save the crop from a devastating outbreak of ring spot in the 1990s.)
bulletThe drift of pollen from GE to non-GE plants-a phenomenon that anti-GE advocates often highlight as a chronic problem-turns out to be relatively rare, or at least "not a concern for most non-GE crops." This is not to say that it doesn't happen, or that it doesn't matter, but only that drift is hardly a first-order concern when it comes to GE pollen.
Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives
by Michael Specter

The book dives into a worrisome strain of modern life -- a vocal anti-science bias that may prevent us from making the right choices for our future. Specter studies how the active movements against vaccines, genetically engineered food, science-based medicine and biotechnological solutions to climate change may actually put the world at risk. (For instance, anti-vaccination activists could soon trigger the US return of polio, not to mention the continuing rise of measles.) More insidiously, the chilling effect caused by the new denialism may prevent useful science from being accomplished.

Biotech industry buoyant - but costs cutting must not hamper innovation

Report published by Ernst and Young Global Ltd. revealed that the industry had made a profit of $3.7 billion, compared with a loss of $1.8 billion in 2008 in the U.S, Europe, Canada and Australia. At the same time, sixty percent of European firms reduced research costs and overall sales increased in the industry, driven primarily by a small number of large companies with well performing existing products.

Natural variation in crop composition and the impact of transgenesis
Nature Biotechnology 28, 402 - 404 (2010) doi:10.1038/nbt0510-402
George G. Harrigan1, Denise Lundry1, Suzanne Drury1, Kristina Berman1, Susan G. Riordan1, Margaret A. Nemeth1, William P. Ridley1 & Kevin C. Glenn1
Product Safety Center, Monsanto Company, 800 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Correspondence to: George G. Harrigan1 e-mail:

Compositional equivalence of crops improved through biotech-derived transgenic, or genetically modified (GM), traits and their conventional (non-GM) comparators is an important criterion in breeding as well as a key aspect of risk assessments of commercial candidates. We present here an analysis evaluated from compositional data on GM corn and GM soybean varieties grown across a range of geographies and growing seasons with the aim of not only assessing the relative impact of transgene insertion on compositional variation in comparison with the effect of environmental factors but also reviewing the implications of these results on the safety assessment process.

Review Article Questions Nutritional Superiority Claims for Organic Food

In a review of numerous articles on organic food, Joseph D. Rosen, PhD, emeritus professor of food toxicology at Rutgers University, says proponents of organic food have pointed to studies that support their assertions that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. However, many of these studies are not published in peer-reviewed journals and are based on results that are not statistically significant. Given these limitations, a review of the scientific literature by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was unable to find any scientific evidence for the nutritional superiority of crops grown either organically or conventionally.

A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food

Joseph D. Rosen, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, v. 9 Issue 3, p 270 – 277. Full paper at

Application of food and feed safety assessment principles to evaluate transgenic approaches to gene modulation in crops
Wayne Parrott, Bruce Chassy, Jim Ligon, Linda Meyer, Jay Petrick, Junguo Zhou, Rod Herman, Bryan Delaney and Marci Levine, Food and Chemical Toxicology (in press), doi:10.1016/j.fct.2010.04.017


New crop varieties containing traits such as enhanced nutritional profiles, increased yield, and tolerance to drought are being developed. In some cases, these new traits are dependent on small RNAs or regulatory proteins such as transcription factors (TF) that modify the expression of endogenous plant genes. To date, the food and feed safety of genetically modified (GM) crops has been assessed by the application of a set of internationally accepted procedures for evaluating the safety of GM crops. The goal of this paper is to review the main aspects of the current safety assessment paradigm and to recommend scientifically sound principles for conducting a safety assessment for GM crops that are developed by technologies that modify endogenous plant gene expression. Key considerations for such a safety assessment include the following:

bulletRNA and TF are generally recognized as safe (GRAS);
bulletGenes encoding RNAi and regulatory proteins such as TFs are an important component of the plant genome;
bulletCrops engineered using RNAi modifications are not expected to produce heterologous proteins;
bulletThe modulation of TFs may result in quantitative differences in endogenous plant components, which can be assessed through agronomic performance and compositional analysis on a case-by-case basis.
Facilitating Conservation Farming Practices and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability with Agricultural Biotechnology: Executive Summary
Conservation Technology Information Center

Today's farmers are under unprecedented pressure. The earth's population is nearly 7 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Farmers must meet that growing demand - with a shrinking resource base - while protecting soil, air and water quality. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, summed up the challenge when he wrote that farmers and ranchers will be called upon to produce more food in the next 50 years than their ancestors did in the past 10,000 years - and do it in an environmentally sustainable manner.


