General - Global
OECD key biotechnology indicators
08.12.10 Geneva –
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD) has published the latest comparable
figures on the biotech branch in the US and several European
countries. As expected, the US had the largest biotech branch.
Indicators (last updated in December 2010)
2. Biotechnology R&D
3. Public-sector biotechnology R&D
4. Biotechnology applications
5. Biotechnology patents
GM Food is Sharia Compliant: Islamic Scholars
- Workshop Resolutions and Recommendations, International Workshop for Islamic Scholars & Experts of Modern Biotechnology "Agribiotechnology: Shariah Compliance; Penang, Malaysia. Dec, 1-2, 2010
With a focus on alleviating the existing food problems and poverty, the International Workshop of Islamic Scholars and Experts in Modern Biotechnolgy on "Agri-biotechnology: Shariah Compliance" held in Penang, Malaysia on 1-2 December 2010, agreed upon the following resolutions:
Books & Articles
"Regional Consensus Documents on Environmental Risk and Economic Assessment of Genetically Modified Crops
- Case Studies: Soybean, Maize, Sugar Beet". Published by Black Sea Biotechnology Association. December 13, 2010
Feeding the world: The top 100 questions for global agriculture
- International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability,
The lack of information flow between scientists, practitioners and policy makers is known to exacerbate the difficulties, despite increased emphasis upon evidence-based policy. In this paper, we seek to improve dialogue and understanding between agricultural research and policy by identifying the 100 most important questions for global agriculture. These have been compiled using a horizon-scanning approach with leading experts and representatives of major agricultural organizations worldwide. The aim is to use sound scientific evidence to inform decision making and guide policy makers in the future direction of agricultural research priorities and policy support.
If addressed, we anticipate that these questions will have a significant impact on global agricultural practices worldwide, while improving the synergy between agricultural policy, practice and research. This research forms part of the UK Government's Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project.
Gene transfer from transgenic crops: A more realistic picture
Date Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2010
A comprehensive, data-driven statistical model including the surrounding landscape, pollinating insects and human seed dispersal allows for more accurate prediction of gene flow between crop plants.
A new data-driven statistical model that incorporates the surrounding landscape in unprecedented detail describes the transfer of an inserted bacterial gene via pollen and seed dispersal in cotton plants more accurately than previously available methods.
Shannon Heuberger, a graduate student at the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and her co-workers will publish their findings in PLoS ONE on Nov. 30.
This study is the first to analyze gene flow of a genetically modified trait at such a comprehensive level. The new approach is likely to improve assessment of the transfer of genes between plants other than cotton as well. Surprisingly, the team found that pollinating insects, widely believed to be the key factor in moving transgenic pollen into neighbouring crop fields, had a small impact on gene flow compared to human farming activity, with less than one percent of seeds collected around the edges of non-Bt cotton fields resulting from bee pollination between Bt and non-Bt cotton. Heuberger's findings have implications not just for genetically engineered traits but also more generally for seed production
Further Information: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014128
Linkages between Agricultural Policies and Environmental Effects
Using the OECD Stylised Agri-environmental Policy Impact Model
The OECD Stylised Agri-environmental Policy Impact Model (SAPIM), enables better understanding of the impact of agri-environmental policies. This report applies the model to representative farms in Finland, Japan, Switzerland and the United States.
Now available from the Online Bookshop.
More information at http://www.oecd.org/bookshop?512010061P1&lang=en
Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology
Alan McHughen and Robert Wager, New Biotechnology Vol. 27, No. 6, December 2010 www.elsevier.com/locate/nbt1871-6784/
Agricultural biotechnology, especially genetic engineering or genetic modification (GM), is a topic of considerable controversy worldwide. The public debate is fraught with polarized views and opinions, some are held with religious zeal. Unfortunately, it is also marked with much ignorance and misinformation. Here we explore some popular misconceptions encountered in the public debate.
As eloquently articulated by Mohr and Topping  in a recent review of consumer behavior, the scientific community should not assume consumer skepticism of agbiotech is owing to sheer and simple ignorance. Clearly, not all antibiotech sentiments are based on the ignorance of agriculture or of the rDNA technical mechanisms; the motivation in at least some cases seems based primarily on commercial and/or socioeconomic factors, not on health or environmental risk. Such players will cite, for example, concerns such as increased domination of the food supply by private corporations, or the likelihood of benefits of GE crops accruing disproportionately to large rich farmers at the expense of smaller, poorer farmers, or of disrupting the international trade dynamic. Although these issues may be legitimate points for discussion and debate, they are not borne of technical ignorance and they are not scientific risk based threats to health or environment.
