News in July 2011
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General - Global

Global Research Coalition Approves Six New Cutting-Edge Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Programs to Sustainably Boost Food Security Worldwide
Programs Expected to Deliver Better Natural Resource Management; Focus on Wheat, Livestock, Fish, Roots, Tubers, Bananas, Nutrition, and Policy

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world's largest international agriculture research coalition, approved six new programs, totalling some $957 million, aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soils, and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world's poorest countries. The newly created CGIAR Fund is expected to provide $477.5 million, with the balance of the support needed likely to come from bilateral donors and other sources.

Specifically, the six programs focus on sustainably increasing production of wheat, meat, milk, fish, roots, tubers and bananas; improving nutrition and food safety; and identifying the policies and institutions necessary for smallholder producers in rural communities, particularly women, to access markets.

Books & Articles

Socio-economic issues & their inclusion in biosafety decision making
Jose Falck-Zepeda, nternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The inclusion of socio-economic considerations under Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) is voluntary. It is not a mandatory requirement, thus countries have the freedom of choosing whether to make it voluntary, mandatory or not required at all.

The literal/strict interpretation of Article 26.1 of the CPB is that inclusion may consider impacts on biodiversity, especially on local and indigenous communities. The inclusion of broader socio-economic and other considerations may be done under national laws and regulations.

The issue of whether Article 26 allows the inclusion of food/feed safety and public health considerations as part of its scope is a bit vague. On the one hand, the CPB itself has mutated from a strict environmental treaty seeking to protect and enhance biodiversity while allowing the safe use of LMOs to one where some argue that it has become a de facto risk assessment treaty for LMOs covering all general aspects in an evaluation system including environmental, food/feed safety and public health issues. Many of the issues beyond environmental safety have been covered in national laws and regulations.

On the other hand, countries maintain the sovereign right within the scope of their international obligations to do what they want in terms of assessments. The question then becomes, what will the Parties choose: a narrow/strict versus a broader interpretation of Article 26?

Impact of Bt cotton on pesticide poisoning in smallholder agriculture: A panel data analysis
Shahzad Kousera and Matin Qaim, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Georg-August-University of Goettingen, 37073 Goettingen, Germany


While substantial research on the productivity and profit effects of Bt cotton has been carried out recently, the economic evaluation of positive and negative externalities has received much less attention. Here, we focus on farmer health impacts resulting from Bt-related changes in chemical pesticide use. Previous studies have documented that Bt cotton has reduced the problem of pesticide poisoning in developing countries, but they have failed to account for unobserved heterogeneity between technology adopters and non-adopters. We use unique panel survey data from India to estimate unbiased effects and their developments over time. Bt cotton has reduced pesticide applications by 50%, with the largest reductions of 70% occurring in the most toxic types of chemicals. Results of fixed-effects Poisson models confirm that Bt has notably reduced the incidence of acute pesticide poisoning among cotton growers. These effects have become more pronounced with increasing technology adoption rates. Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year, which also entails sizeable health cost savings.

Scientists take a giant step for people -- with plants!
Science News, July 29, 2011

Science usually progresses in small steps, but on rare occasions, a new combination of research expertise and cutting-edge technology produces a 'great leap forward.' An international team of scientists, whose senior investigators include Salk Institute plant biologist Joseph Ecker, report one such leap in the July 29, 2011 issue of Science. They describe their mapping and early analyses of thousands of protein-to-protein interactions within the cells of Arabidopsis thaliana -a variety of mustard plant that is to plant biology what the lab mouse is to human biology.

"With this one study we managed to double the plant protein-interaction data that are available to scientists," says Ecker, a professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. "These data along with data from future 'interactome' mapping studies like this one should enable biologists to make agricultural plants more resistant to drought and diseases, more nutritious, and generally more useful to mankind."


Protein Technology Innovation Conference
28 - 29 September 2011, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This key conference will bring together some of the larger food manufacturers, innovative ingredient companies and leading technology companies. Besides exchange of knowledge and talking about innovations, the Conference offers excellent networking opportunities.

