In This Issue

January 8, 2010

NEWS

Global
• UN Opens Biodiversity Year with Plea to Save World's Life-Supporting Ecosystems 
• Advanta to Develop Enhanced Sorghum Varieties 

Americas
• GM Corn Trait Receives Cultivation Approval in Argentina 
• Monsanto Announces 11 R and D Project Advancements 
• New Sweetpotato Varieties Well Adapted to Cool Climate 
• Syngenta and Dow Ink Cotton Licensing Pact 

Asia and the Pacific
• India's Prime Minister Underscores Development and Safety of GMO Crops 
• India Drafts Crop-specific Biology Documents 
• FuturaGene PLC Granted Additional Cell Wall Patent in Japan 
• China Launches Project on Climate Change Impact on Agricultural Production 
• Biotech Workshop on Sustainable Modern Agriculture in Indonesia 

Europe
• Increasing Agricultural Production in the UK: Constraints and Proposed Solutions 
• Consumers: Help Secure Britain's Food Future 

Research
• Oil-Rich GM Tobacco Plants for Biofuel Production 
• Scientists Pinpoint Rice Genes that Determine Rice Eating And Cooking Quality 
• Researchers Discover Plant "Thermometer" Gene 
• Research Reveals Rapid Mutation Rate of Plant Genomes 

Announcements
• Indian Seed Congress 2010 
• BioAsia 2010 - The Global Bio-Business Forum 
• Nominations for the Royal Society Pfizer Award 2010 

Document Reminders
• ISAAA Brief "The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal(Eggplant/Aubergine) in India" 
• Inaugural Issue of Biosafety Newsletter in Malaysia 

 

News

Global

The United Nations is marking 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The message for this year will focus on raising awareness to generate public pressure for action by the world's decision makers.

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity summarized the year's message as: "Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on. Human activity is causing the diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate. These losses are irreversible, will impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on every day. But we can prevent them."

The official launch will take place on January 11 and will be followed by major events on the 21st and 22nd of January in the Paris headquarters of UNESCO which will bring together heads of states and representatives.

For details, see the story at http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=606&ArticleID=6439&l=en

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Advanta, a global seed company headquartered in India, is set to develop a pipeline of biotech and conventional traits to move sorghum towards becoming a key crop in North America and the world. "The pipeline of traits under development at Advanta will have a tremendous impact upon the future of sorghum as a mainstream crop in the U.S. and abroad," says Cleve Franks, PhD, plant geneticist and breeder at Advanta US. "And the range of traits in development is quite broad, from cold tolerance to herbicide tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency to salt tolerance."

Advanta says research and development activities will generate sorghums with better energy conversion, better forage production, higher sugar contents and production improvements like herbicide tolerance. 

 Advanta's press release is at http://www.advantaus.com/pdfs/trait%20pipeline2.pdf

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Americas

Following biosafety and other required assessments, the Argentinean Ministry of Agriculture has approved Syngenta's genetically modified corn trait Bt11xGA21 for cultivation in the country. Bt11xGA21 is a double-stacked corn trait combining insect resistance and herbicide tolerance in a single product. Bt11xGA21 corn expresses both the EPSPS and PAT enzymes for tolerance to glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides and the cry1Ab protein for insect resistance.

Bt11xGA21 stacked corn is approved for cultivation in the United States, Canada and since November in Brazil.

View the press release at http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_091222.html

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Monsanto is set to work on 11 project advancements with one being a biotechnology product with a direct consumer dietary benefit. Products include SDA omega-3 soybeans; Genuity™ SmartStax™ refuge-in-a-bag; and Monsanto's first insect-protected Roundup Ready 2 Yield® soybeans designed for the Brazilian market.

"We have talked before about being on the verge of a technology explosion, and this is the beginning of it," said Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto. "This year you will see the first of those game-changing products delivering on the farm. These are just the first wave of innovation. The projects in the early phases of our pipeline today will continue to fuel the next wave of technological breakthroughs and gain momentum in the years to come."

Monsanto says that Genuity™ SmartStax with refuge-in-a-bag would allow farmers in the Corn Belt to plant one corn product across their entire field without the need to plant a separate, potentially lower-yielding refuge.