Other sceptics are indeed simply ignorant, and the ignorance is not solely of molecular genetics or recombinant technologies. Instead, it is ignorance of basic biology and ordinary agriculture and food systems, reinforced by misinformation (so readily available on the internet, where many people now seek information) compounding the problem. The abundance of
'The Value of Crop Protection'
Crop Protection Association (UK).
New economic impact report examines the true value of crop protection to the food chain and living standards November 2010 (pdf, 40 pp) http://www.cropprotectionassociation.com/DocFrame/DocView.asp?id=1248&sec=-1
This study is the first of its kind to quantify the economic benefits of crop protection, not only to maintain the quality, consistency and affordability of our food supply, but also to keep UK agriculture competitive and to safeguard jobs, growth and wealth creation within the rest of the food chain.
Biotech Forests: An Environmental Blessing?
National Center for Policy Analysis December 14, 2010
Genetically modified trees could be a boon as well. Critics argue that genetically modified plants violate the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to allow commercial production. In laboratories and test plots, however, scientists have increased yields of useful materials from biotech trees.
26-27 April 2011, Boston, MA, USA
Europe - EU
EC discloses findings on GM crop impacts
The European Commission has released a compilation of the 50 research projects the EU has funded in the field of genetically modified (GM) crops since 2001. The research addresses the safety of GM crops for human health and the environment.
The projects, which received funding of €200m, have demonstrated that there is not yet any scientific evidence associating GM crops with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than with conventional plants, it says.
There are potential opportunities to reduce malnutrition in developing countries and assist in the adaptation of agriculture to the effects of climate change, says the commission. But it adds that strong safeguards are needed to control potential risks.
The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies. Another very important conclusion is that today's bio- technological research and applications are much more diverse than they were 25 years ago, which is also reflected by the current 7th EU Framework Programme. Biotechnology is not a purely academic exercise: its findings and developments will lead to applications and products essential to society. However, only a structured dialogue with policymakers, stakeholders and the public, based on sound science and empirical evidence, will clear the way for a balanced assessment of the benefits and risks of biotechnology and GMOs within the framework of the bio-economy.
The research described in this volume focuses on possible risks associated with the use of GMOs in different biotechnological applications. Based on a growing body of evidence that biotechnology is not more risky than alternative technologies, today's research projects funded under FP7 are now more carefully integrated and look at the potential technological benefits as well as the risks. A number of stakeholders, such as the European Group on Ethics, have greatly facilitated this approach by providing general reflections and recommendations, for example on the ethics of synthetic biology.
EFSA to Hold Workshop with Stakeholders on Draft Guidance for GM Plant Comparators
01 December 2010.
A workshop in March 2011 with scientists and risk assessors from EU Member States, industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to discuss its draft guidance document on the selection of comparators for the risk assessment of GM plants.
Increased Business for Genetically Modified Animal Fodder
- YLE UUtiset, Finland, Dec 13, 2010
Finns are consuming more and more pork and chicken that have been fed genetically modified (GM) fodder. Although the largest Finnish animal fodder producers have avoided genetically modified raw materials up to now, there are increasing economic pressures to adopt GM produce.
Much of the soy used as a basic ingredient of Finnish animal fodder comes from South America. Today over ten percent of soy beans are genetically modified, with the proportion of altered soy increasing worldwide.
In this situation, more and more Finnish fodder producers have been forced to reassess where they stand as regards genetically modified goods. According to Kari Tillanen, CEO of LSO Food, the price difference between genetically modified and non-modified produce is already nearly two-fold.
Up to now, the big Finnish fodder producers such as Suomen Rehu and Rehuraisio have committed themselves not to use modified raw materials. This may change, however, as smaller fodder producers capture more of the market with their cheaper GM produce. A small company from Satakunta, for example, has managed to grab a quarter of the chicken fodder market with its GM modified chicken feed.
Significant amounts of GM soy is already being imported to Finland. With stiffening competition, Rehuaisio CEO Leif Liedes admits that in the long run, the big fodder companies can hardly afford to be crusaders for non-genetically modified foods.
According to Jukka Rantala from Finland's Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), four out of five kilos of Christmas ham and chicken will still be GM-free this year.
Demand for regulatory services, an African challenge
Ghana Business News, November, 30, 2010
Africa is faced with the challenge of demand for regulatory services which outstrips resources available whilst the political landscape also posed a serious challenge. Biosafety regulatory systems are essential in realising the benefits of safe applications of modern biotechnology, Mr Samuel Timpo, Deputy Director of AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) said on Monday Speaking at a week's study tour for African Biosafety regulators, in Pretoria in South Africa, Mr. Timpo said biosafety laws were critical for every functional regulatory system but most African countries that signed up to the Cartegena Protocol had not established regulatory systems.
