General - Global
Filling the Cupboard: U.N. Estimates the World's Hungry at Almost 1 Billion
Biotech Now, October 8, 2010
Food and Agricultural Organization points to biotechnology as a key to expanding food sources quickly and inexpensively'.
This year alone, 925 million people will go hungry or be malnourished That's the data in a new report to be issued this month from the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization. FAO says that although this figure represents a decline from the previous year, it's not significant enough to achieve hunger reduction goals.
Additionally, the slight decline was expected, says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. It's the result of the world's economy bouncing back from the trauma of 2008's economic collapse and food prices stabilizing, which gave larger swaths of the population access to food supplies. But this is no reason for world leaders to rest on their laurels, says Diouf, who is urging world leaders and policymakers to stay diligent in the fight against world hunger.
Fifth Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
Public Research and Regulation Initiative
Nagoya, Japan, 11 October 2010. Today starts the MOP5. The Cartagena Protocol is an important instrument, because it can help international sharing of the benefits of modern biotechnology, to which Parties have agreed in article 19 of the Convention on Biodiversity. This same article is the legal basis of the Cartagena Protocol.
Tens of thousands biotechnology researchers in thousands of public research institutes in developing and developed countries strive towards alleviating poverty, sustainable agricultural production, assuring food safety and quality and conservation of the environment. However, these same public sector scientists express concern that these efforts will be futile if regulations such as the Cartagena Protocol are not implemented in a balanced and science-based manner. They call on the negotiating Parties at MOP5 to constantly assess how the implementation of the Protocol will affect crucially important public research, to ensure that the Protocol will indeed contribute to sharing the benefits of this technology.
Current agricultural practices need to become more sustainable. Modern biotechnology has shown relevant benefits that need to be integrated in agricultural practices to address the giant challenges that the world community faces:
Executive Secretary of PRRI, Dr. Stefan Rauschen, says it is a daunting task for public researchers to bring the results of their research to the farmers if regulations require millions of dollars to get GM crops approved, which is unaffordable for public research institutes.
Dr. Behzad Ghareyazie, President of the Biosafety Society of Iran emphasizes that governments in developing nations, including Muslim countries, should assist the access to modern biotechnologies. "Biased, excessive regulation is one of the barriers to access the benefits of advanced technologies. Iran was the first country to commercialize an insect resistant rice to lower the need for intensive use of environmentally harmful insecticides".
Dr. Margaret Karembu, Director of ISAAA Africenter strongly believes that Africa should not be deprived of modern biotechnology. "Africa is the only continent in the world where food production per capita is decreasing and where hunger and malnutrition afflicts at least one in three people. Modern biotechnology can make a decisive contribution to improve harvest and alleviate hunger and poverty in Africa.
The adoption of Bt cotton in Burkina Faso for example, is expected to bring an income gain of over US$100 million per year and at least 50% reduction in insecticide sprays. Burkinabe women farmers are already experiencing additional benefits from saved time and labour used in fetching water for spraying to increasing their acreage on food crops during the cotton season, which was a big challenge before. Priority crops in Africa such as cowpea, cassava, sorghum, and banana are being developed by African public researchers, with the potential to increase c rop productivity by resisting devastating plant diseases and to alleviate human malnutrition through biofortification. African countries are concentrating efforts to properly regulate all of these GM crops".
"The Philippines benefitted hugely from GM adoption and there is not one verifiable report that suggests harm to human health and the environment after more than 7 years of cultivation of GM maize in a cumulative area of more than 1 million hectares, says Dr. Desiree Hautea, from the Institute of Plant Breeding at University of the Philippines Los Banos". Dr. Hautea is looking forward to the commercialization of the first public sector-developed GM crop in the Philippines, the insect resistant Bt eggplant, to shrink the excessive use of pesticides, and to improve income and productivity of resource-poor farmers. She is optimistic that the science and evidence based decision-making that has been established in her country, will continue to be upheld.
Dr. Lúcia de Souza from the Brazilian Biosafety Association (ANBio) says that GM crops in Brazil were estimated to have already spared 12.6 billion liters of water and 104.8 million liters of diesel, resulting in a reduction of 270.4 thousand tons of CO2 emissions. More needs to be done to increase the number of improved crops available to farmers such as cassava and beans, to extend benefits to developing countries. Latin American scientists from institutions of excellence in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru have joined in the Regional Project LAC Biosafety (GEF/WB/CIAT) to strengthen their capacities and maximize the benefits for sustainable agriculture.