More details about the project advancements at http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=788

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Some sweetpotato varieties produce storage roots with purple flesh. These purple sweetpotato varieties don't just look good, they might actually be good for the health. Purple sweetpotatoes contain high levels of anthocyanins, red-purple pigments found naturally in grapes, red cabbage and eggplant peel much studied for their health benefits, including their roles as antioxidants.

Ted Carey and colleagues at the Kansas State University are developing varieties that grow well in the cold-winter region. "I was interested in purple-fleshed sweetpotato because there were not yet any commercial varieties adapted for cultivation in the mainland USA, and there is a fairly significant demand for this type of sweetpotato, almost all of which is imported," Carey said.

Carey sourced the seeds from the genebank maintained by the Peru-based International Potato Center (CIP). Initial research on some of Carey's purple sweetpotatoes has provided encouraging results, showing that two anthocyanine derivatives they contain, cyanidin and peonidin, inhibit human colon cancer cell's growth. Carey and his team will conduct further multilocational testing this coming season. As of the moment, the scientists have their eyes on a top variety that may not be very sweet but could prove to be useful for processing.

Read the original story at http://www.cipotato.org/pressroom/press_releases_detail.asp?cod=74

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Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences announced that Syngenta has granted Dow licenses to a number of VipCot cotton varieties, as well as access to its COT102 cotton transgenic event. Under the agreement, Dow will receive a global license to develop and commercialize stacked combinations of COT102 transgenic event with the company's traits. COT102 events express the Vip3A insecticidal protein for protection against lepidopteran pests.

Dow AgroSciences will also receive a license to a number of VipCot cotton varieties, stacked with glyphosate tolerance, for sale in the United States. These varieties, which offer protection against key cotton pests such as cotton bollworm (Helioverpa zea), tobacco budworm (Heliothis virescens) and armyworms (Spodoptera), are expected to be launched in 2012.

Visit http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_100105.html for the media release.

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Asia and the Pacific

India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh emphasized the safety of biotech/genetically modified (GM) crops during the 97th Indian Science Congress held at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram on 3-7 January 2010. "The technology of genetic modification is also being extended to food crops though this raises legitimate questions of safety. These must be given full weight, with appropriate regulator control based on strictly scientific criteria," he said.

Inaugurating the 97th Indian Science Congress, Dr. Singh said the developments in biotechnology have the prospect of greatly improving yields in major crops by increasing resistance to pests and also to moisture stress. He said that the genetically modified Bt cotton was well accepted and made a great difference to production and its extension to food crops should be done following strictly scientific criteria. "Subject to these caveats, we should pursue all possible leads that biotechnology provides that might increase our food security as we go through climate related stress," he said.

More than 6000 participants representing various branches of science attended the largest national science event to address the challenges in frontier science and for cutting edge technologies for the future. The focal theme of this year's 97th Indian Science Congress was "Science and Technology Challenges of 21st Century-National Perspective", held jointly by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and University of Kerala.

For a copy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's  speech delivered during the 97th Indian Science Congress  visit http://pmindia.nic.in/lspeech.asp?id=872 For more information about the 97th Indian Science Congress visit: http://isc2010.in:8080/isc/index.jsp  For information about biotech development in India contact b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

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The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests have drafted "Series of Crop Specific Biology Documents" for use as reference in evaluation of biotech/genetically engineered (GE) crops. Five crop-specific documents featuring cotton, brinjal, maize, okra and rice have been prepared and are made available on DBT's website for comments from concerned stakeholders. The biology documents provide information about biology and ecology of the crops and are structured to contain seven parts including general description; taxonomy, geographic origin and distribution; reproductive biology; crossability and hybridization; ecological interactions; health considerations and cultivation of the crop in India. The purpose of the crop-specific biology documents is to make available information about the crop to applicants as information in applications to regulatory authorities; to regulators as a guide and reference source in their regulatory reviews; and for information sharing, research reference and public information.