BIT's 1st Annual World Congress of Environmental Biotechnology
19 - 22 October 2011, Dalian, China

The overall aims of WCEB-2011 are to explore the advances, frontiers and applications of biotechnology to create a knowledge-based bio-economy all over the world for a healthier and more sustainable future, and to strengthen relations between industry, research laboratories, government agencies, the private sector and universities on issues for human sustainability.


Towards a better beer - Czech scientists map the barley genome
AgriGenomics, Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Czech scientists working with an international team of experts have successfully finished mapping the barley genome. In a process of more than ten years, it was unique Czech technical breakthroughs that allowed the five billion letters of the barley genome to finally be deciphered. The new knowledge will not only enrich the understanding of genetic evolution but will also mean real benefits for cultivators in terms of higher yields and more resistant crops.

INRA is Recruiting Over 50 Experienced Researchers in 2011

Experienced researchers show expertise in the design and execution of innovative projects involving food and nutrition, agriculture or the environment.

BASF considering moving its agbiotech operation out of Germany

BASF SE (BAS), the world’s biggest chemical maker, may withdraw genetically modified crop research from Germany in response to growing political opposition, three people familiar with discussions said.

The cost of spurning GM crops is too high
- Jonathan DG Jones, Guardian (UK), 21 July 2011

'The benefits of the technology far outweigh any risks and we must embrace the opportunities created by it'. The term "genetic modification" provokes widespread fears about the corporate control of agriculture, and of the unknown. However, results from 25 years of EU-funded research show that there is "no scientific evidence associating GM plants with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms". This of course does not prove GM methods are 100% safe, but makes clear there is no evidence to the contrary.

Anti-GM Attacks Destroy German Test Plots
- Gretchen Vogel , Science Insider, 15 July 2011

BERLIN-Vandals in Germany have destroyed two experimental sites growing genetically modified (GM) wheat and potatoes. On the night of 9 July, half a dozen masked attackers overpowered the security guard watching over test fields in Gross Lüsewitz, near Rostock. They then destroyed a field of wheat resistant to fungal diseases and a field of potatoes engineered to produce cyanophycin, an amino acid polymer that could potentially be used to make plastics. The fields were part of a trial funded by the German government to develop a more-efficient testing system for gm crops. Two nights later, a dozen attackers threatened guards with pepper spray and bats at a demonstration garden in Üplingen, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. They destroyed a field of potatoes and trampled wheat and maize. Police estimate the damages from the attacks at more than €250,000. No suspects have been arrested.


To abolish hunger and malnutrition, Africa must embrace GM technology

Once again, drought is menacing the Horn of Africa. Britain’s pledge this week to increase food aid for 1.3 million Ethiopians facing starvation to help them to reach the next harvest can be the only right response.

But how do we ensure that farmers produce enough food to feed themselves?

The solution must be a radical change to agriculture on the continent. It is promising, therefore, that on July 1, the Government of Kenya, a country also affected by drought, announced plans to open its borders to genetically modified crops for the first time.

New technology necessary to mitigate drought
- Catherine Karongo, Capital FM (Kenya), July 29, 2011

Kenya has been challenged to embrace new technologies in order to avert the recurrent food crises. This comes in the wake of a controversial debate on whether the country should allow import of genetically modified (GMO) maize.

Immediate former Vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Dr. Akin Adesina said on Thursday that the country should not run away from new scientific technologies that could improve food security. "If you look at Kenya today, you always have a problem with drought in the north but if you have the power of science available to KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute), and they can actually get a gene that can impart drought tolerance into maize, why not? Obviously that is going to solve the problem but you need to have scientists that are well trained and let them make the decisions," he said in an interview with Capital News.

Dr. Adesina who is also the newly appointed Minister for Agriculture in Nigeria said the solution to the current food crisis was through adoption of new innovations.

"In almost every technology, there are risks. Even life itself is a risk. You must be able to weigh the risks and the benefits to see whether the benefits far outweigh the risks," he remarked.

Africa modifies its stance on GM crops
- Gavin du Venage, The National (UAE, July 29, 2011

Genetically modified food has always been a tough sell, but nowhere more so than Africa, where it is banned in all but a handful of countries. Now, this appears to be changing. With a famine declared once again in East Africa, Kenya has become only the fourth country on the continent to allow the full-scale importation and production of GM crops. Kenya embraced genetically modified food this month in the face of fierce resistance from local consumer groups and politicians. Elsewhere in Africa, the debate is just beginning.

