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General - Global

Special : Can science feed the world?

Forty years from now there will be 2 billion more of us to feed. Today, a billion go hungry. In the hunt for sustainable solutions, science plays a central role. This week's Nature News special explores how agricultural research is rising to the challenge of balancing productivity with shrinking resources. How to feed a hungry world looks at ways of boosting yields while keeping land use in check, while The global farm investigates Brazil as walking the line between biodiversity hotspot and agricultural giant. In Monitoring the world's agriculture, Jeffrey Sachs and 24 food-system experts call for the collection of data on the impacts of farming worldwide. In the free Nature Podcast we showcase the role of GM — and there's much more on the future of food.

Books & Articles

Food Safety of Proteins in Agricultural Biotechnology
- A new book by Bruce G. Hammond (Editor), Hardcover, $173.95, 320 pages, CRC Press,
ISBN-10: 0849339677

Comprehensively addresses how toxicology testing of proteins should be accomplished and how protein safety assessments should be carried out. Beginning with a background on protein biology, the book delineates the fundamental differences among proteins and small molecular weight chemicals that impact their safety assessment. It discusses the life cycle of proteins and explains why some protein toxins exert toxic effects and others do not.

Global Food and Farming Futures
- John Beddington, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, Sept.  27, 2010. p365:2767;

Food is an essential part of all our lives. Following productivity increases in the Green Revolution, food prices in major world markets have been at a historical low in recent decades. Analysis from the Government Office for Science shows that by 2050, this situation is set to change significantly. The global population will have increased by nearly a third to nine billion, and diets will have changed with increasing affluence, leading to a much increased demand for food. At the same time, the food supply may be threatened as agriculture will have to compete with industry and municipal uses for energy and water. Climate change will also have adverse impacts on production in some areas.

The Future of the Global Food System
- H. Charles J. Godfray et al.+

Although food prices in major world markets are at or near a historical low, there is increasing concern about food security-the ability of the world to provide healthy and environmentally sustainable diets for all its peoples. This article is an introduction to a collection of reviews whose authors were asked to explore the major drivers affecting the food system between now and 2050.

Regulation Must Be Revolutionized
Ingo Potrykus, Nature, July 29, 2010, Vol 466 p561

'Unjustified and impractical legal requirements are stopping genetically engineered crops from saving millions from starvation and malnutrition, says Ingo Potrykus.'

Existing regulation demands many years of tests covering aspects such as molecular safety and biochemical safety. Yet multiple international agencies have found genetic engineering crop technology to be benign. There have not been any substantiated cases of harm to the environment or to humans, even in the litigious United States where the adoption of genetic engineering is widespread. Meanwhile, a new plant created by traditional breeding methods - which also modify the genome - requires no safety data, only the demonstration that it performs at least as well as others. This is a quick and cheap process. This imbalance allows non-scientific opponents of genetic engineering to raise unfounded concerns, which a nervous public cannot properly evaluate, especially in Europe.

Engineering varieties for the public good depends - ironically - upon the private sector.

Golden rice is a prime example. Yet it is the responsibility of the public sector to address the crop needs of poor people. And it is wiser to spend public funds on feeding the world's growing population than on jumping through regulatory hoops, or worse on spurious, politically expedient, research into hypothetical risks for the environment or the consumer, which have already been studied carefully over the past 25 years. So regulation needs a radical overhaul.

A good next step would be for a country with political and economic independence to recognize the arguments in favour of reducing the current regulatory burden for genetically engineered crops. Such a country would gain enormously by freeing funds, time and energy for research, development and deployment of many more genetically engineered crops for poor people; its public sector and small enterprises will be able to compete with the larger enterprises, whose monopoly will be broken. Without compromising safety, that nation would easily progress faster than those continuing to focus on hypothetical risks, and it would provide some much needed leadership.

Perhaps then lab-ready varieties from the public domain such as golden cassava, golden banana, iron-, zinc- and protein-rich rice might get from bench to belly in 5 years, rather than 15, if at all.

Golden Rice: A Difficult Birth

1974-1990 Technology development
1990-99 Science for proof of concept
1999-2012 Product development/deregulation
2000 Intellectual-property rights
2001 GMO-competent partners
2002 Transfer to Indica varieties
2003 Regulatory clean events
2004 Regulatory clean line at 6 micro g/g 2005 Agronomic normality in field tests
2006 Identification of target varieties 2007 Introgression into target varieties
2008 Selection of lead events
2010 Completion of optimised varieties
2012 Deregulation and transfer to farmers

EuropaBio Online Campaign - Support Free Choice

Europeans are still lacking information on GMOs with the result that they have generally withdrawn from the issue. In Europe especially, progress in farming is being held back and free choice denied. Europe's indecision is disadvantaging its farmers, its economy, its consumers, and the developing world. We believe Europeans deserve more and better information about GMOs, and the freedom to make informed choices about what they plant, buy and eat.

Visit today and take action to make your own voice heard! And then, spread the world!

OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers.
This publication is free to access and download at the link below:

28 - Case Studies of Costs and Benefits of Non-Tariff Measures: Cheese, Shrimp and Flowers

This report, featuring three case studies from the agri-food sector, shows how a cost-benefit analysis can help identify least-cost solutions of non-tariff measures (NTMs) designed to ensure that imported products meet domestic requirements.

For further information, visit our website:

Agricultural Policies in OECD Countries 2010 At a Glance
This report is a unique source of up-to date estimates of support to agriculture. It provides an overview of agricultural support in the OECD areas, complemented by individual chapters on the development of support in all OECD countries.

Now available from the Online Bookshop.

French Anti-Biotech Protests Achieve A Glorious State of Sheer Lunacy
Ronald Bailey, Reason, July 28, 2010

I have often marvelled at the hypocrisy of anti-biotech crop activists who ignored hundreds of crop varieties produced using the relatively crude method of chemical or radiation mutagenesis. As I pointed out back in 2007:

Anti-biotechies worry about a few genes inserted here and there in crops, but completely ignore the wholesale reshuffling of genes that takes place through mutation breeding. The New York Times is running an excellent article on mutation breeding today. The article explains that there are currently thousands of crop varieties that have been created over the past eight decades by blasting seeds and buds with gamma radiation. Breeders plant the irradiated seeds and wait to see what (if anything) comes up. If breeders find an interesting characteristic they begin the process of commercializing it. Keep in mind that no regulatory authority oversees this process of wholesale genetic mutation. And given its history of safety, there is no need for such regulation.

For a list of crop varieties produced by mutation breeding, see the FAOs Officially Released Mutant Varieties Database.

As the New York Times reports: Though poorly known, radiation breeding has produced thousands of useful mutants and a sizable fraction of the worlds crops, Dr. [Pierre] Lagoda [the head of plant breeding and genetics at the International Atomic Energy Agency,] said, including varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, sesame, bananas, cassava and sorghum. The mutant wheat is used for bread and pasta and the mutant barley for beer and fine whiskey.