To read and download the "Series of Crop Specific Biology Documents" on cotton, brinjal, maize, okra and rice visit http://dbtbiosafety.nic.in/Comments_Invited.htm Submit your comments on these documents up to January 7, 2009 to Dr. K.K. Tripathi, Advisor, Department of Biotechnology at: kkt@dbt.nic.in and dbtbiosafety@gmail.com For more information about biotech development in India contact b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

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A new Japanese patent has been granted to the FuturaGene PLC, a leader in plant genetic research and development for global forestry, biofuels and agricultural markets. The patent covers transgenic plants expressing cell wall modifying proteins that result in higher biomass, faster growth rate, higher cellulose content, higher amenability for digestion by ruminants, or increased resistance to heat, biodegradation or pests.

Dr Stanley Hirsch, FuturaGene CEO, believes in the significance of the patent in industrial forestry, biofuel, and biopower sectors in Japan which is the world's largest pulp and paper producer.

See the press release at http://www.futuragene.com/Additional%20Japanese%20Patent%20Granted.pdf

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The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) recently launched a five-year public welfare project on climate change impact on agricultural production and coping techniques. The scientists will do a comprehensive analysis of  characteristics of climate change impact based on the existing results of climate change research. 

This project will focus on cultivation, fertilizer and water management, coping techniques with the pest ecology changes and production control of fruit trees and major crops such as rice, wheat, corn, soybean, rapeseed, cotton, citrus and apple. It will also conduct a study on breeding management, field care environment and facilities, coping techniques with the disease changes and production control of the major livestock animals such as dairy cattle, laying hen and pig. This project aims to provide technical reserves and protection for the sustainable development of agriculture under the context of climate change in the future.

The project research team will consist of nearly 50 Chinese scientists engaged in the study of climate change, agro-ecology, agricultural resources and the environment, animal physiology regulation and related fields. 

According to the MOA, "Implementation of the project will promote the systematic and sustained research on China's agricultural response to climate change and set up the basic data and basic work for agricultural production that addresses climate change. This project will become the window for China's agricultural sector action to mitigate climate change and for international cooperation and exchange".

 Read the original article at http://www.agri.gov.cn/xxlb/t20091222_1404424.htm

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The KTNA (National Outstanding Farmer and Fisherman Association) of Indonesia recently concluded a biotech workshop on the theme "Sustainable Modern Agriculture" in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. The workshop was conducted to build biotech knowledge of stakeholders especially farmers, government agencies, and media in accelerating biotech acceptance in Indonesia.

Dr. Aris Winaya of Indonesian Biotechnology Consortium (KBI) said that "biotechnology development is a possible alternative to help solve many challenges of conventional breeding techniques. Biotechnology has grown rapidly as a technology for solving human problems (food, health and environment). As a technology, biotech is not free from many risks, however with high precision, the impacts could be measurable in order not to harm humans." Speaking on behalf of the farmers, Ir. Erizal of LP3M Rahmatan Lil Alamin said that "in almost every case, farmers and growers are the primary stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Farmers should also be free to make decisions. Other stakeholders play a role only as a facilitator, which provides the correct information, so that farmers can be able to make the right decisions".

The workshop was organized by the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (IndoBIC), KTNA, and Indonesian Society for Agricultural Biotechnology (PBPI) and supported by SEAMEO BIOTROP, CropLife Indonesia and ISAAA. Tthe event was participated in by 46 farmers, members of associations, and grain councils.

For more information, contact Dewi Suryani of IndoBIC at dewisuryani@biotrop.org.

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Europe

Britain needs a "new and greener" revolution if it is to increase agricultural production while protecting the environment, a chief scientist said in a farming conference held in Oxford last week. Professor John Beddington noted that "climate changes are likely to mean altered farming patterns, with summer drought and winter floods" and that the agriculture sector will need to "reduce its share of greenhouse gas emissions while safeguarding soil through improved land management practices." To this end, Beddington argued that "techniques and technologies from many disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and engineering to newer fields such as nanotechnology, will be needed."

Farmers, scientists, the food industry and the Government must also work more closely to achieve this goal, Professor David Leaver said in the conference. Leaver presented the results of a survey of 600 farmers by the National Farm Research Unit conducted in collaboration with the Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). When asked who they believe currently delivers agricultural science research to them, 60 percent of the farmers said the agricultural supply industry is the most important deliverer of science, with just 21 percent saying the Government is. In contrast to the farmers' perceptions, BBSRC pointed out in an article that the annual funding of agricultural research by the Government is currently 75 percent of the overall total of £350 million (550M USD).

