CIMMYT SOWS FIRST TRANSGENIC WHEAT FIELD TRIALS IN MEXICO
On 12 March 2004, a small trial plot was sown to genetically modified (transgenic)
drought tolerant wheat in a screenhouse at the International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Centre's (CIMMYT) headquarters in Texcoco, Mexico. This
is the first time that transgenic wheat has been planted under field-like conditions
in Mexico, and rigorous biosafety procedures are being followed, according
to a press release from Centro.
Developing drought-tolerant wheat and maize varieties that perform well under
diverse conditions is a top priority for the center, where innovative research—conventional
as well as transgenic—is pursued to meet this complex and difficult challenge.
CIMMYT researchers are hopeful that the wheat they are testing will withstand
serious droughts. This wheat carries the DREB1A gene from the plant Arabidopsis
thaliana. The gene has been shown to confer tolerance to drought, low temperatures,
and salinity in Arabidopsis, a plant species related to wild mustard (see Nature
This trial is the first time that a food crop carrying the DREB gene has
advanced to this level of testing. Approval for the trials was granted in
December 2003 by Mexican authorities under strict biosafety provisions to
ensure that the plants do not inadvertently cross with conventional wheat
plants; Access to the enclosed screenhouse trial is tightly restricted; No
wheat plants are grown within 10 meters of the screenhouse trial; The spikes
(flowers) of the plants are covered and isolated from the environment by
glassine bags; Plant materials are destroyed in an autoclave at the end of
the trial; The trial is monitored by Mexican authorities and the CIMMYT Biosafety
But the greatest biosafety measures are provided by the wheat
plant itself. Wheat is a “perfectly self-pollinated crop,” with
99% of fertilization occurring within the sheathed spike of the plant, where
male and female plant
components share the same floret. Even in conventional breeding, researchers
have to resort to a series of carefully executed, laborious procedures to cross
one wheat plant with another. This makes wheat very different from maize, which
freely pollinates and thus exchanges genes with other maize plants. Cross-pollination
is further limited because wheat pollen is heavy and does not travel far, and
because the pollen remains viable for only 20-30 minutes.
For the full press
release, visit http://www.cimmyt.org/english/webp/support/news/dreb.htm.
TESTING METHODS FOR GM FOOD
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology recently posted
the proceedings of the roundtable discussion held last February 2003 in collaboration
the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University. This roundtable discussion entitled "Testing Methodologies
in Tracing, Segregating, and Labeling Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology" examined
the role testing methodologies play in the application of biotechnology to
The major highlights of the proceedings are as follows:
- There are two
types of tests currently being used to detect genetically modified organisms
(GMOs), both of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.
One tests for the presence of proteins produced as a result of the genetic
modification (protein testing); the other seeks out the specific DNA sequence
associated with a particular GM variety (DNA testing).
protein testing nor DNA testing are sufficient to reach conclusions about
the amount of GMOs present in food products. Assessing quantity requires
that the tests be accompanied by carefully designed sampling procedures or
on the front lines of product segregation are keenly aware of the shortcomings
of GMO testing. But market demands leave them no
choice but to
reach for whatever tools are available, however flawed they may be. Thus, there
is a need for the establishment of international standards that can resolve
the confusion surrounding the marketing of “GMO-free” commodities
and processed goods.
Read more about the proceedings at http://pewagbiotech.org/events/0225
BIOSAFETY: KEY TO GM CROPS IN INDIA
Attempting to clear apprehensions about genetically modified (GM) crops, the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) stated that all domesticated
crops and animals have generally been subjected to varying degrees of genetic
modifications in the past. While the potential dangers associated with GM crops
are remote, valid biosafety concerns must still be properly addressed.
With regards to this, Mangla Rai, ICAR director-general, assured
that GM crops developed and cleared in the country will be safe if the appropriate
measures are put in place. He further stated that "despite the parallels
between selective breeding and transgenic research, we cannot afford to ignore
the importance of proper risk assessment and environmental and biosafety regulations
with respect to transgenic crops. The fast-paced and ever-changing nature of
research and product development presents a moving target for biosafety regulators,
research managers, scientists and the public. Therefore, there is a definite
need for a dynamic and well-balanced regulatory system."
ICAR has recently launched a national network for the research
and development of transgenics. This involves 20 public sector research institutes
14 transgenic crops, which are now in different stages of development. "The
transgenic programme in India has so far been heavily dependant on borrowed
genes, promoters and gene constructs. We are aiming to develop these products
indigenously and also develop marker-free transgenics." He also stressed
the need for public-private sector collaboration in developing transgenics
as a range of 18 transgenics are being developed by private sector in the country.
The news article from the Financial Times can be downloaded at http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=55297.
MAURITIUS ADOPTS GMO BILL WHILE ANGOLA SEEKS BIOSAFETY REGULATIONS
The Mauritian Parliament has approved the production and sale
of genetically modified organism (GMOs). Panafrican News Agency quotes Mauritian
Paul Berenger as saying that the new legislative order was not aimed at promoting
GMOs but at ensuring that their import, sale, and production are properly authorized.
Berenger added that GMO production has been increasing by 10 per cent annually
and there has been “no evidence of adverse effects on people’s
Meanwhile, Panafrican News Agency also reported that Angola's
National Codex Alimentarius Committee has called for the development of new
on the sale and transport of genetically modified (GM) products. The proposal
follows the Angolan government's issuance last week of a ban on the import
of GM seed and grain. Codex Committee Chairman Gomes Cardoso said that Angolan
biosafety rules should adhere strictly to the precautionary principle as "provided
for" by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and should conform with Southern
African Development Community (SADC) recommendations on biotechnology and biodiversity.