Around the world, GM crops contributed US$ 51.9 billion during the period 1996-2008 due to substantial yield gains and reduction in production costs. Environmental benefits include savings on pesticides, water, fossil fuels and decreased emissions of green house gases. It is unacceptable to see that millions of people go to bed hungry every day. Researchers and regulators around the world should make it their common goal to promote a sustainable approach in agriculture that ensures every person is adequately fed and poverty is alleviated in the world.
The Nagoya - Kuala Lumpur Protocol on Liability and Redress for Damage Resulting from Living Modified Organisms born in Nagoya
Nagoya, 12 October, 2010 - After more than six years of intense
negotiations, Parties to the Biosafety Protocol finalized the negotiation
of a new treaty known as the „Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary
Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety“.
Named after two cities where the final rounds of negotiations were
held, the new treaty will establish international rules and procedures
for liability and redress in case of damage to biological diversity
resulting from living modified organisms.
Protocol website: http://www.cbd.int/biosafety
MOP 5 media website: http://www.cbd.int/mop5/meeting/media/
Frequently asked questions: http://www.cbd.int/biosafety/faqs.asp-
Two New Notes on Information Requirements for LMO-FFPs under the Biosafety Protocol
Two new notes from the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) summarize results from studies on the economic implications of introducing stringent information requirements for shipments of living modified organisms for food, feed or processing (LMO-FFPs). Requirements that were introduced under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Article 18.2(a).
Growth of biofuel industry hurt by GMO regulations
October 1, 2010
Faster development of the promising field of cellulosic biofuels - the renewable energy produced from grasses and trees - is being significantly hampered by a "deep and thorny regulatory thicket" that makes almost impossible the use of advanced gene modification methods, researchers say.
In a new study published today in the journal BioScience, scientists argue that major regulatory reforms and possibly new laws are needed to allow cellulosic bioenergy to reach its true potential as a form of renewable energy, and in some cases help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
In some cases, the stringent regulations make it virtually impossible to do the very research needed to adequately understand issues of value and safety, the researchers said. "The regulations in place, forthcoming, and those that have been imposed by legal actions result in the presumption that all forms of gene modified trees and grasses are 'plant pests' or 'noxious weeds' until extensive experimentation and associated documentation 'prove' otherwise," the scientists wrote in their report.
Solving these problems will require new ways of thinking and strong scientific and political leadership to create a regulatory system that enables, rather than arbitrarily blocks, the use of gene modification as a tool to accelerate and diversify the breeding of perennial biofuel crops, the researchers concluded. Provided by Oregon State University
Books & Articles
Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology
- New book by Rachel Schurman and William A. Munro, Aug. 5, 2010. Amazon.com price $14.99. 280 pages, Univ of Minnesota Press; ISBN-10: 0816647623
Rachel Schurman is associate professor of sociology and global studies at the University of Minnesota. She is coeditor of Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents.
William A. Munro is professor of political science and director of the international studies program at Illinois Wesleyan University. He is author of The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development, and State-Making in Zimbabwe.
Economic Impacts of Policies Affecting Crop Biotechnology and Trade
- Kym Anderson, New Biotechnology (in Press), full paper at
Agricultural biotechnologies, and especially transgenic crops, have the potential to boost food security in developing countries by offering higher incomes for farmers and lower priced and better quality food for consumers. That potential is being heavily compromised, however, because the European Union and some other countries have implemented strict regulatory systems to govern their production and consumption of genetically modified (GM) food and feed crops, and to prevent imports of foods and feedstuffs that do not meet these strict standards.
This paper analyses empirically the potential economic effects of adopting transgenic crops in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. It does so using a multi-country, multi-product model of the global economy. The results suggest the economic welfare gains from crop biotechnology adoption are potentially very large, and that those benefits are diminished only very slightly by the presence of the European Union's restriction on imports of GM foods.
George Gollin Professor of Economics, University of Adelaide, Australia
Communal Benefits of Transgenic Corn
Bruce E. Tabashnik, Science, Oct 8, 2010. v330. p189
Genetically engineered crops represent one of the most controversial and rapidly adopted technologies in the history of agriculture. First grown commercially in 1996, transgenic crops covered 135 million hectares (ha) in 25 countries during 2009 . To reduce reliance on insecticide sprays, corn and cotton have been genetically engineered to make insecticidal proteins derived from the common bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These Bt toxins kill some devastating insect pests, but unlike broad-spectrum insecticides, they do little or no harm to most other organisms, including people.