"The key messages from this research are that for UK agriculture to be competitive, we need a functioning R&D chain which can deliver the new technologies needed to satisfy the food production and environmental demands of the future. This will require greater co-operation and engagement by all as well as more clarity as to how research is funded, prioritized and applied," says Professor Leaver.

Read http://www.ofc.org.uk/images/stories/File/Beddington%202010_Key%20issues%20Ag%20science.pdf and http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/media/releases/2010/100106-only-greater-agricultural-science-co-operation-will-deliver-gains.html for more information.

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UK's Secretary of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn recently announced in a press release the Government's food strategy ‘Food 2030' at the Oxford Farming conference. In his address, Mr. Benn highlighted the importance of food security in a country's well being and the world's energy security. He also said that "people power can help bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold, and that food businesses, including supermarkets and food manufacturers, would follow consumer demand for food that is local, healthy and has been produced with smaller environmental footprint".

Following the food and energy crisis and the increase in the price of oil in 2008, the goals for 2030 include:

  • Farmers producing efficiently, sustainably and safely to high standards of animal welfare, with food production supporting rural communities and contributing to UK and global food security.
  • Farmers and fishermen producing more with fewer resources and fewer carbon emissions, with investment in the right skills.
  • An innovative, competitive, skilled and resilient food sector, supported by first class scientific research and development, with sustainable supply chains.
  • Informed consumers able to choose and afford healthy food, supported by better labeling and information.
 For details on the press release, visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/latest/2010/food-0105.htm.

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Research

Researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at the Thomas Jefferson University have identified a way to increase the oil content of tobacco leaves- by overexpressing the Arabidopsis thaliana genes diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT) and the LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2). DGAT encodes an enzyme that plays a key role in triacylglycerol biosynthesis. LEC2, on the other hand, regulates seed maturation and seed oil storage.

The modifications led to up to a 20-fold increase in triacylglyceride accumulation in tobacco leaves. Specifically, the DGAT gene modification led to about 5.8 percent of oil per dry weight in the leaves, which is about two-fold the amount of oil produced normally. The LEC2 gene modification led to 6.8 percent of oil per dry weight.

"Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising 'energy plant' platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production," said Vyacheslav Andrianov one of the authors of the paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal. "By generating both biofuel oil and ethanol, tobacco has the potential to produce more energy per hectare than any other non-food crop," the authors wrote in the paper.

The paper is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00458.x

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Genes regulating networks that determine eating and cooking quality have been pinpointed by a research team led by Li Jiayang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA will help to develop rice varieties with better taste.

Rice eating and cooking quality are determined by three properties of amylose content, gel consistency and gelatinization temperature as well as the interaction among them, of which the underlying mechanism remains unclear. The research team found interaction among 18 genes related to starch synthesis cooperating with each other through an association analysis approach. The major and minor starch synthesis- related genes determining these three properties were defined as well as the correlation among them, which revealed a fine regulating network that controls the eating and cooking quality. These results have been verified through genetic transformation which lay a theoretical basis for the molecular design and genetic modification of rice quality. Studies have shown that the three properties of rice can be changed simultaneously by biotechnology or molecular marker-assisted breeding technology to achieve high-quality in high-yield rice varieties.

The paper is available for subscribers at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/12/11/0912396106

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Plants are extremely sensitive to temperature changes in their environment. They can even detect changes of as little as one degree Celsius. Just how they do so has puzzled scientists until now. New research has uncovered a "thermometer gene" that not only helps plants feel the temperature rise, but also coordinates an appropriate response.

Vinod Kumar and Phil Wigge at the John Innes Centre, reporting in the journal Cell, pinpointed the master regulator of the entire temperature transcriptome. Using the model plant Arabidopsis, the researchers showed that the key ingredient for plants' temperature sensing ability is a specialized histone protein, dubbed H2A.Z, that wraps DNA into a more tightly packed structure known as a nucleosome. H2A.Z binds the plant's DNA tightly at lower temperatures, thus preventing genes to be expressed. It loses its grip and drop off the DNA as temperature rises.