Until recently, South Africa was the lone exception. It was one of the first countries in the world to adopt GM crops and today has about 21 million hectares of land growing biotech produce. In the past few years, Egypt and Burkina Faso have also recently begun farming GM crops. But in the rest of Africa, GM farming remains off-limits. Even the importation of engineered food is restricted or banned outright.

When Zambia needed food aid in 2002, for instance, it made it clear that it would not accept biotech crops, however hungry its people were. "I will not allow Zambians to be turned into guinea pigs no matter the levels of hunger in the country," thundered the-then president, Levy Mwanawasa.

Other countries that faced the same famine, such as Mozambique and Malawi, reluctantly allowed GM maize to be imported, but only if it was already milled, to prevent farmers from keeping back seeds for planting


Considering biotechnology as a new knowledge and technology that is one of the valuable successes of mankind.


The real success story of GM cotton and edible cotton oil in India

Amidst the oilseed crisis, cotton is the only oilseeds crop that has shown a remarkable progress after the introduction of Bt cotton hybrids in 2002. In the last nine years, cottonseed has become an important source of oilseeds in the country. The production of cotton oil registered a three-fold increase from 0.46 million tons in 2002-03 to 1.20 million tons in 2010-11. As a result, Bt cotton meal (de-oiled cake) contributes one third of the country’s total demand for animal feed, whereas cotton oil contributes 13.7% of total edible oil production for human consumption in the country – a significant contribution which offsets more than half of the import bill for edible oil valued at US$6.5 billion annually. Increased production of Bt cotton oil could be one of the important strategies to substitute for edible oil imports which constitute more than 50% of the total edible oil consumption in the country. In 2009-10 India, for the first time ever, imported more edible oil, 8.80 million tons, than the 7.88 million tons it produced domestically. Due to the high nutritional content of cotton oil, Bt cotton oil is marketed after blending it with different edible oils. India is becoming increasingly dependent on expensive imports of vegetable oil, which is a valid strategic concern, and biotech Bt cotton and its second generation of stacked products, as a multipurpose crop for oil, fiber and feed, can play a critical role in Indian agriculture in the near, mid and long term future (James, 2010).


Scientists protest EPA proposal to expand biotech regulation
Food Chemical News, July 20 2011

More than 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences, led by outspoken biotech advocate Nina Federoff, have written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to protest what they describe as a proposal "to further expand [EPA's] regulatory coverage over transgenic crops in a way that cannot be justified on the basis of either scientific evidence or evidence gained over the past several decades..."

"The increased regulatory burdens that would result from this expansion would impose steep barriers to scientific innovation and product development across all sectors of our economy and would not only fail to enhance safety, but would likely prolong reliance on less safe and obsolete practices," the NAS scientists say in a July 5 letter, a copy of which was obtained by Food Chemical News.

The three-page letter, which also was signed by Nobel laureates James Watson and Gunter Blobel, among others, addresses a March 16 Federal Register notice in which EPA proposes a rule to codify data requirements for plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs).

"Based on initial reviews of that draft proposal and recent EPA actions associated with biotechnology-derived crops, it is clear that the agency is departing from a science-based regulatory process, walking down a path towards one based on the controversial European 'precautionary principle' that goes beyond codifying data requirements for substances regulated as PIPs for the past 15 years," the scientists say.

GM Grass Unregulated
- Jessica P. Johnson, Scientist, July 22, 2011

'New technology evades the USDA's authority to control genetically-modified plants' A new technology used to create a genetically modified (GM) version of Kentucky bluegrass prompted the USDA to announce on July 1 that it has no authority over the plant's regulation, reports Nature.

Rules currently in place that give the US Department of Agriculture regulatory authority over GM plants are based on the Federal Plant Pest Act, passed in 1957, which was actually designed to protect agricultural crops from foreign disease infestations. But the Act was adopted for GM plant regulation because the techniques used in their modification involve the use of viruses and tumor-causing bacteria, such as the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which transports genes that confer disease resistance into plant genomes. Genetic elements derived from plant viruses are then used to turn these genes on.