Many pests have rapidly evolved resistance to insecticides, however, spurring concerns that adaptation by pests could quickly reduce the efficacy of Bt crops and the associated environmental, health, and economic benefits. On page 222 of this issue, Hutchison et al. (below) rein in some of those concerns, documenting a landmark case in which Bt corn has remained effective against a major pest for more than a decade, yielding billions of dollars of estimated benefits to farmers in the midwestern United States.
Genetically altered trees, plants could help counter global warming
http://www.physorg.com/news205130872.html October 1, 2010
Forests of genetically altered trees and other plants could sequester several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year and so help ameliorate global warming, according to estimates published in the October issue of BioScience.
The study, by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, outlines a variety of strategies for augmenting the processes that plants use to sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon, first in vegetation and ultimately in soil. Besides increasing the efficiency of plants' absorption of light, researchers might be able to genetically alter plants so they send more carbon into their roots--where some may be converted into soil carbon and remain out of circulation for centuries.
Genetically Engineered Crops and U.S. Agricultural Sustainability
David Ervin and Rick Welsh, Guest Editors Choices Magazine (Agricultural & Applied Economics Association) 2nd Quarter 2010 | 25(2)
Advancing the Aquaculture Agenda
Aquaculture now provides more than 50% of the global supply of fisheries products for direct human consumption. This workshop proceedings discusses critical economic, environmental and social aspects of aquaculture.
Now available from the OECD Online Bookshop.
Recombinant Pharmaceutical Manufacturing from Plants - the Future of Molecular Farming
15 October 2010, Hertfordshire, UK.
7th International Conference on Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology
December 2 - 3, 2010 Logenhaus, Berlin;
The role of Biosafety Research in the decision-making process'
The 11th International Symposium on the Biosafety of GMOs will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 15 - 20 November 2010.
‘The 11th ISBGMO (International Society for Biosafety Research [email@example.com]) will include plenary sessions, poster sessions, workshops and training sessions. There will be a visit to see experimental and commercial GM crops. An entertaining social programme also is planned.
Europe - EU
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How to Debate Genetic Engineering in Agriculture?
African Technology Development Forum, October 15, 2010
How can Europeans be empowered to talk in a morally meaningful way about genetic engineering in agriculture in the absence of any concrete experience with the new technology? GM food is practically unavailable in retails stores, GM crops are hardly grown anywhere and governments largley failed to introduce biotech toolkits in schools. No wonder that general knowlege about the technology is low and moral judgment tends of be of heteronomous nature.
Another problem is that Europe is slowly losing its competence on biosafety because conducting field trials costs millions of dollars - just to protect such trials from human beings who want to destroy it. The costs imposed by such opponents as well as the uncertain and time-consuming process of regulatory approval are probably the most important reason why industry concentration is increasing in agribusiness in Europe. After all small companies cannot cope with this regulatory uncertainty and its resulting costs.
In view of hostile public opinion, governments are also increasingly reluctant to fund biosafety risk assessment in the field. How can Europe remain credible on issues related to biosafety and ensure moral authority in the debate on the role of technology in sustainable development in such a tense and negative social and political environment? There is an urgent need for more practical and concrete experience with the technology and for tools that allow people to become more familiar with perspectives that are not featured or even censored in the popular media.
European Commission proposes ban on animal cloning for food production
20.10.10 Brussels – The European Commission has changed its position concerning animal cloning for food production following strong opposition from the European Parliament against the Commission’s idea to authorise of such food products under the regulatory regime of the EU’s Novel Food regulation. On Tuesday, European Health Commissioner John Dalli presented the Commission’s new strategy. It is set to implement a 5 year marketing ban by law on all food products derived from cloned animals but has many loopholes. According to analysis of the EU’s food watchdog EFSA, food from animal clones is not different to food from non-cloned animals. Consequently, the Commission’s proposal is not based of food safety but on animal welfare and thus excludes food products derived from the offspring of animal clones. Additionally, the Commission proposed allowing cloning for practices such as saving species from extinction, making pharmaceuticals or breeding performance animals like racehorses or fighting bulls. What is important for researchers - importing embryos and semen from cloned animals wasn't banned. „Animal clones "are for researchers, not butchers." explained EU Health Commissioner John Dalli.