You are invited to register for the following scientific symposia organized by the EFB:
1-4 June, Rotterdam:
Microbial Physiology Section symposium on Physiology of Yeasts and Filamentous Fungi (PYFF4).
6-8 September, Bologna:
8th International symposium on Biochemical Engineering Sciences (ESBES), a joint event with the 30th International Symposium of Proteins, Peptides and Polynucleotides (ISPPP) and the 3rd Symposium on Biothermodynamics (ISB) organized by the DECHEMA RBO.
17-19 February 2011, Vienna:
6th Symposium on Recombinant Protein Production organized by the Microbial Physiology Section.
Jun 07-08 8th European Workshop Biotechnology of Microalgae,
Nuthetal (D) forum of microalgal science and application since 1992
Contact: Prof. Dr. Dr. Otto Pulz, European Society of Microalgal Biotechnology;
June 14-16 Nanobio-Europe 2010,
The NanoBio-Europe Congress is going to present the most recent international developments in the field of nanobiotechnology and is providing a platform for interdisciplinary communication, new cooperations and projects to participants from science and industry.
Contact: Center for Nanotechnology (CeNTech)
July 03-04 The International Workshop On Industrial Biotechnology
Alexandria (EG)
Contact: Ministry Of Higher Education And Scientific Research, Cairo (EG);
August 24-27 NanoBio 2010
Zürich (CH)

This meeting gathers the leaders of this progressive field from all over the world helping scientists to get an update on the most recent achievements in the different topics of nanobiotechnology, to discuss, to network, to exchange stimulating new ideas, and to take responsibility in forming public opinion about nanobiotechnology.

Contact: ETH Zürich, Institut für Biomedizinische Technik;

Plant BioTech World Congress to Highlight Scientific Discoveries and Technologies
Bringing New Hope to Feeding the World and Improving Lives
International Association for Plant Biotechnology, May 26, 2010

Discoveries that can increase crop yields and productivity, create sustainable forests and new medicines, and other advances to improve the lives of farmers and others' lives, especially in the world's poorest countries, will be among the recurring themes of presentations at the upcoming International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB) 12th World Congress, June 6-11, 2010, at the America's Center in downtown, St. Louis, Missouri.

IAPB President Dr. Roger Beachy, Director of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will introduce and preside over the Congress, attended by scientists, science policy leaders and others from across the world. The program includes 60 major presentations by invited speakers and more than 200 short talks. In addition to the topics above, presenters also will discuss biotechnology in terms of agriculture challenges as a result of climate change, and global population growth.

More information is available online at

Europe - EU

Press Centre

Commission to boost research and innovation by making it easier to apply for and manage EU grants]

The European Commission has unveiled a plan to simplify the procedures for taking part in EU-funded research projects. The overall aim is to make participation transparent and attractive to the best researchers and innovative companies in Europe and beyond. Ensuring European research realises its full potential is crucial to the EU's Europe 2020 Strategy, given the need to consolidate economic recovery and develop new sources of growth and jobs to replace those lost in the crisis. Complementing the proposals on simplification, the Commission has also appointed a group of independent experts to review all aspects of the current Seventh Framework Programme.

Dalli wants more transparency

15.05.10 Brussels – “Biotech” EU Commissioner John Dalli has invited the agribiotech industry to rethink communication strategies on GMOs. At a meeting with the board of Croplife International, the global trade association of plant science companies, Dalli said the industry can do a “great deal” to ease the debate on GMOs in the EU by creating more transparency in its post marketing surveillance and risk assessment communications. The commissioner said he would expect full cooperation in four areas. First, the complete phase-out of antibiotic resistance marker genes. Second, full transparency of GMO monitoring on health and environment effects, including immediate and complete submission of any relevant information to the Commission or EFSA. Dalli added that would mean limits on the confidentiality status of information that has genuine commercial value. Third, the Commissioner wants advantages and disadvantages of every new GMO that’s been filed for market authorisation to be fully explored at the risk assessment stage. Finally, he invited the industry to participate in the debate on how to speed up the GMO approval process while giving the right to EU member states to decide whether they want to grow GMOs or not. Dalli said he will promote a balanced approach that would give EU citizens peace of mind and at the same time assure growth opportunities.