Cardoso called for all grain received as food aid to be ground before distribution
and for a ban on the establishment of GM laboratories in Angola. He added that
GM products should be controlled using scientific criteria. In promoting the
development of biosafety regulations, the Codex Committee says that it will
cooperate with Angolan institutions, including Angola's Phytogenetic Resources
Centre, the customs department, and scientific laboratories. The committee,
which is run by Angola's ministries of trade, industry, health, agriculture,
and defense, was established in 2003 to develop food standards and update Angola's
legislation on food products.
RICE BIOTECH MUST SUPPORT FARMERS, SAYS INDIAN REPORT
The bottom line in the use of recombinant DNA technologies should be the economic
well-being of farm women and men, the safety of the environment and the health
security of the consumers." This is one of the conclusions of the report
of the Indian national colloquium "Molecular Breeding and Shaping the
Future of Rice" organized at M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai,
Other report recommendations were:
- The development
of databases on molecular markers and functional genomics, and a National
Bioinformatics Centre devoted to the rice genome.
participatory knowledge delivery and extension systems in the case
of GM varieties.
proactive response on gene development and deployment for facing
the impact of global warming and climate change. An anticipatory
gene deployment strategy
will have to be developed to enable farm families to face potential adverse
changes in sea level and precipitation.
- An endorsement
of bio-fortification efforts. There is an urgent need for an integrated strategy
for the elimination
of micronutrient deficiencies
in the diet, since hidden hunger caused by such deficiencies is widespread.
research on improving the nutritive quality and digestability of rice
biomass comprising straw, bran and husk for farm animals.
The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) organized
in Chennai a National Colloquium on "Molecular Breeding and Shaping the Future of Rice" on
12-13 March 2004, in association with the Food and Agriculture Organization,
Department of Biotechnology, Genetic Congress Trust and the Mahyco Research
Foundation to discuss the potential impact of molecular breeding in enhancing
the productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability of rice farming
For more information on the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation visit http://www.mssrf.org.
QUALITY PROTEIN MAIZE FROM GHANA
With assistance from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a new
type of corn seed has taken root in Ghana - an altered form of corn known
as obatanpa, or "good
nursing mother." Scientists, on the other hand, call it “quality
protein maize.” This corn yields more corn per acre and contains better
The Carter Center worked in partnership with the Sasakawa Africa Association,
led by agronomist Norman Borlaug. Scientists began developing this quality
protein maize from a strain of Andean corn in the 1960s to have higher-than-normal
levels of lysine and tryptophan. But it was difficult to get a variety that
tasted as good as normal corn, resisted disease as well, offered as high
a yield, or had the same appealing color and consistency.
The project was then revived in the 1980s, particularly in Ghana, where local
experts developed a quality protein strain that matched traditional corn in
taste, texture and color.
At present, corn seeds have been taken from Ghana to be introduced in other
countries in Africa.
Download the full story at http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/atlanta_world/
IMPROVING BIOSAFETY FRAMEWORKS
In a paper entitled “Status of Regulation of Genetically Engineered Products
in Selected Countries—An Analysis ,“ S. Rao, Director of Biotechnology,
Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, conducted a comparative
analysis of regulatory mechanisms among selected countries. The study, published
in the November 2003 issue of the Asian Biotechnology and Development Review,
analyzed the regulatory frameworks of: Australia, Argentina, China, Egypt,
India, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the United
States of America.
The study revealed that revisions and modifications of the guidelines and
procedures based on feedback from stakeholders and science-based developments
in risk assessment are quite common in all countries. It was also found that
regulatory mechanisms are continuously updated and evolved to meet current
needs and technologies. The paper also underscored the need for amenable regulatory
systems in order to address different cross cutting issues affecting specific
stakeholder groups. These include the single window system, involvement of
stakeholders, cost effectiveness, and the harmonization of regulatory procedures.
The author concluded that building capacity (infrastructure and expertise)
through biosafety experiments, addressing public concerns, maintaining databases,
monitoring commercialized GMOs, and updating the knowledge of regulatory committee
members are immediate needs for improving frameworks for biosafety implementation.
For more details,
please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the full article, please visit http://www.ris.org.in/abdr_nov032.pdf
GM TOBACCO FOR CERVICAL CANCER
the University of Cape Town are currently using genetically modified (GM)
tobacco plants to create vaccines to cure cervical cancer. Ed
Rybicki, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Cape Town
in South Africa, and his colleagues are trying to produce an affordable vaccine
against the human papilloma virus which causes cancer in the cervix. Cervical
cancer is said to be the biggest cancer killer of women in South Africa.
the leaves of the tobacco plants as vaccine factories, Rybicki explains "So
what you do is make a portion of the virus - that is, the protein coat -
which is what the immune system recognizes. You can make this in a number
And the nice thing about it is however you make it, it usually self-assembles
- that is, it makes something that looks like the real virus. We can make
it in animal cell cultures, we can make it in insect cell cultures, we
it in plants. And we are trying to make plant production a reality."
Rybicki, "We are still in the development phase. We have got candidates,
we know that we can make them. We need to make them on a bigger scale, prove
that we can make them economically and then stick them in a bottle. Only
then will we begin animal testing, let alone human testing."
For more information about this ongoing research, email Ed Rybicki at email@example.com.
The news article was also featured at http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/
May 16-20, Saskatoon,
Bio-Science Week, a unique opportunity to discover the latest advances
in not one, but three bio-based sectors, namely the agricultural biotechnology
bioproducts and bioprocessing industry, and the natural health products industry.
For more information, visit http://www.bio-science.sk.ca
Medical Association’s (BMA) position statement on GM foods
is featured as the latest Knowledge (K) Sheet from the Global Knowledge Center
on Crop Biotechnology of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA-KC). This material is downloadable at http://www.isaaa.org/kc.