GMOINFO-LIST: New summary notification published today: B/CZ/10/1
Field trials with glyphosate tolerant H7-1 sugar beets in the Czech Republic
To access the summary notification please visit the website: http://gmoinfo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/
EuropaBio Newsletter, Choice for Europe – consumers hungry for facts, not media stunts,
Brussels, October 6.
Contrary to the one-sided messages being produced by anti-GMO campaigners, evidence shows that consumers want more information about GMOs. Recent surveys show that there is little apprehension about GMOs in Europe, where more than 3 out of 4 Europeans surveyed believe that the EU should encourage its farmers to take advantage of the benefits of biotechnology.
Did you know?
Global Farmers Ask: Why are European Farmers Not Allowed to Take Advantage of Agricultural Innovations?
- EuropaBio, Brussels 26 October 2010
During today's event in Brussels, "Sustainable Solutions for Food Security," seven farmers and international experts-including Roberto Ridolfi, Head of Unit in EuropeAid at the European Commission, Mayra Moro-Coco, Policy Officer at Action Aid, and Justus Wesseler, Associate Professor at Wageningen University-discussed Europe's role in ensuring food security.
A farmer who spoke at the event, Ms. Rosalie Ellasus from the Philippines, noted, "I'm surprised that European farmers can't take advantage of GM crops. The safety and benefits of this technology have been proven, and we need as many solutions as possible to help feed a growing population and improve farmers' economic situations. Since I began farming GM maize in 2003, I've had higher yields, fewer pests and greater profits - I wonder when European farmers will experience these same benefits. As a widow raising three boys, I was able to leave behind my career as a medical technologist and pursue my dream - becoming a successful small farmer."
Editorial, Nature 467, p633-634, October 7, 2010
African nations are laying foundations to extend the use of GM'
The use of genetically modified (GM) crops for food divides opinion, especially when it comes to Africa. Sharp views on the technology in the developed world, honed by more than a decade of arguments in Europe and elsewhere, are too easily projected onto Africa, with the continent portrayed as a passive participant in the global melodrama over GM food. So it is heartening to see a group of 19African nations working to develop policies that should make it clear to all sides in the debate that Africa can make up its own mind.
Africa: Continent Urged to Embrace Scientific Agriculture
Jennifer Dube, The Zimbabwe Standard, Oct. 24 2010
New York - There is need to embrace scientific interventions in agriculture in order to improve Africa's poor yields, especially in light of food crises on the continent, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has said. Speaking on Africa's agriculture to students and journalists at Columbia University in New York recently, Annan said many countries on the African continent had made strides towards millennium development goals like education and health but need to do more to reduce poverty.
"For a long time, we did not have the right seeds and our soils have been used over and over again, most of our farmers are smallholders who cannot afford fertilisers yet in many cases, they hardly get any help from government and they have no access to finance.
"We need a unique African green revolution."
Annan, who initiated the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) which supports small-scale farmers, said there was need to embrace technology to improve yields, highlighting that in the Agra project, small-holder farmers worked with scientists to improve varieties of their local staple foods.
Columbia University- based agronomist Pedro Sanchez said in some parts of Africa, poor performance can be partially blamed on some misconceptions about agriculture.
He said one of the misconceptions, a controversial one for Zimbabwe, is the way genetically modified (scientifically enhanced) organisms are viewed. "You hear people saying that farmers now have to buy seed every year because of GMOs," Sanchez said. "But this has always been the case even with hybrid (naturally enhanced) seeds since the 1970s. "All crops are GMOs in the sense that there has been a gene transfer from one plant to another. Wheat for example, is a product of a gene transfer from one grass to another."
Sanchez said there was no scientific evidence that GMOs were harmful to humans and the environment, adding that some of these have yielded positive results for other countries including South Africa. He also said some ecologists are dealing the sector a heavy blow by discouraging the use of fertilisers.
Stakeholders in Zambia Push for Bt Cotton Trials
- Crop Biotech Update, Oct 22, 2010.