EFSA greenlights three GMOs
25.05.10 Parma

The European Food watchdog EFSA has approved three genetically modified (GM) maize varieties. According to the agency, the insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant hybrids Bt11xGA21, MIR604xGA21 and Bt11xMIR604xGA21 of Swiss agro-giant Syngenta are as safe as their natural counterparts. All GM maize strains were approved for import into the EU but not for acreage. The decision for market approval lies at Member State level. As previously reported, the European Commission wants to accelerate market approval of GMOs by granting member states the right to prohibit GMO acreage on their territory independent from a positive outcome of the EFSA’s safety assessment. Meanwhile, biotech industry representatives told EuroBiotechNews that the draft ideas from the Commission to change co-existence rules or to limit acreage to certain regions may be not in line with trade rules of the World Trade Organisation.

The European Union supports the best researchers internationally in their efforts to better understand biodiversity. This is an essential part of the Europe 2020 strategy towards a more resource-efficient and climate-resilient economy. From 2007 to 2009, under the Seventh Framework for Research (FP7) approximately €29 million has been invested directly in biodiversity research projects and another €29 million on biodiversity-related research.
A major research initiative of the European Commission about the sustainable use of biomass has started today. Researchers and industry are going to develop new ways to convert biological feedstock into energy and valuable material using biorefinery technology. The Commission will fund the programme with € 52 million for 4 years. 81 partners from universities, research institutes and industry in 20 countries will invest an additional € 28 million.
Commissioner Dalli calls GM opponents 'Scaremongers'
Ivan Camilleri, Times of Malta, May 10, 2010

European Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli rushes past a Greenpeace "cook" at the European Parliament building distributing the "GM recipes for disaster" cookbook. European Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner, John Dalli has accused opponents of his decision to allow cultivation of some genetically-modified potatoes of scaremongering.

MEP hits out over GM crop 'dogma'
Published Date: 11 May 2010
By Andrew Arbuckle

Struan Stevenson said that far from being "Frankenstein Foods", as propagated by the European green lobby, GM crops represented a golden opportunity to boost food production.
Speaking ahead of a seminar on GM crops, the Scottish MEP pointed out that European Union health and consumer commissioner John Dalli is proposing to table plans to allow member states a choice on whether or not to grow GM crops. "This may produce a paradox for the UK where Defra may be inclined to agree to GM crops in England, while the SNP government remains strongly opposed," said Stevenson. "It can only be hoped that member states will use science instead of prejudice when it comes to biotech crops."


Paper Reveals EU Plan to Boost GM Crop Cultivation
Charlie Dunmore, Reuters, May 3, 2010

The EU executive is hoping to unblock the paralysis in GM crop approvals by giving those countries that want to grow them the freedom to do so, while also sanctioning the current "GM-free" stance of several member states.

Rather than revise the legislation, which would require the agreement of the European Parliament, the Commission will try to make the change "within the existing legislative framework, if possible," the paper said.

The plan provoked a furious reaction from environmentalists already angry at the EU executive's decision to approve the commercial growing of a GM potato in March. "The Commission appears intent on avoiding any democratic debate with the parliament in order to please the biotech industry and get GM crops into Europe," said Friends of the Earth campaigner Adrian Bebb.

Bt maize cultivation in the Czech republic.
Recent evaluation can be obtained in
(Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic)
Visiting Polish scientists impressed with GM maize in South Africa
AfricaBio, May 27, 2010

A high powered delegation of agricultural scientists from Poland who visited South Africa on a GM maize fact-finding mission were impressed with the development of GM maize in South Africa over the past 11 years. Their visit was arranged by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and hosted by AfricaBio.

The delegates were Dr. Roman Warzecha, head of the maize and triticale laboratory, Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute, National Research Institute; Prof. Dr. Andrzej Aniot, from the same institute; Prof. Tomasz Twardowski, Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences; Radek Iwanski, Polish maize farmer; Jolanta Figurska, marketing specialist, central Europe and the Baltics, office of agricultural affairs, Embassy of the USA, Warsaw, who acted as interpreter, and a Polish television crew.