Lagoda who irradiates plants to produce mutants is being somewhat disingenuous when he says, Im not doing anything different from what nature does. True, mutations occur in nature all of the time, but it seems somewhat doubtful that plants out in a field experience anywhere near the number of uncharacterized mutations produced in a lab by gamma rays.

But I couldnt just shut up - I had to ask: If anti-biotechies are so afraid of genetic changes in their foods, why arent they out protesting varieties produced by means of mutation breeding?

Now French anti-biotech activists, filled with pent up antinomian fury over something or other, have now heeded my question. They are now destroying hidden GMOs - that is crop varieties produced by mutation breeding. French biologist Marcel Kuntz reports:

Having no GM crops or trials to destroy in France (since there are almost no GMO culture any longer in this country, apart from two small field trials), anti-GMO activists have found a new enemy: on Saturday July 24 2010 at Sorigny and St. Branchs (Indre-et-Loire, France), they vandalized plots of sunflowers they termed as  mutated  and herbicide tolerant. They are not GM, but opponents call them hidden-GMOs to continue to use the arguments successfully developed against GMOs and to mobilize their supporters.

What the anti-GMO activists are targeting now is mutagenesis use in plant breeding and, in particular, to produce herbicide resistance, such as those of Clearfield or Express Sun sunflower varieties (the former having actually been originally obtained by a spontaneous mutation).

Actually, the destruction at Sorigny concerned a high-oleic variety of sunflower. Oleic varieties do result from mutagenesis, and some are also used in organic farming. Therefore, if one follows the anti-GMO opponents rhetoric, it is ironic that organic farmers are using  hidden-GMOs!

In requesting that the regulation on transgenic GMOs also applies to GMOs obtained by mutagenesis, cell fusion or other manipulations of life, opponents who are basically radical anti-capitalists hope to achieve for the entire plant breeding industry, and consequently for all major agricultural crops, the same economic sabotage as the one which has been so successful against GMOs in Europe.

The argument is the same:  against the new seed privatization that again represents a strategy for corporate confiscation of life . Despite being wrong, this rhetoric is highly efficient in mobilizing anti-capitalist protesters.

Similarly, claims of  unintended effects that can cause serious damage to health ...  are without factual basis, but aims to frighten consumers (who do not realize they have always eaten  mutants ...).

The stark beauty of this outbreak of lunacy will become fully refulgent when the protesters realize that hundreds of crop varieties grown by organic farmers were created using chemical and radiation mutagenesis. Eventually, the internal logic of their anti-scientific worldview must lead them to burn wheat fields because it came to be when three grasses unnaturally combined their whole genomes. And surely they will want to rip out corn plants as the misbegotten mutants of natural teosinte. Madness, I say. Complete madness!

Updated AgBiotech Bookshelf
- Andrew Apel, AgBioView, August 17, 2010
The AgBiotech Bookshelf was published a couple of years ago:

Since then, a number of good books were published:

Biotechnology in Development: Experiences from the South", by Guido Ruivenkamp. Available at

White Book: genetically modified crops, EU regulations and research experience from the Czech republic. Black Sea Biotechnology Association. Available at

The Gene Revolution and Global Food Security: Biotechnology Innovation in Latecomers, Padmashree Gehl Sampath and Banji Oyeyinka

GM Food on Trial: Testing European Democracy, Les Levidow.

Modification of Seed Composition to Promote Health and Nutrition

The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin's Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century. Peter Pringle.

Food Politics What Everyone Needs to Know. R. Paarlberg.


4th Gate2BrnoBiotech 2010-09-04
International Biotechnology Conference, October 21 in Brno, Czech Republic.

More at

The AgriGenomics World Congress
held in July 2010 at the Conrad Hotel in Brussels, focussed on the advances in both plant and animal genomics. Whether you missed the meeting and the unique networking experience, or you were there and want to share your own experience with colleagues, we can offer you a unique CD record of the event.;

If you have any queries please email

05 - 07 October 2010, Hannover, Germany

BIOTECHNICA is one of Europe's top annual meeting places for the biotech and life science industry. Here you meet target groups you would never reach at a conventional trade fair thanks to an extensive conference programme that attracts a high calibre of visitors.

15 October 2010

After our very successful 'Molecular Farming - plant biologicals' event in 2008, we are pleased to announce this follow up event. This meeting has CPD approval

7th Annual Biosimilars Conference
Optimising commercial strategies to develop Biosimilars and Biobetters
5th - 7th October 2010, BSG Conference Centre, London, UK
TEL: +44 (0)20 7549 9951 or email:
04 - 07 September 2010, Barcelona, Spain
European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology 2010
Edinburgh; 19 – 21 October 2010.
BioTech Forum 2010
- Scandinavia's most important networking.
Septemper 28-30, Bella Center, Copenhagen, Denmark
Epigenetics Europe
14 - 15 September 2010, Dublin, Ireland; The second Epigenetics Europe will focus on the most recent discoveries in this field. Speakers will discuss Methylation and DNA silencing, Chromatin remodelling and ncRNA functions as well as highlighting some of the discoveries of epigenetics in disease processes.

A summary of the talks and discussions presented at the 10th EMBO | EMBL Science & Society conference Food, sustainability and plant science ? A global challenge, Heidelberg, 6-7 November 2009.

The aims of the conference were to analyse the current global challenges of human population growth, agricultural production and environmental degradation and to discuss solutions for the future.

BioPartnering ChinaTM 2010
will be held on 5-7 December 2010 in Shanghai, China.

Europe - EU

EU Gene technology law: Nationalisation of the GMO cultivation decision: The buck has been passed to the Member States.
Fears over Europe's GM crop plan
Andrea Chipman;
Published online 28 July 2010 | Nature 466, 542-543 (2010)

A proposal to let nations opt out of growing European-approved GM varieties is under fire from all sides. After a decade in which just a single genetically modified (GM) crop was approved for commercial planting in the European Union (EU), the European Commission has tried to break the logjam. But its new proposal, which would allow individual member states to choose whether or not to grow an approved GM crop within their borders, is likely to create further uncertainty within the agricultural biotechnology industry. The plan has drawn fire from all sides of the intense debate over GM crops, with industry officials, farmers and anti-GM campaigners all condemning the move.. The EU currently takes advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent body based in Parma, Italy, which conducts a risk assessment of each GM organism. The Council of Ministers then makes a decision on the crop that applies to farmers and agribusinesses throughout Europe. But the council's voting system means that opposition by just a few of the 27 member states can block the introduction of a crop, in which case the European Commission makes a final decision. So far, only a potato with modified starch content — Amflora, developed for industrial rather than food use by German chemical company BASF, based in Ludwigshafen am Rhein — has been approved for cultivation in the EU, and 16 other crops are still awaiting final approval.

The new measure, announced on 13 July, would allow member states, or even regions within countries, to restrict GM crops, regardless of whether the EFSA has determined they pose no risk to human health or the environment and whether they have been approved by the European Commission. The commission says that, in principle, the new arrangement should make it easier to secure EU-wide approval for crops.