CAGP: Time for Greenpeace to Pack Up and Leave Indonesia
Press Release, December13, 2010
Consumer alliance joins leading Indonesians against "Green" imperialism, commends new Greenpeace exposé.
With Indonesian government officials and political analysts, such as provincial legislator Basuki Eka Purnama and the University of Indonesia's Boni Hargens, providing further evidence of Greenpeace's unfounded claims about their country, the Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity (CAGP) applauded their efforts to set the record straight concerning the environmental organization's colonial campaigning.
"New reports of growing opposition to Greenpeace by leading government officials and analysts inside Indonesia reinforce a main CAGP principle - the primary motive of Greenpeace and its allies is to restrict economic development and slander businesses in Southeast Asia that are a threat in the open market to Western companies. Greenpeace's use of fake data, double standards and slanderous acts on behalf of foreigners is not only harming Indonesia's reputation and economic growth, but also is enough to warrant expulsion from Indonesia," said Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith, a member of CAGP.
CAGP also applauds Syarif Hidayatullah's new book, Revealing Greenpeace's Lies, for revealing the organization's role as a conduit for foreigners to stifle Indonesian business. Refuting Greenpeace's modern, "Green" imperialism, Hidayatullah highlights the "Black Campaigns" foreigners are waging at the behest of foreign financial institutions and their wealthy, biased donors, such as the Dutch Postcode Lottery, which is now under investigation by the Dutch Parliament for providing monies to extremist groups. These campaigns amount to the use of falsified information in a brazen attempt to halt Indonesia's forestry and agricultural businesses.
Landrith continued, "Syarif Hidayatullah makes the case against Greenpeace's pro-poverty initiatives in Indonesia, highlighting how the group's activities seek to limit the job-creating and wealth-generating capabilities of local communities. He is right to call for Greenpeace to be sued at the very least, and ideally, barred from operating in Southeast Asia's largest economy. In addition, as he underscores, it is appalling how Greenpeace pressures lenders to refuse loans to Indonesian industries. Hopefully the Indonesian Government decides to prohibit Greenpeace from working in its country. If so, it would serve its citizens and businesses well."
Biotechnology in agriculture in Philippines
The Philippine Star, December 12, 2010
MANILA, Philippines President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay led other government officials in extolling the vital role of biotechnology in boosting the national economy, particularly the agriculture sector. They cited the benefits that this high-end science can bring in messages they had issued on the occasion of the celebration of the just-ended National Biotechnology Week (NBW) (Nov. 2-28).
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said Department of agriculture (DA) has been open to biotechnology’s adoption in food production, “provided that it is proven such technology has no ill-effect on the environment and the produce is safe for consumption.”
He reported that developments in this “good science” has encouraged DA to utilize biotechnology further.
Cotton: Pakistan, US join hands to combat deadly virus
The Express Tribune (Pakistan), December 14, 2010
Pakistan and the United States have embarked upon a multi-million dollar ambitious research programme to combat a deadly cotton crop virus that has resulted in a reduction of one-fifth in production of cotton.
Sharad Joshi blames Ramesh for no to GM crops
Press Trust of India, December 09, 2010
Blaming Environment minister Jairam Ramesh's "predisposition due to politics" as the reason behind government's no to GM crops, a pro-biotech crops group led by farm leader Sharad Joshi today advocated allowing farmers to cultivate genetically modified agri produce. Besides Joshi, Director National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) P Anand Kumar, Plant Molecular Physiologist I S Dua and Director National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) N K Dadlani also spoke during the press meet.
Area under Bt cotton increases to 80 lakh hectare
Press Trust of India / New Delhi December 07, 2010
The area under Bt cotton has increased significantly from 0.29 lakh hectare to 80 lakh hectare in the last eight years in the country, government told the Rajya Sabha today. Replying to another question, the Minister said that the government has imposed moratorium only on commercial release of Bt brinjal Event EE-1. "The moratorium does not hamper research on other GM crops as it is not applicable to other GM food or food crops," he added.
Lease of life
Hindustan Times December 25, 2010
The switch in 2002 to Bt cotton has made India the second-largest producer and exporter in the world, outstripping China in just seven years. Opponents of GM crops have tried to blame Bt cotton for renewed suicides because of increased seed costs, a claim not proven. Labour and pesticide costs far outstrip seed cost, which is largely government-controlled. "Yet, farmers increasingly took to Bollgard II, cultivating it on 60% of India's cotton acres this summer, an increase of 261% in two years," says Monsanto India director, Dr. Gyanendra Shukla.