Biotech crops continue to make important contributions to sustainable farming and to global food affordability.
Press release: 28 April 2010: Dorchester, UK

Two new studies show biotech crops continue to deliver significant global economic and environmental benefits and make important contributions to global food production, food security and lower real prices for food and feed crops

Novozymes to produce cellulosic biofuel in China

28.05.10 Baegsvard – Danish enzyme specialist Novozyme has signed an agreement with the world’s third-largest oil refinery firm Sinopec, to provide enzymes for a cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant in China.

The new plant, which will be built by Sinopec and COFCO (a supplier of processed agricultural products), will come online in autumn 2011 and will have an output of three million gallons of bioethanol made from corn stover a year. Novozymes will provide its enzyme mix Cellic® CTec2 for production of cellulosic ethanol at a price competitive with gasoline and conventional ethanol, the company announced. Corn stover consists of the leaves and stalks of maize plants left in a field after harvest and makes up about 70-80% of the yield. With a price of about 50 US$ per ton plus enzyme costs (0.50 US$ per gallon) and conversion rates of 70 gallons per ton corn, stover is a cheap feed for ethanol fermentation from cellulose.

Currently gasoline prize is at US$4 per gallon. Novozyme said that it could produce cellulosic ethanol at a price below US$2 per gallon. CTec2 consists of an enzyme complex of cellulases that break down cellulose and beta-glucosidase that helps converting lignin. The new plant will be the largest demonstration facility converting agricultural waste into biofuel in China. The country has sufficient supply of biomass, and agricultural residues alone exceed 700 million metric tons annually.

A 2009 study by Novozymes and McKinsey showed that by converting agricultural residues into fuel ethanol, China can reduce its gasoline consumption by 31 million tons in 2020, thereby reducing its dependence on imported petroleum by 10% and abating 90 million tons of CO2 emissions. By 2020, the number of cars in China is expected to exceed 200 million, up from 130 million today, which will lead to substantial growth in the demand for vehicle fuels. To meet these rising demands, the Chinese government has launched an ambitious bioenergy development target that will boost the production of cellulosic biofuels.


SA'S GM maize 'completely safe'
Business Report (South Africa) May 17, 2010

South African maize from genetically modified (GM) crops is completely safe for human and animal consumption, an independent biotechnology consultant Dr. Wynand van der Walt said on Monday. "Both South Africa and Kenya followed exactly the procedural requirements under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the allegation that our maize is being dumped on African markets contrary to Protocol rules, is a blatant lie."


USA Technology Assessment
Nature Volume: 465, Page:10,(06 May 2010)
A new approach to technology assessment would supplement expert opinion with input from society.

Reinventing Technology Assessment, a 2010 report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC that lays out a new vision for US technology assessment, points to recent international experience, particularly in Europe, and calls for a broader, 'participatory technology assessment' (pTA) model that would supplement expert opinion with early input from all corners of society.

Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States
Committee on the Impact of Biotechnology on Farm-Level Economics and Sustainability; National Research Council, 2010 (318 pp)
Government Supports Genetically Modified Crops In Chile
Laura Burgoine, Santiago Times, May 4, 2010

Agriculture Ministry José Antonio Galilea announced this week plans to introduce legislation to regulate and permit the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Chile. Galilea said he has already formed an advisory team to study the matter and to propose legislation in June or July this year.

Current legislation strictly limits transgenic crops to seed production, and all seeds must be exported. "Current policy incomprehensible, and we believe the best way to fix it is through legislation," said Galilea. "Without GM technology, domestic producers are at a disadvantage to compete in a globalized and competitive international market. The current legislation is extremely detrimental to the interests of our farmers."


Cost of Compliance with Biotechnology Regulation in the Philippines: Implications for Developing Countries
Jessica C. Bayer, George W. Norton and Jose B. Falck-Zepeda AgBioForum, 13(1), 53-62.

Direct and opportunity costs of regulation are presented for four transgenic products in the Philippines: Bt eggplant, Bt rice, ringspot-virus-resistant papaya, and virus-resistant tomatoes. Understanding the magnitude of these costs is important for evaluating potential net benefits of genetically modified crops, both for countries that are designing their regulatory procedures and for those implementing them.

Results indicate that direct regulatory costs are significant but generally smaller than technology development costs. However, the cost of foregone benefits stemming from even a relatively brief delay in product release, which might be due to unexpected regulatory delays, overshadows both research and regulatory costs. Regulatory systems must ensure that none of the steps in its regulatory process for GM products that are required to protect public safety and the environment are omitted, but unnecessary steps are costly. Direct regulatory costs appear to be declining within countries as they gain experience with more products.