Several companies said that although they welcomed the commission's efforts to unblock the approval process for GM crops, the plan undermines the science-based authorization process and the principles of the single market. The proposal would also allow national governments to modify the existing rule allowing products to be labelled as GM-free if they contain no more than 0.9% of GM ingredients. This would lead to a patchwork of rules across the EU, industry experts say, complicating the development of their products. "Our concern is that the proposal potentially adds more complexity and unpredictability into the process, and we doubt whether this will speed up the approvals process," says Mark Titterington, head of government and public affairs for Europe at Swiss agricultural company Syngenta. "A better and more predictable approval process, and the extent of demand from farmers for the technology, will obviously have an influence on whether we undertake GM research in Europe in the future."

Some farmers have also criticized the proposal, fearing that it will drive investment in agrobiotech away from Europe and make their industry less competitive. "This decision sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that the EU lacks interest in innovation and new technologies for a competitive agriculture industry and that it does not use evidence and science in its decision-making," the UK National Farmers Union's chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, Helen Ferrier, said in a statement. "The very real danger is that it risks discouraging technology companies investing in Europe."

Meanwhile, environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are concerned that devolving decision-making on GM crops will make it more difficult to block their development.

EU governments seen opposing GM crop proposals
Published: 30 July 2010

European Union governments have signalled their strong opposition to proposals allowing member states to decide whether to grow or ban genetically modified (GM) crops, a Belgian EU Presidency source said on Thursday (29 July).
Published on EurActiv (
Source URL:

Several EU governments have already criticised the proposals, and last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the plans as a first step towards dismantling the bloc's single market.
A first meeting of EU government officials to discuss the proposals in Brussels on Tuesday confirmed the widespread opposition to the plans.

"There is huge opposition against the proposals by member states, for several different reasons," the Belgian Presidency source told Reuters.

Some officials agreed with Merkel's view that the proposals would undermine the bloc's internal market, and others said they would leave the EU and its member states open to challenges in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a second EU source in the meeting said.

On Wednesday, Washington's most senior trade official said the proposals were unlikely to conform with "internationally accepted scientific standards" on GM crops, suggesting that the US could be prepared to challenge them if adopted by the EU.

Food chain fears

Last week, European industry associations representing the entire food chain expressed their "deep concern" at the Commission's proposals in a letter sent to the Belgian Presidency, the Commission and EU lawmakers.

"The new approach on GM cultivation sets a dangerous legal precedent, jeopardising the internal market for authorised products," the letter said.

Letting member states decide on GM crops will create new legal and commercial risks for operators, added the letter, which was signed by EU farm group Copa-Cogeca, food and drink industry confederation CIAA and biotech lobby EuropaBio, among others.

EU government ambassadors will meet in Brussels to discuss the proposals on 3 September, when they are expected to create a special working group of member-state environment and agriculture experts to lead talks on the plans.

EU agriculture ministers will then debate the proposals in Brussels at the end of September, followed by environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg in mid-October.
(EurActiv with Reuters.)

Next Steps

bullet3 Sept.: EU ambassadors to meet in Brussels to discuss Commission's proposal. A special working group of environment and agriculture experts is expected to be formed in order to lead talks on the plans.
bullet27 Sept.: EU agriculture ministers meeting.
bullet14 Oct.: EU environment ministers meeting.
GMO Safety
In July 2010 the EU Commission introduced new guidelines for national coexistence measures. On this basis, the Member States are to have the possibility themselves to restrict or ban the cultivation of genetically modified plants to prevent accidental traces of GMO in other products.

Until now it has not been clear how national bans could be legally justified. Concerns about the scientific safety assessment do not come into consideration since all aspects of environmental and health protection of a GM-plant have been tested in the framework of the EU-wide approval procedure. „Cultural“ or „socio-economic“ criteria are often named as possible grounds for a national cultivation ban.

GMO Safety has spoken with Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Dederer from the Faculty of Law at the University of Passau about the manoeuvring room and limits for the Member States.

Please read the interview about the nationalisation of the GMO cultivation decision in more detail: „The buck has been passed to the Member States.“

We would be pleased if you report about the topic. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Barbara Löchte - GMO Safety editorial team
Genius GmbH, Darmstadt; i-bio Information Biowissenschaften (previously TransGen), Aachen

GM crops: The EC allows politics to trump science
- Eoin Lettice, The Guardian (UK), August 17, 2010

'A decision to allow member states to go their own way on genetically modified crops is a failure both to science and to the EU's principles'

The recent decision by the European commission to give its member states the power to ban genetically modified crops on a state-by-state and crop-by-crop basis means that the EC has failed science and failed itself.

On the one hand, the EC is putting its faith in what it calls its own "science-based GM authorisation system", and on the other, saying member states can ignore the science and plough on regardless with anti-GM bans.

With one decision, the EC has cast doubt on its own authorisation system; has refused to back the overwhelming scientific evidence and has handed an own-goal to those who would ban GM crops without any research into their potential benefits, or indeed problems.

U.S. farmers urge sanctions against EU's GM crop ban;
Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:47am IST
By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The largest U.S. farm group has urged the Obama administration to begin steps towards imposing sanctions on the European Union in a long running dispute over the EU's treatment of genetically modified crops.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, in comments given to the administration on Monday, complained the EU still has not complied with a 2006 World Trade Organization ruling against its "de facto" moratorium on approving new varieties of biotech crops for sale in the 27-nation bloc.

"The inability of the EU to operate a timely and predictable regulatory process ended U.S. corn exports (to the EU) in 1998 and has reduced corn by products substantially," the Farm Bureau said in its recommendations for President Barack Obama's National Export Initiative.

European Food Safety Authority Delivers New Scientific Opinion on Assessing the Possible Allergenicity of GMOs

EFSAs Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Panel has adopted a scientific opinion on strategies for assessing the risk of allergenicity of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed. This opinion is part of EFSAs ongoing effort to ensure that its risk assessment always reflects the latest scientific developments and addresses the widest range of potential concerns. Recommendations in the opinion are provided to update and complement EFSAs allergenicity assessment of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed.

The final opinion takes into consideration a total of 181 comments, received during a 10-week public consultation, from 17 interested parties including: national assessment bodies, non-governmental organisations, business associations and universities, as well as individuals. Comments mostly addressed the issue of how to implement the general approach for assessing the allergenicity of GMOs, as well as how to interpret the results of the methods discussed in the opinion. Some comments also covered more technical aspects and are addressed in a series of specific annexes to the opinion.

GM food and feed could contain quantities of new or existing proteins which might cause food allergies in people and animals. EU legislation therefore requires that the allergenicity of GMOs and food and feed derived from GMOs be assessed before they can be placed on the market.

EFSAs GMO Panel initiated this work in order to review and update current methodologies used to assess the allergenic potential of GM plants and microorganisms. In its opinion, the Panel concludes that, as there is no single test to assess the allergenicity of a GM food or feed, a case-by-case evaluation based on a weight-of-evidence approach is the most appropriate way to do this.