In the case of a GM Kentucky bluegrass, however, which is designed by the lawn-care company Scotts Miracle-Gro to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, selected genes were attached to metal particles and shot into plant cells by a relatively new method. The genes are then turned on by the plant's own genetic elements. Because no bacteria or viruses are used, the Federal Plant Pest Act no longer dictates how the crop should be regulated.

By stepping around current regulations, Scotts hopes to expedite the process of bringing their product to market, according to a Nature editorial. "The Plant Pest Act was completely inappropriate for regulating biotech crops," Bill Freese, science-policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington DC, told Nature. "Now we can foresee this loophole getting wider and wider as companies turn more to plants and away from bacteria and other plant-pest organisms."

Growing Pains
- Editorial, Nature, v.475: 265-266, July 21, 2011

It is time to update decades-old regulation of genetically engineered crops.

Researchers at Scotts Miracle-Gro have a vision of a greener future. The lawn-care company, based in Marysville, Ohio, wants to develop a dwarf grass that needs less frequent maintenance than standard Kentucky bluegrass. But there is a catch: such grass is unlikely to stand up to weeds. No problem, the company reasons, it will make a dwarf grass that is resistant to herbicide to help homeowners to nip those weeds in the bud.

Development of this genetically modified (GM) Kentucky bluegrass made headlines this month when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Scotts that it did not have the authority to regulate it (see page 274). As a result, Scotts is free to start selling its new crop without oversight.

The reason for this is historical. US regulation of GM crops relies on its authority to control plant pests, and so the USDA has regulated crops on the basis of the way plant-pest-based tools are used to make them. It is a bizarre approach, given the low pest risk from the tools. But it had some merit when it was first developed because foreign genes were often inserted into the plant genome by a bacterium that can be lethal to some plants. Once in place, the expression of the foreign gene was guided by a series of genetic elements pulled from plant viruses.

Peru's GMO Moratorium not WTO Compatible: President
- ICTSD, Volume 11 Number 14

A ten-year moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been rejected by Alan García, Peru's outgoing president who says the move breaches the country's WTO commitments. The bill will now be sent back to Congress for reformation.

The legislation, which was approved by Peruvian Congress on 7 June, declared a ten-year moratorium on the entry of GMOs into Peru for cultivation, breeding, or as any other type of transgenic product.

García sent the legislation back to Congress saying that the moratorium is incompatible with responsibilities Lima has under WTO agreements and that it could be harmful for research.

The 10-year moratorium approved the entry of transgenic seeds into the country, generate billions of dollars in losses as did Brazil for the delay of 6 years to adopt GM soybeans, behind Argentina, had a loss of income U.S. $ 6.000 million


Farmers condemn attack on GM crop
Cowra Community News • Serving Cowra and the Region • email

THE New South Wales Farmers’ Association has condemned the actions of Greenpeace protesters who scaled a fence and destroyed a crop of genetically modified (GM) wheat at a CSIRO farm in Canberra. The crop was cut down by activists using whipper-snippers at the CSIRO’s experimental station at Ginninderra on Wednesday night.

Dr Neville Exon, Chapman:

‚The ''peace'' part of the word Greenpeace has become an oxymoron. A more appropriate term would be Greenjihad, or maybe Greenwar. The wanton destruction of a genetically modified wheat crop in the early hours of July 14 after so-called ''protesters'' scaled the fence at the CSIRO's experimental station at Ginninderra is beyond contempt. Terrorists would be proud of such action!‘

Destroying years of scientific research is no way of lodging objections or protests. In a world where the production and supply of food in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of a growing population is critical, such protests are reprehensible.

The Greenpeace protesters acted like a bunch of 1930s Nazis burning books during their notorious rallies.

The sad, sad demise of Greenpeace
- Wilson da Silva, Cosmos, 14 July 2011

GREENPEACE WAS ONCE a friend of science, helping bring attention to important but ignored environmental research. These days, it's a ratbag rabble of intellectual cowards intent on peddling an agenda, whatever the scientific evidence.