Zambia has to develop the necessary research and development capacity not only to regulate but also to eventually enable the use of new technologies including biotechnology that can contribute to economic growth. This remark was forwarded by Hon. Lameck Mangani, Deputy Minister for Science, Technology and Vocational Training in his opening speech during the 2nd Zambia stakeholders meeting on biotechnology and biosafety held on 8 October 2010.
The Deputy Minister said that issues of modern biotechnology, notably genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are here to stay and that it may not be possible to continue sidelining the issues any longer. "We have to rise above the ideological divide and work in partnership towards what is rational and beneficial to Zambia's future," he said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), Dr. Cris Muyunda, noted that agricultural productivity and competitiveness requires the right mix of policy choices and the use of available technological options including biotechnology. Restricting farmers' access to technology is restricting their flexibility to meet their potential in productivity, he said.
Uganda prepares to plant transgenic bananas
Linda Nordling, Nature, Oct. 1 2010
Banana plants growing at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Institute. Field trials of a GM variety are set to begin next week.Linda Nordling Scientists in Uganda will next week start field trials of a banana variety genetically engineered to resist a bacterial disease that has been decimating crops across central Africa.
The new variety is part of a wider effort to improve the East African Highland banana, a fruit so important to Ugandans that its name, matooke, is synonymous with 'food' in one of the local languages. But delays to a law regulating the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) food in the country means it is not clear when the improved banana could be released to farmers.
The bananas have a gene from green pepper to protect against banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), which costs farmers in Africa's Great Lakes region an estimated half a billion dollars every year. Bananas infected with BXW ripen unevenly and prematurely, and eventually the entire plant wilts and rots. The disease was originally found in Ethiopia, but was discovered in Uganda in 2001 and has rapidly spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The sweet pepper gene produces a protein called HRAP that strengthens the plant's ability to seal off infected cells. The idea was pioneered by scientists at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, where it has been shown to improve the disease resistance of vegetables including as broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.
GM crops remain controversial in Uganda.Linda Nordling The Ugandan research team, based at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories in Kawanda, received a royalty-free licence to use the technology in 2006.
Six of the eight GM banana strains developed with the green pepper gene showed 100% resistance to BXW in the lab1.
"This is the first time this gene has been used in Africa, and it is the first time the technology is going to be tested in the field," says Leena Tripathi, a biotechnologist from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kampala, and lead investigator of the Ugandan project.
The field trials will also screen GM banana varieties with resistance to BXW for resistance to fungal diseases and analyse whether the breed affects the composition of microorganisms in the soil. These plants will grow side by side with another GM banana variety developed at the laboratory, which has been fortified with vitamin A and iron to help to combat blindness and anaemia in rural areas.
But the future of Uganda's biotechnology advances remains uncertain. Scientifically, Uganda is one of Africa's leaders in developing GM varieties of local staples. But its government has yet to pass a law to regulate the commercial release of GM organisms.
"Uganda is doing very well with the resources that it has at the moment," says Felix M'mboyi, executive director of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, which is based in Nairobi. "They have built their own local capacity, especially doing research on their own variety of banana."
Uganda's biosafety law has been stuck in the country's legislative system for years. A draft law exists, based on a biotechnology and biosafety policy adopted in 2008, that would allow controlled commercial releases of GM crops.
But with general elections expected to be held in February next year, MPs will be too busy focusing on re-election to have time to debate the law before then. Although political resistance to the introduction of GM food has softened in recent years, several MPs remain sceptical. And once the new parliament has been elected, resistance could grow once more, says M'mboyi.
Urban Ugandans are more opposed to GM crops than their rural counterparts are, according to a PhD thesis published earlier this year2.
But many city dwellers change their tune when they realise that they may unwittingly have eaten GM maize, for example, in breakfast cereals imported from South Africa, says Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, who heads the country's National Banana Research Programme. "Every time you tell them that, they say 'Oh, is that it?'" he says. He says that the current delays are a temporary setback. "There will be a law in one to two years time."
But the situation is not satisfactory for the country's researchers, concedes Maxwell Otim, deputy executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, which coordinates the country's interim biosafety regulations. "There is an anxiety, which must be alleviated," he says.
Uganda Starts 'Historic' Trials on GM Staple Crops
Peter Wamboga-Mugirya, 5 October 2010
Ugandan researchers will carry out a series of field trials on some of the major food crops that have been genetically modified (GM), following several recent approvals by the Uganda National Biosafety Committee, despite a lack of clear legislation on commercialising any such products within the country.