Full paper at

Philippines: CBSUA to pilot FSB-resistant eggplant research and plantation
FreshPlaza, May 26, 2010

Some 1,600 square meters of land has been apportioned by Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) here as pilot site for the propagation of biotech eggplant here.

Dr. Dulce Mostoles, CBSUA's research professor and one of the facilitators during a biotechnology workshop and study tour conducted here recently, gladly stated that "this is the university's response to our farmer's clamour for a better alternative to traditional control methods."

Farmers suffer a yield loss of more than 50 percent every crop season, excluding the health and environmental hazard that they are facing due to frequent spraying just to get rid of eggplant pest and disease problems, particularly the harmful and most destructive pests in the Philippines and other Asian countries - the fruit and shoot borer, commonly called FSB. Every year, eggplant production suffers a detrimental setback in terms of crop harvest due to a wide-scale infestation caused by FSB.


Feeding China's growing needs for grain
Xiaobing Liu1, Xingyi Zhang & Stephen J. Herbert
Nature 465, 420 (27 May 2010) | doi:10.1038/465420a; Published online 26 May 2010
Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Harbin 150081, China ; Center for Agriculture, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA;

State farms, modelled on those successful in north-eastern China, could meet burgeoning grain demand in the rest of the country over the next 20 years. China already grows more than 95% of its own grain, providing food security to 22% of the world's population even though it has only 9% of the world's cultivated farmland (see

News in Science

Long-term study: Cultivation of Bt maize does not affect earthworms
David Andow and Guenther Stotzky, GMO Safety, May 18, 2010

Earthworms are not affected by genetically modified Bt maize even after several years of cultivation. In a 4-year study, ecologists from the USA and Switzerland have investigated the effects of different Bt maize lines on the earthworm populations. For most of the four earthworm strains that were present in the test fields it was irrelevant whether Bt or conventional maize was growing on the trial area. To validate these results, however, the researchers suggest that the investigations should be continued using other earthworm strains. Up to now the results of nine laboratory studies and four field trials are available that predominantly show that these animals show no impairment through Bt maize cultivation. In two laboratory studies, however, slight negative effects on the earthworms were observed. The animals grew somewhat more slowly. The effect first occurred only after a test duration of about 200 days.

If this result were confirmed, it could lead in the long term to a reduction in the number of earthworms. Therefore, the American-Swiss research group wanted to monitor how several years of Bt maize cultivation affected the earthworm populations. The results have now been published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry.

In the field trials, three Bt maize varieties that contain the Bt toxins Cy1Ab and Cry3Bb1 were compared with non-genetically modified original lines. One variant of the Bt protein is directed against particular butterflies, and the other against the corn root borer, a destructive beetle. This protein is formed in comparatively high concentrations in the roots of the maize and from there enters the soil.

Within each of the 1600 m2 test areas, four types of earthworm were found, three strains of the genus Aporrectodea and the common earthworm (Lumbricus terretris).The scientists measured the biomass of the different developmental stages of the earthworms. No significantly significant differences were seen between the areas with Bt maize and those under conventional maize.

However, the researchers recommend further studies since, depending on the area in the USA, Europe or other areas, different types of earthworms could be present in the maize fields. Therefore, before cultivation, laboratory tests should be carried out to determine whether the strains found in that region could be in principle impaired by the Bt toxins.

New wheat with more health power

Under HEALTHGRAIN ('Exploiting bioactivity of European cereal grains for improved nutrition and health benefits'), 40 organisations from 15 European countries, including Belgium, Germany, Hungary and Poland, have been conducting advanced research on the health-protective compounds of whole grains. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is coordinating this integrated project, which began in June 2005 and is set to end on 31 May 2010.

The main aim of the researchers is to inspire nutritious and convenient cereal-based foods that contain high amounts of these components, and have the potential to prevent different types of disease, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The latest findings add to a significant body of scientific and technological work produced by the team since the project's launch, and that will ultimately provide considerable benefits to consumers, plant breeders, the wheat processing chain, and beyond.

The HEALTHGRAIN partners have identified markers for dietary fibres, tocopherols (a fat soluble chemical essential to human health, better known as vitamin E) and sterols (chemical compounds) that can be used by plant breeders in breeding programmes to harness the kind of genes that could enhance certain bioactive compounds, particularly those in unadapted germplasm (collection of genetic resources for an organism).