It was once the most active, independent and inspiring civilian group for the environment. Whether riding zodiacs alongside boats carrying barrels of toxic waste to be dumped in the open sea, or campaigning against CFCs and HFCs that were depleting the ozone layer, Greenpeace did admirable work.

But in the last decade or so, Greenpeace abandoned the rigour of science. When the science has been inconvenient, Greenpeace chooses dogma. Which is why it has a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear energy, no matter how imperative the need to remove coal and gas from electricity production. Or why it is adamant organic farming is the only way forward for agriculture, when organic could not feed the world's population today.

And why, in the early hours of July 14, a group of Greenpeace protesters broke into a CSIRO Plant Industry experimental station at Ginninderra, north of Canberra, and destroyed an entire crop - half a hectare - of genetically modified wheat.

Greenpeace has always been media savvy, but over the past decade this has become an addiction, leading it to launch campaigns that generate lots of publicity, but have doubtful merit: witness its attacks in 2007 on Apple's iPhone as being toxic and hazardous. It later admitted these had been exaggerated, and that it had targeted the iPhone in order to grab headlines.

Greenpeace credibility damaged as it goes to war over GM crop
- Ed Gannon, Herald Sun (Australia), July 21, 2011

LAST week, a group of Greenpeace activists broke into a CSIRO research facility near Canberra and destroyed a trial plot of genetically modified wheat. And with that they also shredded any credibility they may have had as a legitimate voice in the environment debate - including climate change.

Because with this action, Greenpeace is trying to have its cake and eat it too. It has declared the science of food modification is not just wrong, but evil. And doing so at the same time it attacks anyone who dares question the science of climate change.

News in Science

Anti-HIV drug made by GM plants begins trials in humans
- Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, July 19, 2011

'The antiviral was manufactured in GM tobacco. Pharma-Planta is a project launched seven years ago with the objective of using GM plants to produce monoclonal antibodies as vaccines. Professor Julian Ma from St George's University, London is the joint co-ordinator of the European Union-funded project. The human trial has been approved by the UK licensing body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and is taking place in Guildford at the clinical research centre of the University of Surrey. Eleven healthy women have volunteered to take part in the trial and two of them have been given the antibody so far, with a third woman having been given a placebo. The trial is designed only to demonstrate the safety of the antibody, called P2G12, at different dosages. Much bigger trials in women at risk of contracting HIV would be necessary to test whether it could prevent infection.

High yield crops keep carbon emissions low

The research team, which also included lead author Jennifer Burney and David Lobell of Stanford University, investigated the net effect of Green Revolution crops on greenhouse gas emissions during the period between 1961 and 2005.

They found that although the various inputs to modern farms require more energy and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food output than did the lower-input methods of the past, crop yields have increased by 135%, reducing the amount of cropland needed to produce the same amount of food. Without these advances, the conversion of vast natural areas to agriculture would have caused much more greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of nearly 600 billion tons of CO2 since 1961.

The researchers also calculated the benefits of investing in agricultural research as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They estimate that since 1961 agricultural research has averted carbon dioxide emissions at a cost of about $4 per ton of CO2. The potential for emissions reduction compares favorably with other strategies. Agricultural advances have prevented about 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, much more than the estimated 1.8 billion tons obtainable by improvements in energy supply or the estimated 1.7 billion from improved transportation systems.

Eucalyptus DNA blueprint revealed
- Beau Gamble, Australian Geographic, JULY-29-2011 Share |

In a major boost to global forestry research, scientists have mapped the genome of Eucalyptus grandis - the world's most common plantation tree and one of our biggest eucalypts. The flooded gum, also known as the rose gum, is only the second commercially forested tree ever to have its genome - its entire DNA sequence - decoded.

The genome map - developed by the US Department of Energy and the Eucalyptus Genome Network - will allow scientists to identify the genes responsible for rapid growth and other desirable traits. Essentially, the knowledge will fast-track the development of superior genetic varieties of flooded gum and other eucalypts.

Scientists map protein-protein interaction in plants
AgriGenomics, Published: Friday, July 29, 2011 Last Updated: Friday, July 29, 2011

Scientists describe their mapping and early analyses of thousands of protein-to-protein interactions within the cells of Arabidopsis thaliana.

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