They will seek to develop both transgenic and conventional maize varieties tolerant to climate change-induced drought; GM cassava resistant to virulent cassava brown streak virus ravaging the starchy root crop across eastern and central Africa; GM bananas with engineered resistance to Xanthomonas bacterial infections; and cotton plants containing both Bt and 'roundup-ready' genes.
Scientists prepare for confined field trials of life-saving drought-tolerant transgenic maize
African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Oct 14, 2010=
If successful, water-efficient maize for Africa would be available royalty-free to the region Agricultural Research (CGIAR) warns that by 2050, climate change could make droughts more frequent and intense, potentially causing maize yields to drop by 20 percent or more in parts of East Africa, including northern Uganda and southern Sudan, and semi-arid areas of Kenya and Tanzania. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has acknowledged biotechnology as a powerful tool in the effort to develop drought-tolerant crops.
The drought-tolerant WEMA varieties are being developed under a partnership involving AATF, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Monsanto, and the national agriculture research systems in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda. CIMMYT has provided high-yield maize varieties adapted to African conditions, while Monsanto has provided proprietary genetic resources (germplasm), advanced breeding tools and expertise, and drought-tolerant transgenes developed in collaboration with BASF.
Strengthening Agricultural Biotechnology Regulation in India
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has released the first in a series of policy briefs - 'Strengthening Agricultural Biotechnology Regulation in India'. This policy brief outlines the crucial elements of a strong biotechnology regulatory regime in India, namely, a process-based regulatory system, an autonomous regulatory body, transparent process and harmonization with international standards.
The brief focuses on India's current regulatory system and lists policy recommendations for further strengthening the existing system. The new series of policy briefs is based on research work in specific areas and will be made available to members of parliament, policy-makers, regulators, experts, civil society and the media to encourage wider discussion. via Crop Biotech Update, www.isaaa.org.
In China, No Meeting of The Minds on GM Crops
Li Jiao, Science, Oct 15, 2010
WUHAN, CHINA-If anyone is under the impression that the Chinese public is ready to embrace genetically modified (GM) crops, they are mistaken. At a hastily arranged session at a symposium here earlier this week, members of the general public berated and quizzed scientists on concerns ranging from the legitimate to the bizarre.
The Chinese government is pushing hard on GM. Last year, China launched a $3.5 billion R&D effort on GM crops, and in 2008 Premier Wen Jiabao declared, "To solve the food problem, we have to rely on big science and technology measures, rely on biotechnology, rely on GM." Buoyed by high-level support, the agriculture ministry last November issued safety certificates to two rice varieties bearing a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis that's toxic to insect pests.
But the Chinese public is pushing back. A group of protestors descended on the "Communication and Dialogue of Agribiotech Symposium" at Huazhong Agricultural University on 11 October, prompting organizers to set up a side session that afternoon between members of the general public and scientists.
It soon became evident that scientists face an enormous task in communicating accurate information about GM crops. "If I eat GM rice, wings will grow in my body, correct?" asked an elementary school student. An adult then posed an only slightly less farfetched question, expressing his fear-fed by sensational articles in Chinese newspapers-that GM rice will suppress sperm levels and lead to "subjugation and genocide" in China. "We only want to live healthily, why must you harm us?" he asked.
Experts sought to reassure the audience that consumption of GM crops has been linked neither to growth of human wings nor to suppressed sperm levels. But they also acknowledged that there are legitimate questions about the long-term safety of GM foods, both to human health and the environment, that are the subject of ongoing research. "I cannot say that GM food is totally safe," says Zhu Zhen of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Although the encounter yielded little consensus, scientists appreciated the chance to try to set the record straight. The onus is now on science communicators to provide accurate information and "play a role as a bridge" between scientists and the public, says symposium organizer Jia Hepeng, chief editor of CAS's Science News biweekly magazine. But with sentiments in China running strong against GM crops, and GM rice in particular, Huazhong's Zhang Qifa, a leading rice researcher, says that he can't predict how long it will take for GM rice to win approval for commercial planting. "I have tried my best for research, but I can't control others," he says.
Aussies Give Thumbs Up to Biotechnology
- Australian Life Scientist, Oct 26, 2010
'Stem cell technology gets the thumbs up especially, while confusion and misinformation impede acceptance of GM food'.