Breakthrough in quest to boost rice yields
Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist, May 24, 2010

If any crop needs an evolutionary boost, it's rice. Nearly half of humanity relies on the stuff, and yields must increase more than 50 per cent by 2050 to feed growing demand, so the discovery of a gene mutation that can bump up yields by a full 10 per cent is exciting news.

The Green Revolution doubled rice yields in the 1970s, making use of shorter varieties that wasted less energy on stems. But now yields are increasing more slowly for rice than for any other grain.

Some rice varieties have an ideal shape: the plants don't produce too many shoots which lack grains, and they have more branches on their grain-bearing structures, which are called panicles. Don't shoot.

Two independent teams of geneticists, lead by Kotaro Miura at Nagoya University in Japan and Yongqing Jiao at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, have now identified the same mutation in one gene in these varieties.

It blocks the binding of a small, regulatory RNA molecule that normally inhibits the gene. The result is the suppressed branching of shoots, but increased branching in panicles. Miura's team used standard plant breeding to introduce the mutation to new varieties, and ended up with as much as 52 per cent more grains per plant. Jiao's team put the mutant gene into new rice varieties using genetic engineering and, under field conditions - the acid test for any rice plant - rice yields increased by 10 per cent.

Journal references: Nature Genetics, DOI: 10.1038/ng.592, and 10.1038/ng.591

Threefold Rise In Iron In White Rice
MedIndia, May 18, 2010

Australian researchers are reporting a threefold rise in iron in white rice, thanks to biofortification. Over 2 billion people, or 30 per cent of the world's population, suffer from Fe deficiency with symptoms ranging from poor mental development in children, to depressed immune function and anaemia.

Dr Alexander Johnson, based in the School of Botany at the University of Melbourne, has come up with increases of up to threefold more iron in white rice, and he is now expanding the program to include other cereal species such as wheat.

Based on micronutrient deficiency rates, there is compelling evidence that biofortification can be a key objective for plant breeders, in addition to the traditional objectives of disease resistance, yield, drought tolerance, etc, it has been observed earlier.

Surinder Sud: Basmati bonanza
Business Standard (India), May 18, 2010

Until the 1990s, Pakistan enjoyed an edge over India in the global basmati rice market because it had superior quality of basmati to offer. But, this is no longer the case. The improved basmati varieties evolved in recent years by the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), commonly called the Pusa Institute, have far better grain quality than even the traditional basmati types and can command higher prices and help get a greater share in the international market. Moreover, these varieties have relatively higher yield and require less time and inputs to mature, which enables basmati to fit into multiple-cropping cycles.

Mosquitoes inherit DEET resistance
Genetic trait explains how some insects are unaffected by powerful repellent.
Janelle Weaver

The indifference of some mosquitoes to a common insect repellent is due to an easily inherited genetic trait that can be rapidly evolved by later generations, a new study suggests.

By selective breeding, James Logan and colleagues at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK, created strains of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in which half of the females do not respond to DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) — a powerful insect repellent. They suggest that this rapidly evolved insensitivity is due to a single dominant gene — one that confers resistance even if the trait is inherited from only one parent.

UK researchers find out that stem cells do not exist

Edinburgh - UK researchers have provided the first evidence that embryonic stem cells are not a single cell type in vivo as previously thought, but comprise a mixture of different cell types from the early embryo, that can transform themselves from one type to another.

In PLoS Biology, Dr. Josh Brickman and colleagues from University of Edingburgh report that the cells can switch back and forth between precursors of different cell types. The findings could help scientists catch embryonic stem cells at exactly the right point when they are primed to differentiate into cells that form specific tissues. Stem cell researchers previously believed that embryonic stem cells were only able to become the embryonic precursors for adult cells, a property known as pluripotency. Brickman et al reported on Monday that embryonic stem cells are able to alternate and transform themselves between cells that create the primitive endoderm of the placenta and founder embryonic cells, which will go onto form tissues in the body. Although cells in early embryonic development switch back and forth between these two different cell types, signals received from surrounding cells and the embryonic environment allow them to quickly fix on becoming one specific cell type. In contrast, in the laboratory, embryonic stem cells are grown in a dish away from the embryo and as a result exist in a captured state where their identity does not become fixed. The findings could improve the ability to produce specific cells in the laboratory.

Study spikes organic food environment claims
From The Times, May 5, 2010

Birds such as the skylark and lapwing are less likely to be found in organic fields than on conventional farms, according to a study that contradicts claims that organic agriculture is much better for wildlife.