In the opinion, the Panel describes how to analyse the sequence of the proteins in order to identify possible similarities with known allergens; how to test the potential of the proteins to bind with specific antibodies (suggesting they could trigger an allergic reaction); and how to assess the breakdown of the protein during digestion. In addition to assessing the new protein, the Panel recommends that for crops known to be allergenic, the whole GM plant is tested for allergenicity.

The Future of Biotechnology Patents In The European Union
'The Potential Impact of Monsanto Technology LLC v. Cefetra et al. on Patent Infringement'
 - Richard Peet, Vid Mohan-Ram, and Philippe Vlaemminck, IP Watch, August 17, 2010

A recent Court of Justice of the European Union opinion in Monsanto Technology LLC v. Cefetra BV et al.1 may unintentionally inflict serious economic harm on the European biotechnology industry. In its ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) interpreted Directive 98/44/EC (the "Directive") in the context of patent infringement as requiring functionality for there to be infringement of important types of claims. The ECJ reasoned that patent claims covering isolated DNA or transgenic products that contain the patented DNA cannot be infringed if the DNA is not functional at the time of alleged infringement.

As a result of the ECJ decision, there is a significant risk that countless biotechnology products are not protected by enforceable patent claims. An accused infringer, for example, could deny infringement by simply asserting that the patented polynucleotide or gene does not perform its function at the time of alleged infringement. Because many genes are only temporarily functional, or functional only in some tissues or organs, or have many functions, this defense may have merit. Furthermore, the opinion's impact may extend far beyond a narrow conception of the biotechnology industry. For example, the viability of patents claiming isolated DNA or RNA sequences used as reagents - including reagents used in diagnostic methods such as gene tests and DNA chips - are now in jeopardy.

The ECJ decision is surprising because Article 9 of the Directive, which was an important basis for the ECJ's ruling, was intended to define what constitutes patentable subject matter when the claims in question cover living and replicating organisms. Article 9 was not intended to define the scope of enforceable rights in the context of alleged patent infringement. We believe that, in the context of patent infringement, so long as the patented genetic information is present in the commercial product, its activity at the time of commercialization is immaterial. We propose steps the biotechnology industry in Europe and the U.S. might take to remedy the serious consequences of the ECJ ruling including legislation and World Trade Organization litigation.

EC's Research web site


Activists Destroy Cornfield In Italy
- UPI, August 10, 2010

PORDENONE, Italy - Anti-globalization activists have destroyed a field of genetically modified corn near the north-eastern Italian town of Pordenone, Italian authorities say. Some 70 activists belonging to the Ya Basta group stomped on all the plants before police were able to drag them away, Italy's ANSA news agency reported Tuesday.  "Our action was aimed against the violence that GM crops wreak on the environment and on humans," said Ya Basta spokesman Luca Tornatore.

French Foes of Genetic Engineering Have It All Wrong
- The 300 News Daily, August 18, 2010

Last Sunday French opponents of genetic engineering destroyed 70 genetically modified vines belonging to the national institute for agricultural research near the city of Colmar.

The business paper Les Echos writes that the activists are missing their target:

"Just like the environmentalists, the proponents of organic foods would have us believe that defending their convictions necessarily involves attacking all genetically modified organisms. However by systematically casting - for reasons far more ideological than scientific - genetic engineering in the role of the enemy, the anti-innovation fundamentalists completely miss their target. When put to good use, genetic technology is not their enemy.

Organic products, which are not necessarily any better for the environment than conventional products, would do well to forge an alliance with the GMOs. By making organic products more efficient, such organisms could make organic farming far more competitive."

French officials condemn activists' alleged vine destruction
- Pat Thompson, CNN, August 16, 2010

Paris, France - The head of a government laboratory studying genetically modified plants said Monday that activists caused major damage during their weekend attack on a research facility in eastern France.

Before dawn Sunday, about 70 masked activists associated with the European protest movement Faucheurs Volontaires -- or Voluntary Reapers -- pulled 70 experimental grape vines by their roots and chopped them to pieces, said Jean Masson, president of the National Agricultural Research Institute, or INRA, in eastern France.

He estimated the total damage at 1 million euros ($1.28 million). Police detained about 60 people, questioned them and then released them pending charges. The vines were part of a transgenic experiment to develop disease-resistant plants at the INRA research station and had been attacked once before by a lone activist.

The French Farm Federation also condemned the destruction of the vines as a blow to French public-sector research and particularly to high-level genetic research. The federation noted that French vineyards are concerned over the deadly plant virus called court-noue, which INRA was researching and for which there is no known remedy.

Tempting traits waiting in the wings
James Andrews

The latest genetically modified crops being trialled in Europe are open to public at the Uplingen Plant Science Garden in east Germany. James Andrews went along to see what's in the pipeline.
Potatoes that fend off blight without the aid of pesticides, sugar beet capable of withstanding a dose of glyphosate and maize that wards off its two main pests.

Those are just some of the crops traits awaiting EU approval for them to be grown commercially. But so far, just two GM crops can be grown on farms in the EU. The first, which was granted approval in 1998, is a maize variety with resistance to European corn borer, and the second is a highly efficient starch potato that contains just the right compound for industrial processing.

The Uplingen Science Garden near Berlin has a number of genetically modified plants on show that would offer farmers some significant benefits, should they be approved.

Blight-resistant potato

Top of the wanted list for UK is likely to be blight resistant potatoes. The GM blight resistant potatoes planted in the garden alongside conventional varieties showed a stark contrast. Neither crop had received any blight sprays and while the conventional variety was riddled with the disease, the genetically modified plant was completely blight free.

Glyphosate resistant sugar beet

Roundup ready sugar beet was planted in a number of plots in the science garden. Sugar beet's relatively slow growth compared with grass weeds meant several herbicide treatments were often required, which could check the crop's growth, said Pioneer's Heinz Degenhardt. "Herbicide treatments can make a visible impact on the crop and can reduce yields by up to 8%."

Three-trait EU maize

A maize variety with three genetically modified traits was also on show. It had already approved for import into the EU, but was still awaiting approval for cultivation.

Bioplastics and biovaccines

A potato variety containing a natural polymer-producing gene from a bacterium was being tested in the garden.

The cyanophycin gene causes a protein to develop in the tuber. This protein consisted of two natural amino acids which were attached to a biopolymer molecule, said Kerstin Schmidt, executive director of BioTechFarm who operate the Plant Science Garden.

French ethics committee
has described the GMO potato Amflora from German megacorporation BASF superfluous, and has recommended that cultivation be banned in France.


What Consumers Want: Exclusive Survey Revealed
- FBJ Fresh Info (UK), august 27, 2010
Full text at

In the world of 2010, it is more important than ever to know exactly what shoppers want from the fresh produce aisles. Michael Barker reveals the results of an exclusive consumer survey carried out for FPJ by England Marketing.