According to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's statement in Parliament last week, Bt cotton acreage has expanded from 29,000 hectares in 2002-03 to 80 lakh hectares in 2009-10. The average yield has also increased from 308 kg/ha in 2001-02 to 560 kg/ha in 2007-08. Another set of data cited in Parliament said Bt cotton has resulted in 31% increase in yield, 39% reduction in pesticide usage and more than 80% increase in farmer earnings.
What can help India end the poignant suicides? Better seeds surely help drive farm incomes, but seed is just one of the inputs farmers need, the others being assured irrigation, fertilizers and training. Farmers who borrowed from private lenders at punitive rates are still outside the debt waiver scheme and the government hopes to cover them later. Bt cotton has done far better in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh than Maharashtra because of better irrigation facilities. "Even in states that have poor irrigation, Bt cotton is still a better driver of farm income than traditional hybrids," Prof. S. Mahendra Dev, who was member of the Andhra government's probe into a wave of suicides by cotton growers between 2001 and 2003.
Chinsurah centre to research GM rice
Times of India, December 14, 2010
Close on the heels of the BT-brinjal controversy that had put the genetically modified (GM) brinjal trials on the back burner, GM crop is making a comeback in Bengal, this time in the form of paddy. Calcutta University (CU) has been given a go-ahead to conduct field trials of GM rice at the Rice Research Station (RRS), Chinsurah. Experts, however, fear that the new variety might wipe out the 1200-odd existing rice varieties conserved at the rice station.
CU got the permission from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on November 11 to "conduct trials of rice (Oryza sativa L) containing gene for high iron content. The trials will be conducted at two seasons at Rice Research Station, Chinsurah".
However, GEAC has a condition. The university has to maintain an isolation distance of 200 metres (either to keep the area vacant or to grow any crop other than rice) around the trial plots to avoid genetic contamination of rice germplasm (rice variety) being maintained there.
The former dean, faculty of agriculture, at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya and former member of state agriculture commission, T K Bose, fears that a risk remains, as was witnessed in several parts of the country. "First, the recommended isolation distance would cover a large area of the farm where no rice could be cultivated for two seasons. Secondly, the trials of the new rice variety might contaminate the germplasms of the existing rice variety," said Bose. He pointed to reports of such contamination elsewhere in the country due to lapses in bio-diversity protocols.
Trial against GM sugar beet.
- Gregory Conko & Henry I Miller, Nature Biotechnology 28, 1256-1258 (2010) doi:10.1038/nbt.1730
In August, a federal judge revoked the USDA's approval of Roundup Ready sugar beets, which represent 95% of the crop now grown in the United States.
The latest weapon used in the misinformation war against recombinant DNA technology and its agricultural applications is an obscure environmental law from the seventies. Green activists and organic farmers are exploiting the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) to convince courts that inconsequential paperwork oversights by regulators at the US Department of Agriculture warrant the revocation of two final approvals for recombinant DNA-modified crop varieties and of the issuance of permits to test several others. At least one more case is pending.
Under NEPA, all US federal government agencies are required to consider the effects that any "major actions" they take may have on the "human environment." Agencies can exempt whole categories of routine or repetitive activities but most other decisions-such as the issuance of a new regulation, the location of a new bridge or the approval of a new agricultural technology-trigger the NEPA obligation to evaluate environmental impacts. If the agency concludes that the action will have "no significant impact" (a legal term of art), it issues a relatively brief Environmental Assessment explaining the basis for that decision. If significant effects are likely, though, the agency must prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which typically requires thousands of hours of work, details every imaginable effect and runs to hundreds (or even thousands) of pages.
News in Science
Season of conception permanently written on DNA of rural Africans
Baylor College of Medicine December 23, 2010
In rural Gambia, seasonal variation in maternal nutrition causes infants born during the food-scarce rainy season to weigh 200 to 300 grams (7 to 10.5 ounces) less than babies born at other times of the year. Now, researchers led by Baylor College of Medicine and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found that, depending on when a baby is conceived, this seasonal variation causes permanent changes to his or her epigenome, which controls how genes are expressed. Variations in DNA methylation.
A report on their research appears in the current issue of the open access journal PLoS Genetics.
Could the ingestion of 'modified' starch be a new malaria vaccine strategy?