It concludes that organic farms produce less than half as much food per hectare as ordinary farms and that the small benefits for certain species from avoiding pesticides and artificial fertilisers are far outweighed by the need to make land more productive to feed a growing population.

The research, by the University of Leeds, is another blow to the organic industry, which is already struggling because of falling sales and a report from the Food Standards Agency that found that organic food was no healthier than ordinary produce.

To double spud production, just add a little spit
Cornell University/EurekAlert, May 27, 2010

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Researchers at Cornell University, as well as the University of Goettingen and National University of Colombia, have discovered that when a major South American pest infests potato tubers, the plant produces bigger spuds.

The secret to this increased yield, they write in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Applications (April 28, 2010), is found that the saliva of the Guatemalan potato moth larvae (Tecia solanivora). The major pest, which forces many farmers to spray plants with pesticides every two weeks, contains compounds in its foregut that elicits a system-wide response in the Colombian Andes commercial potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) to produce larger tubers.

Genomics goes beyond DNA sequence
A technology that simultaneously reads a DNA sequence and its crucial modifications makes its debut.
Alla Katsnelson, Published online 10 May 2010 | Nature 465, 145 (2010) | doi:10.1038/465145a

Sequencing company Pacific Biosciences, based in Menlo Park, California, has now developed an integrated system that simultaneously reads a genome sequence and detects an important epigenetic marker called DNA methylation. "I think it's an important step forward, although I think it is a baby step," says Joseph Ecker, a plant geneticist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the work.

DNA methylation — the addition of methyl groups to individual bases — is just one of many epigenetic markers of DNA and its associated proteins. Others include modification of the histone proteins that DNA winds around to form chromatin — the tightly packed cluster that makes up chromosomes — and the activation of small non-coding RNA molecules.

DNA methylation, which reduces gene expression, is linked to key developmental events, as well as many types of cancer. It is the best-studied epigenetic modification, mainly because tools have existed to study it, says Susan Clark, an epigeneticist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia.

Screening Crop Plants for Toxins
ScienceDaily, May 14, 2010

John Innes Centre scientists are working on a way to screen crop plants for a toxic accumulation. The genetic screen will be particularly useful for crops grown in tropical and sub-Saharan Africa.

Many plants, in response to predators or herbivores, release hydrogen cyanide to defend themselves. Cyanide precursors are kept in a compartment in the cell. Tissue damage allows them to break out of the compartment and mix with a degrading enzyme in the cell. This produces toxic, bitter hydrogen cyanide that repels the herbivore.

This mechanism, known as cyanogenesis, is found in two thirds of the main crop species eaten worldwide, including maize, sugar cane and some legumes. The major impacts on human health are seen when it is the edible part of the plant that produces cyanogenic compounds, such as in cassava roots. In fodder crops such as sorghum it can lead to livestock poisoning.

Without correct processing, high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the food can cause neural disease and permanent paralysis, a condition known as konzo. In drought conditions, the cyanide levels increase even higher.

Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world after wheat and rice. The bitter varieties, favoured by farmers because of their better resistance to pests, contain two cyanogenic compounds. Various processing methods are used to remove them, such as by soaking in water for several days.

Finding less toxic strains of these crops is a high priority, and a new genetic screen developed at the John Innes Centre will help in this search. Researchers, working on a collaborative program sponsored by the Danmarks Grundforskningsfonden (Danish National Research Foundation) with colleagues at the University of Copenhagen, developed a high-throughput way of detecting cyanogenesis-deficient mutant plants. Using the model legume Lotus japonicus, they screened more than 40,000 plants in just 10 days, identifying 44 cyanogenesis deficient mutants.

Ancient DNA set to rewrite human history
Discovery that some humans are part-Neanderthal reveals the promise of comparing genomes old and new. Published online 12 May 2010 | Nature 465, 148-149 (2010) | doi:10.1038/465148a
Rex Dalton

The worlds of ancient and modern DNA exploration have collided in spectacular fashion in the past few months. Last week saw the publication of a long-awaited draft genome of the Neanderthal, an archaic hominid from about 40,000 years ago1. Just three months earlier, researchers in Denmark reported the genome of a 4,000-year-old Saqqaq Palaeo-Eskimo2 that was plucked from the Greenland permafrost and sequenced in China using the latest technology

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