The great GM debate

Elsewhere, the issue of the role genetically modified produce could play in the future of food supply is one of the hottest and most emotive topics in the industry. According to the British Retail Consortium, supermarkets are not yet ready to embrace GM as consumers remain far from convinced about the value and safety of food produced in that way. But there are signs that shoppers are not entirely rejecting the subject out of hand.

According to the England Marketing survey, a third of consumers would be somewhat or greatly encouraged to consider GM produce if it was cheaper than conventionally produced alternatives, 42 per cent would be encouraged if it tastes better than conventional, and 44 per cent would back GM if it was better quality than conventional.

Almost half of respondents (45 per cent) said their doubts would be assuaged if it could be proven that GM was safe to eat. Scrase believes it is further evidence that an open debate is needed on the subject. "My personal view is there's no demand for GM, but there is a mood change," he says. "People understand a bit more about GM food and the more extreme views are starting to subside. At some point, there needs to be a more mature debate on the advantages and risks. That would be helpful."

Norfolk GM Potato Trial Withstands Blight
- Michael Pollitt,  Eastern Daily Press August 26, 2010

A trial plot of genetically-modified potatoes at Norfolk's John Innes Centre has withstood five days of intense late-blight infection.

Scientists spotted blight last week on the small trial plots of potatoes at Colney, which include GM resistance genes taken from wild relatives.

The initial results, after less than a week of late blight, appear to indicate that one plot of Desiree with a GM resistance gene, has stood up to the disease pressure. However, scientist Prof Jonathan Jones, who has been leading the three-year trial involving 192 GM potato plants, stressed that it was far too early to jump to conclusions.

Turkey to Enact New GMO Regulations
- Anatolia News Agency, August 15, 2010

A new regulation concerning the commercial use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, prepared under the law for biosafety, was announced in the Official Gazette on Friday. According to the announcement, the regulation will become effective as of Sept. 26.


Tanzania to Grow Genetically Modified Cotton, Triple Output, Board Says
- Fred Ojambo, Bloomberg, Aug 16, 2010

Tanzania will start growing genetically modified cotton and offer credit to farmers to almost triple the country's output, the Tanzania Cotton Board said.

The legal framework to grow the genetically modified cotton strain, or BT, had been set up and trials would start "any time," Marco Mtunga, a regulation officer at the Dar es Salaam- based board, said by e-mail today. Lint cotton output may rise to 260,000 metric tons in 2014-15 from an expected 90,000 tons this season through improved productivity, by extending credit to farmers and introducing contract farming.

Genes from Sweet Pepper to Fortify African Banana Against Devastating Wilt Disease
- Eurekaalert, August 6, 2010

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA - In a major breakthrough, crop scientists announced today the successful transfer of green pepper genes to bananas, conferring on the popular fruit the means to resist one of the most devastating diseases of bananas in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

The Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) costs banana farmers about half a billion dollars worth of damage every year across East and Central Africa. The leaves of affected crops turn yellow and then wilt, and the fruit ripens unevenly and before its time. Eventually the entire plant withers and rots. BXW was first reported in Ethiopia 40 years ago on Ensete, a crop relative of banana, before it moved on to bananas. Outside of Ethiopia, it was first reported in Uganda in 2001, then rapidly spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi, leaving behind a trail of destruction in Africa's largest banana producing and consuming region.

BXW can be managed by de-budding the banana plant (removing the male bud as soon as the last hand of the female bunch is revealed) and sterilizing farm implements used. However, the adoption of these practices has been inconsistent at best as farmers believe that de-budding affects the quality of the fruit and sterilizing farm tools is a tedious task. The research to fortify bananas against BXW using genes from sweet pepper was initiated in 2007.

Dr. Leena Tripathi, a biotechnologist with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and lead author of the paper, said there is still a long way to go before the transgenic bananas find their way onto farmers' fields, but she called the breakthrough "a significant step in the fight against the deadly banana disease." The transformed bananas, newly-infused with one of two proteins from the green pepper, have shown strong resistance to Xanthomonas wilt in the laboratory and in screen houses. The researchers are poised to begin confined field trials in Uganda soon.

The genes used in this research were acquired under an agreement from the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. The highly destructive BXW affects all varieties, including the East African Highland bananas and exotic dessert, roasting, and beer bananas. The crop is also under threat from another deadly disease, the banana bunchy top.


Golden rice by 2012 Says BRRI
- Daily Star (Bangladesh), August 9, 2010

The country is likely to complete all necessary experiments on golden rice, a genetically modified crop variety, tentatively by 2012, said Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) sources.

They said as the government is yet to approve the field level experiment of the variety, the institute is conducting test in multiplying the seed of the new rice variety at laboratory level.

"This is one kind of GMO variety and there is nothing to be worried if the variety is introduced as everything is being done on the basis of scientific research and if it bears any risk it would not be released for farm level production," said Dr M Abdul Mannan, director general (DG) of BRRI.


China Urged to Allow Modified Crops
- UPI, August 23, 2010,

Beijing -- A top Chinese agricultural adviser is urging the government to loosen restrictions of genetically modified crops to mitigate future food shortages. China Daily reported Monday that Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, asked government to allow for more genetic crop development.

"Making technical preparations for transgenic technology is very necessary for China," he said. China has given approval for production trials for pest-resistant rice and corn, which would allow the two strains to be commercially sold in three to five years, if the trials turn out well.
China already imports a combined 50 million of tons of soybean meal and soybean oil each year, the bulk of which comes from countries where some genetic modification is allowed. Currently, however, importing genetically modified seeds for food crops is prohibited in

Biofuel 'Made in China'
Nature Biotechnology 28, 770 (1 August 2010)
Daniel Grushkin

Collaboration between the Danish enzyme producer Novozymes of Bagsvared, Beijing-based China Petroleum and Chemical and Cofco, the state-run agriculture company, will produce three million gallons of ethanol a year for local consumption, using corn stalks and leaves from northeastern China's corn belt. The demonstration plant will test novel technologies, including Novozymes' new Cellic CTec2 enzymes, with a view to launch a commercial facility by 2013.


GM Crop Produces Massive Gains for Women's Employment In India

Research at the UK's University of Warwick, and the University of Goettingen in Germany, has found that the use of a particular GM crop in India produced massive benefits in the earnings and employment opportunities for rural Indian women.

The research led by Dr Arjunan Subramanian of WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) in the University of Warwick found that the use of GM insect-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Bt) cotton generated not only higher income for rural workers but also more employment, especially for hired female labour.

Since its commercialization in India in the year 2002, the area in which Bt cotton is cultivated increased to 7.6 million hectares in 2008. Several studies show sizable direct benefits of the technology but no study so far has analyzed the gender aspect of this technology.

Dr Arjunan Subramanian said: "We also found that the use of Bt cotton also improved female working conditions as the reduction in the amount of family male labour involved in scouting and spraying for pests meant that that labour was reallocated to other household economic activities, previously carried out by female family members, increasing the returns to this labour category. Overall, therefore, Bt cotton enhances the quality of life of women through increasing income and reducing 'femanual' work."