PhysOrg.com, December 23, 2010
Researchers from two laboratories in northern France have successfully vaccinated and protected mice by feeding them starch derived from green algae and genetically modified to carry vaccine proteins. These encouraging results, which make it possible to envisage a simple and safe vaccination for children in countries at risk, are available online, on the scientific journal PloS One's website. http://www.plosone.org
They used antigens that have shown their efficacy in "conventional" vaccinations as vaccine candidates. They fused these antigens to an enzyme (GBSS) in a starch granule from the green algae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. This enzyme has the particularity of functioning inside the starch granule and of being protected, along with the antigens grafted to it, against degradation by other enzymes. In this way, the researchers were able to produce several murine and human antigens of Plasmodium within starch grains. These grains were then ingested by mice inoculated with the parasite. The researchers demonstrated that the mice were vaccinated by the starch grains, which significantly protected them against infection.
Genome of Barley Disease Reveals Surprises
Date Posted: Wednesday, December 08, 2010
The research, published in the journal Science, suggests that parasites within the genome of the fungus help the disease to adapt and overcome the plant's defences. The researchers discovered that Blumeria had unusually large numbers of transposons within it. Mildew pathogens are a type of 'obligate' parasite, which means they are completely dependent on their plant hosts to survive, and cannot live freely in the soil. Because they are so dependent, the pathogens have devised a way to disguise themselves in order to avoid the immune response of the host plant and overcome its defences.
Potato cyst nematodes (PCN) and late blight control.
Transgenic approaches offer the potential for controlling both potato cyst nematodes and late blight, potato growers heard at the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association annual conference.
Rotational control is not enough and chemical control, from which efficacy varies from 57% to 90%, is often not enough. It is why PCN is an increasing problem. Stacking of different genetically modified traits might be needed to give sustainable control of PCN. Stacking two transgenic approaches together could give well over 90% control, and offered potential for more sustainable control, he believed. The third transgenic approach involved turning the nematode against itself, using a technique called RNA interference. This involved engineering the plant to make double-stranded RNA, which, when the nematode ate it, caused it to think it was being infected by a virus and switch off its own gene coded for by the RNA, Prof Atkinson explained.
Stacking multiple resistance genes was also the key to getting durable late blight resistance in potatoes, Cathie Martin, group leader of the department of cell and developmental biology at the John Innes Centre, told the conference.
Genetic weapon against bee killer
Farming UK, December 22, 2010
Researchers have developed a genetic technique which could revitalise the fight against the honeybee's worst enemy - the Varroa mite. The method enables researchers to "switch off" genes in the Varroa mite. The scientists say this could eventually be used to force the mites to "self-destruct". The treatment is now at an early, experimental stage but could be developed into an anti-Varroa medicine.
Bees One of Many Pollinators Infected by Virus Implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder
ScienceDaily, Dec. 22, 2010
Penn State researchers have found that native pollinators, like wild bees and wasps, are infected by the same viral diseases as honey bees and that these viruses are transmitted via pollen. This multi-institutional study provides new insights into viral infections in native pollinators, suggesting that viral diseases may be key factors impacting pollinator populations. According to Diana Cox-Foster, co-author and professor of entomology at Penn State, pollinator populations have declined for various reasons, including ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses, which are emerging as a serious threat. "RNA viruses are suspected as major contributors to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where honey bee colonies die with few or no bees left in the hives. Recent detection of these viral species in bumble bees and other native pollinators indicates a possible wider environmental spread of these viruses with potential broader impact," explains Cox-Foster.
Their research published on December 22nd in PLoS ONE, an online open-access journal.
Accumulation and detoxification of arsenic in plant cells
Scientists from laboratories in Switzerland, South Korea and the US, and from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Plant Survival believe that by identifying the key genes responsible for the accumulation of arsenic in plant cells they have made the first step towards tackling these problems. Within the cell, the translocation of arsenic and its storage in vacuoles is ensured by a category of peptides — the phytochelatins, which are important for the detoxification of heavy metals — that bind to the toxic metalloid, and are transported into the vacuole for detoxification.They explained their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
New Branch of Science May Build A Better Tree
- Derek Abma, The Vancouver Sun, December 11, 2010
A U.S.-based organization called the Institute of Forest Biotechnology has started talks on using technology to create trees that are easier to grow, yield higher-quality lumber, and are more resistant to disease, insects and climate change.
In a conference call held this past week, leaders of the institute said genetically modified trees could help offset the effects of increasing demand on forests from a growing population, as well as depletion of forests from climate change and other factors.
The Sierra Club of Canada, an environmentalist organization, is taking a cautious approach to the idea of biotech trees. John Bennett, the group's executive director, said he supports the idea in principle and is in favour of the incremental pace, based on scientific research, being proposed by the institute.
However, Bennett said, past examples of genetically modifying plants and animals leave him with concerns. "We think there's been a tendency to introduce these things before they have actually identified all the potential problems," he said.