A national survey to gauge how Australians feel about biotechnology has shown that the majority are strongly supportive of those efforts which lead to health and environmental benefits, while support for genetically modified (GM) food has fallen amid ongoing confusion and uncertainty.
News in Science
New Soybeans Bred for Oil that's More Heart-Healthy
AgriGenomic Research, Date Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010
By Jan Suszkiw September 16, 2010
In a new issue of BMC Plant Biology, Bilyeu and colleagues Anh Pham Tung, Jeong Dong Lee and J. Grover Shannon report their identification and use of a mutant pair of alleles, or gene copies, to bolster soy's oleic-acid production. Typically, soy oil is 13 percent palmitic acid, 4 percent stearic acid, 20 percent oleic acid, 55 percent linoleic acid, and 8 percent linolenic acid. But the new beans contain more than 80 percent oleic acid, reports Bilyeu, who collaborated with scientists at the University of Missouri and Kyungpook University in the Republic of Korea.
Other research groups have successfully used transgenic methods such as gene silencing to increase soy's oleic-acid levels. But the ARS-university team used classical plant breeding instead, "endowing"their soy lines with two mutant alleles for the gene FAD2.
Normally, its orchestration of biochemical events in soybean seed favors production of linoleic acid and other unsaturated fatty acids. However, combining the two naturally occurring variant alleles (FAD2-1A and FAD2-1B) reversed the situation, generating more oleic acid.
Field trials in Missouri and Costa Rica indicate the soy lines' oleic-acid production can stay fairly constant across diverse growing conditions. Additional tests are planned.
Further Information: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2229/10/195
Secret of crop-killing fungal pathogens
Scientists in the US have worked out how fungi manage to reduce drag on their spores so as to spread them as high and as far as possible. They say their discovery could help researchers find new ways to control the spread of fungal pathogens such as sclerotinia that cause various diseases in crops like sunflowers to soybeans, and cost farmers billions of euro every year. The study was funded in part by the EU via a Marie Curie Fellowship worth some EUR 18 000 under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Transgenic Indian Superspuds Pack More Protein
A genetically modified (GM) potato has been created that makes up to 60 per cent more protein per gram than ordinary potatoes. But even with that help, spuds don't contain much protein. Interestingly, in a surprise result, the GM crop also yielded more potato per hectare.
Using Cassava to Address Vitamin A Deficiency
American Society of Plant Biologists,
A natural variation shows promise for increasing provitamin A in cassava roots using transgenic or conventional methods'.
An article published in The Plant Cell this week describes the results of a collaborative effort led by Professor Peter Beyer from Freiberg University in Germany, together with researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. These researchers studied a naturally arising variant of cassava with yellow roots in order to understand the synthesis of provitamin A carotenoids, dietary precursors of vitamin A. Beyer was also co-creator of Golden Rice, a biofortified crop which provides precursors of vitamin A not usually present in the rice that people eat.
Scientists Silence Genes to Produce Hypoallergenic Carrots
Crop Biotech Update,
Pathogens and abiotic stress could stimulate the production of a plant protein called pathogenesis-related protein-10 (PR10). This protein elevates the allergenic potency of numerous fruits and vegetables, such as carrots. Two similar genes (Dau 1.01 and Dau c 1.02) were found in carrots that code for PR10 forms. Susana Peters of Justus Liebig University, Germany, and colleagues conducted a study with the objective of producing hypoallergenic carrots by silencing either Dau 1.01 or Dau c 1.02 in transgenic carrots through RNA interference (RNAi).
Read more about this study at http://www.springerlink.com/content/5192893147177l34/fulltext.html.
Scientists claim GM cowpea could generate US$1 billion
A pest-resistant version of the black-eyed pea, a subspecies of the cowpea, is on track for commercial introduction, promising higher yields and claimed savings of up to US$1 billion on a crop that has found new popularity among African smallholders. The cowpea, actually a bean, is rich in protein and is an important crop for both tackling malnutrition and adapting to climate change as it tolerates hot, dry conditions.
But infestation by the Maruca vitrata pod borer has cut the value of crops by up to US$300 million for smallholders in Africa, who produce nearly 5.2 million tonnes of the bean. The continent currently accounts for about 70 per cent of global production. Now, scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, in collaboration with other institutes including the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Kenya, have engineered an insect-resistant Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cowpea that they say could be on shelves in six years.