GM Food Technology Gets Montek Singh's Endorsement
Daily News and Analysis (India), August 1, 2010

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Saturday said he is not against genetically-modified food as India is not the first country to experiment with this technology. "Of course, when it comes to eatables, there is public concern about its introduction. But there are examples in other parts of the world like in the US and China where GM food has been tried out," he said while speaking at the Institute for Social and Economic Change on Saturday.

A proposal for a regulatory authority's oversight of tests in GM Foods like Bt brinjal is up for Cabinet approval and this would give statutory authority to carry out tests on GM," said Ahluwalia. The basic tenets of GM technology is being swept away due to controversies. Adequate data support and tests would help in setting things right, he said, adding that state governments are responsible for the failure to achieve four per cent agriculture growth under the 11th Plan. "State governments are not according the priority that they should to agriculture, which is the main constraint in achieving the targeted agriculture growth. They have to be much more proactive," said Ahluwalia. The country's average farm growth in the first three years of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) is only 2.2 per cent, while the target is 4 per cent for the entire period.

Ahluwalia said that in Karnataka, farm growth had remained stagnant at 0.1 per cent in 2009-10 and the contribution of agriculture to state GDP was 17 per cent. Food security, which is a major concern because of the increase in global food prices, cannot be tackled by ensuring equitable distribution. Production is an integral part of food security and India's food problem could be solved through "production-oriented solutions," he said.

"Agricultural productivity per hectare has to go up," said Ahluwalia. Compared to other countries, where pulse consumption was almost negligible, in India, pulse consumption has increased. With diversification of the food basket, the increase in food production has to be broad-based, he added.

Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill for Safety and Efficacy: Ramesh
- Economic Times (India), Aug, 18 2010,  

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority bill, scheduled to be introduced in Parliament imminently, will not open the floodgates to genetically modified (GM) food. Infact, it has maintained the integrity of both the environmental assessment process and the public consultation process, environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh said today.


Keeping Tabs on the Next Generation of Transgenic Crops
- Crop Science Society of America, August 23rd, 2010

'Scientists Develop Framework to monitor second-generation transgenic crops'

MADISON, WI, - A team of government and university crop scientists from across Canada has developed a scientific framework for monitoring the release of second-generation genetically modified crops. The framework is designed to assess the risks of novel genes entering wild populations.

First-generation genetically modified (GM)/transgenic crops with novel traits have been grown in a number of countries since the 1990's. Most of these crops had a single gene that allowed them to tolerate herbicide application, giving them an advantage over wild species.

Second-generation transgenic crops are now being tested in confined field trials around the world. Some of these traits will allow crops to tolerate environmental stress such as drought, cold, salt, heat, or flood. Other traits being developed may lead to increased yield or lower nutrient requirements, or increase tolerance to disease and pathogens.

With novel traits from first-generation transgenic crops now being discovered in the wild, notably in wild canola in Canada and the U.S., accurately estimating the environmental impact of these new crops is becoming increasingly important.

Food firms test fry Pioneer's trans fat-free soybean oil
Nature Biotechnology 28, 769–770 (1 August 2010)

Emily Waltz

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved for environmental release one of the first biotech crops aimed at the food industry. The new crop, a genetically modified soybean with an altered fatty acid profile, yields oil that is more stable at high frying temperatures and has a longer shelf life than commodity soybean oil.

Food Firms Jarred by Sugar-Beet Restriction
- SCOTT KILMAN, Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2010

A federal judge's decision Friday to undo the government's five-year-old approval of genetically modified sugar beets, from which roughly half of U.S. sugar is derived, won't disrupt supplies for at least a year, but could pose headaches for food companies after that.

The order by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. Whitewho had concluded in September 2009 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture hadn't lived up to its obligation to fully consider whether the weedkiller-tolerant sugar beets might harm the environment effectively blocks farmers from planting the seed next spring, but leaves alone the crop already in the ground, which can be harvested this fall, processed and sold as sugar. "In the short term, at least, we're aren't going to see any disruption in the marketing of this year's crop," said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugar beet Growers Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group.

The lawsuit against the USDA was filed by activist groups including the Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club, among others. Biotechnology critics worry that the transplanted gene could spread to conventional sugar-beet plants through cross-pollination, and that the herbicide-tolerance trait permits a heavy enough use of Roundup to spur the evolution of weeds that can survive glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller.

Glyphosate-tolerant weeds are already appearing in southeast U.S. farm fields where farmers have long grown Roundup-tolerant cotton and soybeans. Sugar-beet industry officials say it would be difficult for U.S. farmers to quickly switch back to non-genetically modified seed. Some farmers have already sold off their cultivation equipment which kills weeds by digging into the dirt and it isn't clear how much conventional seed is available anymore.

The Roundup-resistant trait is popular with many farmers it is present in 95% of the sugar-beet plants grown in the U.S. because it enables them to chemically weed their fields without harming their crops, saving time and the expense of mechanical cultivation. Monsanto licenses several sugar-beet seed companies to use its herbicide-tolerance gene in their breeding programs. The business isn't big enough to be material to the company's financial results.

GM Report Adds Twist to Peruvian Defamation Case
- Zoraida Portillo,  August 25, 2010

'New report failed to find GM crops whose existence Bustamante challenged before being convicted of defamation'

An official study in Peru has found no evidence of transgenic maize crops in the valley of Barranca, casting doubt on earlier claims by a researcher of their illegal existence.

Those claims were central to a recent court case in which Ernesto Bustamante Donayre, a molecular biologist and vice-president of the Peruvian College of Biologists, was convicted of defamation after criticising research by Antonietta Ornella Gutiérrez Rosati - that purported to find evidence of such crops.

The existence of the official report was revealed during an international biotechnology workshop organised by Peru's National Institute of Agrarian Innovation (INIA) in June. Although it has not yet been published, SciDev.Net has gained access to it. The report examines 164 maize samples from the area, and concludes that there was not enough evidence to determine the presence of transgenic crops in the Barranca valley.

News in Science

Coming Soon, the Wheat Revolution and
Scientists: We've Cracked Wheat's Genetic Code.
Both are quotations from media rather from scientific journals. This indicates rather strange approach of the group headed by Neil Hall from the University of Liverpool. Czech scientists working in the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences are analyzing the wheat genome as well. They evaluate the Halls’ results as the first, most simple step as they did not order the analyzed short fragments in the genome position. Wheat genome is formed by 17 billions of letters and about 120 thousands of genes. Many sections are repeated. Therefore the assembling of fragments is the crucial and most difficult step. The Liverpool group did not make it. Thus, there is a long route left to any practical application.
Coming Soon, the Wheat Revolution:
- Paul Bentley, Daily Mail (UK),  Aug 27 2010

British scientists have cracked the genetic code for wheat - paving the way for a new breed of crops resistant to disease. The experts will today share the map of the wheat genome online for free, allowing growers around the world to develop super strains of the crop.

