Crop Biotech Update
September 7, 2016

The technical sub-committee of India's Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has said that biotech mustard (Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 or DMH-11) does not "raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings or animals." The sub-committee evaluated the safety of the crop and released the Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) report published in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) website for public comment from September 5 to October 5, 2016.

India's first biotech mustard hybrid DMH-11 was developed by the University of Delhi South Campus from 1996 to 2015. The project is the first public sector edible oil biotech crop developed with funding from the Department of Biotechnology of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) the largest producer and supplier of milk, milk-based products, and the popular mustard edible oil Dhara in India.

Comments must be sent to MoEFCC through email in the prescribed format at mustard.mef@gov.in. The related documents, AFES, and proforma for comments are available at the MOEF&CC website.

A team of researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) has developed a plant that can outgrow and outcompete its neighbors for light, and defend itself against insects and disease.

Led by Gregg Howe, MSU Foundation professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, the team modified an Arabidopsis plant by "knocking out" both a defense hormone repressor and a light receptor in the plant. This genetic alteration allowed the plant to grow faster and defend itself from insects at the same time.

In plants, more growth equals less defense, and more defense equals less growth, but Howe said that their "genetic trickery" can get a plant to do both. If the results of this breakthrough can be replicated in crop plants, the work could have direct benefits for farmers trying to feed a world population that is expected to reach nine billion by the year 2050.

For more details, read the news release at MSU Today.

VIB, a life sciences research institute, based in Flanders, Belgium, published two new booklets as part of the Facts Series. One of the series is entitled Bananas: The Green Gold of the South, which elaborates on processes to produce new and improved banana varieties that contribute to sustainable, environmentally friendly, and economically viable agriculture. The booklet highlights the crop's history, its importance to the world's economy and threats to production. It also reviews various biotechnological applications in place that can save the banana.

The other booklet is titled Effect of Genetically Modified Crops on the Environment, which is the second booklet on food safety. It was released to call a halt to the polarized debate on the environmental impact of GM crops and to provide a nuanced response to the many concerns that exist. It highlights that the impact of biotech crops, whether favorable or not, is dependent on the crop trait and the cultivation technique, but not on the breeding technology utilized.

Download the Fact Series from VIB. For more information about the publication, contact Marc Heijde on marc.heijde@vib-ugent.be.

CRISPR/Cas9 is a powerful genome editing tool in several organisms. Although simpler than other nuclease-based genome editing tools, optimization of CRISPR/Cas9 considers the DNA delivery and the tissue regeneration methods of species to be edited. Si Nian Char of the Iowa State University, together with a team of scientists, reported the ISU Maize CRISPR, which uses Agrobacterium-delivered CRISPR/Cas9 to achieve high-frequency targeted mutagenesis in maize.

The system is composed of an Escherichia coli cloning vector and an Agrobacterium binary vector. It can be used to clone up to four guide RNAs for single or multiple gene targeting. The team evaluated the system for mutagenesis frequency and heritability using four maize genes in two duplicated pairs. T0 generation transgenic events with any combination of mutation in any of the two loci occurred at rates over 70%.

In the T1 generation, individuals with only the desired mutant alleles and without the CRISPR/Cas9 transgene could be generated. Double infection of embryos by combining two individual Agrobacterium strains carrying different Cas9/gRNA modules can also be performed to save resources. The ISU Maize CRISPR can be an effective tool for targeted mutagenesis in maize.

For more on this new breeding technology, read the article in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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