Scientists: We've Cracked Wheat's Genetic Code
- Raphael G. Satter, The Associated Press, August 27, 2010

The reason for the delay in analyzing wheat's genetic code, University of Liverpool scientist Neil Hall, whose team cracked the code said, was that the code is massive - far larger than corn or rice and five times the length of the one carried by humans. One reason for the outsize genome is that strains such as the Chinese spring wheat analyzed by Hall's team carry six copies of the same gene (most creatures carry two.) Another is that wheat has a tangled ancestry, tracing its descent from three different species of wild grass.

But, as one British paper hailed the announcement as the most significant breakthrough in wheat farming for 10,000 years, Evans warned against putting too much faith in genetics, saying that reforming the politics and economics of food distribution was easily as important. "We have to be very careful about saying that science will feed the world," he said.

GM crop escapes into the American wild
Transgenic canola found growing freely in North Dakota.
Published online 6 August 2010 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.393
Natasha Gilbert

A genetically modified (GM) crop has been found thriving in the wild for the first time in the United States. Transgenic canola is growing freely in parts of North Dakota, researchers told the Ecological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today.

The scientists behind the discovery say this highlights a lack of proper monitoring and control of GM crops in the United States.

US farmers have dramatically increased their use of GM crops since the plants were introduced in the early 1990s. Last year, nearly half the world's transgenic crops were grown in US soil — Brazil, the world's second heaviest user, grew just 16%. GM crops have broken free from cultivated land in several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan, but they have not previously been found in uncultivated land in the United States.

"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed).

Sagers and her team found two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild — one modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate), and one resistant to Bayer Crop Science's Liberty herbicide (gluphosinate). They also found some plants that were resistant to both herbicides, showing that the different GM plants had bred to produce a plant with a new trait that did not exist anywhere else.

Sagers says the previous discoveries in other countries of transgenic canola populations growing outside of cultivation were often in or near fields used for commercial transgenic canola production. By contrast, her research team found feral populations of herbicide-resistant canola growing along roads, near petrol stations and grocery stores, often at large distances from areas of agricultural production.

The researchers took samples of plants at 8-kilometre intervals along roads in North Dakota from 4 June to 23 July 2010. The number of B. napus plants in each sample plot was counted, and one plant was collected and tested for the presence of proteins that could give it resistance to either of the herbicides.

The team found B. napus at nearly half of the 288 sites tested. Of these, 80% had at least one herbicide-resistant transgene (41% were resistant to Roundup and 40% resistant to Liberty). They also found two plants that contained both transgenes.

Alison Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, says it is not surprising that escaped transgenic plants have now been found in the United States, given that this has already happened elsewhere. The escaped populations "could be a problem if you are worried about herbicide use", she says. A major advantages of herbicide-resistant crops is that non-selective herbicides can be used, reducing the number of applications needed. But if transgenic crops escape and breed with related weed species, then that advantage could be eroded, and different and more herbicides might have to be used.

Volunteer Canola of All Types Expected and Controllable
- U.S. Canola Association, USA;

Scientists conducting field research in North Dakota confirmed that canola produced by modern biotechnology (genetically modified or biotech), like conventional canola, can establish volunteer plants outside of agricultural fields. The results, presented today in a poster at the Ecological Society of Americas annual meeting, showed that 86 percent of 406 canola plants tested positive for traits that confer tolerance to either glyphosate or glufosinate herbicide  currently, the only two biotech traits available in canola. The plants were collected from 5,400 kilometres of interstate, state and county roads in North Dakota.

Because 85 to 90 percent of the U.S. and Canadian canola crop is grown from biotech seeds, we would expect the same percentage to be reflected in volunteer canola, said Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Association and canola grower in North Dakota. As with conventional canola production, it is not unusual or concerning that volunteer biotech canola was found on roadsides due to occasional seeds being misplaced during transport or harvesting.

When biotech canola was originally evaluated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), they recognized that like traditional canola, biotech canola would volunteer and might require management in some areas. The USDA found no evidence that biotech canola would be more apt than traditional canola to outcompete other plant species. The agencies also considered the possibility that canola would breed with other species. The CFIA concluded that such crosses would not be invasive, nor result in increased weediness or invasiveness, and could be managed by current agronomic practices.

Volunteer biotech canola is easily managed through mowing, tillage or one of several herbicides that do not contain the active ingredient (glyphosate or glufosinate) to which the canola is resistant, noted Dale Thorenson, assistant director of the U.S. Canola Association and former canola grower in North Dakota. Whats concerning on roadsides and in other areas are invasive species like leafy spurge that cannot be controlled by these methods.

Volunteer canola of any kind can appear in crops following canola, such as wheat, barley and peas. Thats why farmers should scout fields following a canola rotation for volunteer plants.

When planting canola, especially biotech varieties, farmers are expected to keep good records of fields and watch for volunteer plants, added Thorenson. If they occur, they should till or use any herbicide currently registered for control of volunteer canola. This is part of routine crop management.

Moreover, volunteer canola does not infringe on the intellectual property rights of seed providers as it is an unintentional occurrence in nature. Therefore, farmers are not liable for trace amounts of patented biotech seeds that inadvertently make their way into non-agricultural land.

Gene Theft by a Parasitic Plant
- R&D magazine, August 6, 2010

'Plant genome evolution requires reassessment with the discovery that parasitic plants can 'steal' nuclear genes.'

The exchange of genes between non-mating species-a process known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT)-is common in bacteria but seemed confined to mitochondrial genes in plants. HGT between plants and microbes has also been documented.

Now, a team led by Ken Shirasu of the RIKEN Plant Science Center, Yokohama, has published evidence for nuclear gene transfer between host and parasite plant species1. Mitochondrial genes are those of cellular organ-like structures, whereas nuclear genes belong to the cell's nucleus and are therefore part of the plant's main genome.

The findings mean that, in principle, parasitic plants could adapt rapidly by acquiring useful genes from their hosts rather than having to evolve new functions de novo-just as today's plant breeders genetically modify crop plants by introducing into them genes for desirable traits, such as disease resistance, from other species.

As a model system, the researchers focused on the flowering plant known as purple witchweed (Striga hermonthica); it is a root parasite of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), rice (Oryza sativa) and other cereals. The species is a major agricultural menace responsible for devastating crop infestations in subtropical Africa.

Sorghum and rice are members of the grass family. Like all other witchweed hosts, they are monocots, meaning that their seedlings have just one embryonic leaf, or cotyledon. In contrast, the seedlings of witchweed have two cotyledons, making it a dicot. "We reasoned that the discovery of monocot-specific genes in witchweed would provide compelling evidence for the existence of nuclear HGT between host and parasite plant species," says Shirasu.

By screening 17,000 witchweed genes, the researchers identified one gene, ShContig9483, similar to genes in sorghum and rice, but not present in parasitic or non-parasitic relatives (eudicots) of witchweed. An evolutionary 'gene tree' built by the researchers, using DNA sequences of ShContig9483 and related protein-coding genes, revealed that the position of ShContig9483 in the tree is not consonant with witchweed evolutionary relationships.

"Our analyses indicate that S. hermonthica most likely acquired ShContig9483 from sorghum or a related grass species, and that the transfer event was relatively recent," Shirasu notes. "Although we do not, as yet, know the function of the protein encoded by ShContig9483, ours is the first clear evidence of nuclear HGT between host and parasite plant species," he adds.

The researchers believe that other similar cases of nuclear HGT await discovery and that HGT may be a powerful force in plant genome evolution, facilitating rapid adaption through the acquisition of new genes.

1. Yoshida, S., Maruyama, S., Nozaki, H. & Shirasu, K. Horizontal gene transfer by the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica. Science 328, 1128 (2010)

Higher Temperatures to Slow Asian Rice Production
- August 9, 2010

Around three billion people eat rice every day, and more than 60 percent of the world's one billion poorest and undernourished people who live in Asia depend on rice as their staple food.

The world's most important crop for ensuring food security and addressing poverty will be thwarted as temperatures increase in rice-growing areas with continued climate change, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

The research team found evidence that the net impact of projected temperature increases will be to slow the growth of rice production in Asia. Rising temperatures during the past 25 years have already cut the yield growth rate by 10-20 percent in several locations.

Published in the online early edition the week of Aug. 9, 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a peer-reviewed, scientific journal from the United States the report analyzed six years of data from 227 irrigated rice farms in six major rice-growing countries in Asia, which produces more than 90 percent of the world's rice. "We found that as the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop," said Jarrod Welch, lead author of the report and graduate student of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

Botanists find genetic noise fuels hybrid vigour

Researchers at the John Innes Centre in the UK have discovered that a degree of variation in gene activity gives plant hybrids the boost they need to become more vigorous. The research, funded in part by a Marie Curie grant for early stage training, sheds light on the mystery of why hybrids outpace their parents most of the time. The results of the study were recently published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology journal.

One of the biggest questions puzzling botanists today is why hybrids between species exhibit two opposing features. While hybrids are usually more vigorous than their parents — what scientists call 'hybrid vigour' or 'hybrid superiority', some are less vigorous and fertile than their parents, a phenomenon known as 'hybrid inferiority'. Over time, scientists have offered their views about why two opposing features exist.

In this latest study, the researchers investigated how variation affects gene expression in two species of snapdragon. They found a kind of genetic 'noise' that is triggered by a degree of variation in gene activity. Some of the variation in gene activity is wiped out when the hybridisation of species occurs, which in turn results in greater vigour.

'This is the first study that analyses the consequences of variations in gene expression on conserved traits in closely related species,' explained co-author Professor Enrico Coen of the John Innes Centre.

Genetic stability in two commercialized transgenic lines (MON810)
Sofia Ben Tahar , Isabelle Salva & Ivo O Brants

To the Editor: A letter of correspondence by Dany Morisset and his colleagues in the August 2009 issue cites two recent publications in which “two commercial seed varieties of the MON810 maize genetically modified event (ARISTIS BT and CGS4540) present genetic variation thus hampering the detection by several methods for MON810 (Monsanto, St. Louis).” As representatives of Monsanto Europe (Brussels), Syngenta Crop Protection (Basel) and Limagrain Services Holding (Chappes, France), we would like to correct the scientific record concerning the claimed “variation” of the transgenic insertion in these transgenic hybrids.

Distances needed to limit cross-fertilization between GM and conventional maize in Europe
Nature Biotechnology 28, 780–782 (1 August 2010)
Laura Riesgo , Francisco J Areal , Olivier Sanvido & Emilio Rodrîguez-Cerezo

To the Editor: To avoid the economic consequences of admixtures of genetically modified (GM) and non-GM harvests, and to ensure that agricultural production complies with mandatory labelling provisions, the European Union (EU; Brussels) member states have adopted co-existence measures directed to farmers cultivating GM varieties. For GM maize cultivation, regulators have established mandatory isolation distances, which differ between countries and in some cases have been regarded as disproportionate.

Shaking up genome engineering
Nature Biotechnology 28, 812–813 (1 August 2010)
KA Tipton & John Dueber

Systematic approaches to mutate and characterize the function of every gene in a microbe have been hampered by the need to manually create thousands of separate strains through tedious genetic manipulation. In this issue, Warner et al. describe an approach to create and characterize rationally modified versions of almost every gene in Escherichia coli.

Mutation rate: DNA repair and indels boost errors
Nature Reviews Genetics 11, 592 (1 September 2010)
Mary Muers

Mutation rates vary with genomic locus and cellular context, but there are many unanswered questions regarding when, where and how elevated mutation rates occur. Two papers now implicate DNA repair in increased local mutation rates, and the results may influence future studies of genetic variation and tumorigenesis.

Evolution: Gene duplicate holds back its sister
Nature Reviews Genetics 11, 593 (1 September 2010)
Louisa Flintoft

Gene duplication followed by the emergence of a new function in one copy is an important source of evolutionary novelty. However, little is known about the effects that a new function can have on the evolution of other genes.

The ethics of using transgenic non-human primates to study what makes us human
Marilyn E. Coors, Jacqueline J. Glover, Eric T. Juengst & James M. Sikela
Nature Reviews Genetics
11, p658 | doi:10.1038/nrg2864

The generation of transgenic non-human primates provides a potential means to understand the genetic differences that distinguish humans from our nearest evolutionary relatives. However, the same features that make non-human primates good models for such research also raise serious ethical concerns.

Plant Scientists Move Closer to Making Any Crop Drought-Tolerant

'New research builds on breakthrough discovery at UC Riverside of synthetic chemical pyrabactin'

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Drought-tolerant crops have moved closer to becoming reality. A collaborative team of scientists has made a significant advance on the discovery last year by the University of California, Riverside's Sean Cutler of pyrabactin, a synthetic chemical that mimics a naturally produced stress hormone in plants to help them cope with drought conditions.

Led by researchers at The Medical College of Wisconsin, the scientists report in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (online) on Aug. 22 that by understanding how pyrabactin works, other more effective chemicals for bringing drought-resistance to plants can be developed more readily.

Abscisic acid versus pyrabactin.

Plants naturally produced a stress hormone, abscisic acid (ABA), in modest amounts to help them survive drought by inhibiting growth. ABA has already been commercialized for agricultural use. But it has at least two disadvantages: it is light-sensitive and costly to make.

Pyrabactin, on the other hand, is relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and not sensitive to light. But its drawback is that, unlike ABA, it does not turn on all the "receptors" in the plant that need to be activated for drought-tolerance to fully take hold.

Black Rice Rivals Pricey Blueberries As Source of Healthful Antioxidants

Black rice, a heritage variety of the grain that feeds one-third of Earth's population, is an inexpensive source of healthful antioxidants.

Health conscious consumers who hesitate at the price of fresh blueberries and blackberries, fruits renowned for high levels of healthful antioxidants, now have an economical alternative, scientists reported today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It is black rice, one variety of which got the moniker "Forbidden Rice" in ancient China because nobles commandeered every grain for themselves and forbade the common people from eating it.

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