The findings may help to explain how plants will respond in the face of climate change and might help scientists develop weatherproof crops. "We'd like to engineer a plant where we can control the histones in particular tissues such that it is selectively 'blind' to different temperatures," Wigge said. "Obviously you can't make a completely temperature-proof plant, but there is a lot of scope to develop crops that are more resilient to the high temperatures we are increasingly going to experience."

The paper published by Cell is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2009.11.006 Read http://www.jic.ac.uk/corporate/media-and-public/current-releases/100107WiggeTemperature.htm for more information.

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Using Arabidopsis thaliana, scientists revealed that in plants, mutations occur which could change the plants genome after sometime. The researchers headed by Dr. Detlef Weigel of Max Planck Insitute for Developmental Biology in Germany and Prof. Michael Lynch of Indiana University studied the genetic changes in five varieties of Arabidopsis for over 30 generations. Results showed that over several years, 20 DNA building blocks had mutated in each of the 5 varieties of Arabidopsis. "The probability that any letter of the genome changes in a single generation is thus about 1 in 140 million" Prof. Lynch said.

Results showed that in Arabidopsis seedling on average, there is one new mutation in each of the two new copies of the genome that it inherits. In Arabidopsis, this is a fast mutation rate considering that the plant produces thousands of seeds in one generation. The results of the study will allow scientists to better calculate diversity and speciation of genomes, would provide clues on the better understanding of how plants become resistant to herbicides and for plant breeders to find mutations to increase crop yield and improve its resistance.

For details, see the story at: http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=FP6_NEWS&ACTION=D&DOC=2&CAT=NEWS&QUERY=01260c7ce700:905b:5af061ae&RCN=31626

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Announcements

The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) will be organizing the Indian Seed Congress (ISC) 2010 with a theme "Seeds for Global Food Security" from 12-13 February 2010 at Bengaluru, India. The Congress will provide an excellent opportunity for the Indian seed industry to come together and have interaction with scientists, policy makers and fellow seeds men. The international event will also provide a platform for the Indian seed industry and international seeds men to interact and deliberate on various issues and their impact on the health of seed industry in India and abroad.

For more information and registration visit Indian Seed Congress 2010 site at http://www.indianseedcongress.com/

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The Federation of Asian Biotech Association (FABA), Govt of Andhra Pradesh and All Indian Biotech Association (AIBA) and University of Hyderabad will jointly organize BioAsia- the Global Bio-Business Forum from 3-6 February 2010 at Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

For more information about BioAsia 2010 visit http://www.bioasia.in/

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Nominations for the Royal Society Pfizer Award 2010 are now being accepted. The Award aims to reward scientists based in Africa and who are at an early stage of their research career. They must be making an innovative contribution to the biological sciences, including basic medical science that has led to a sustainable positive impact on Africa.

Up to £60,000 will be awarded as a grant for the recipient to carry out a research project that is linked to an African center of scientific excellence such as a University or a research center. The recipient will also receive £5,000.

For details of this award and the online nomination forms visit http://www.royalsociety.org/pfizer

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Document Reminders

In Jan 2009, ISAAA released its Brief 38 on "The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine)". This brinjal brief has received favorable response from various stakeholders in India and abroad. The brief has been reviewed by India's scientific journal Current Science in the April 10, 2009 and by the Asian Biotechnology and Development Review (ABDR) in the July 3, 2009 issue respectively. The Current Science reviewer states that "those who doubt the safety and benefits of Bt brinjal should go through this book to seek scientific clarifications. The authors need to be congratulated on their efforts in writing this useful and timely book. The book provides a comprehensive review on all aspects of brinjal (eggplant, Solanum melongena) cultivation and also describes the efforts made in developing Bt brinjal to control its major lepidopteran pest, the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) – Leucinodes arbonalis".

"On the whole, the book gives an in-depth account of technical and scientific clarifications regarding the biosafety and benefits of the Bt brinjal. It is a great source of information for scientists, researchers, civil societies, students and stakeholders about the implications and prospects of Bt brinjal. This book should serve as an important source as it provides a wealth of information about existing rigorous scientific regulatory approval process in India" narrates the reviewer in the Asian Biotechnology and Development Review.

ISAAA Brief 38 is a comprehensive review of all aspects of the cultivation in India of the important vegetable brinjal. Importantly, the Brief summarizes the development, status and content of the extensive regulatory dossier in India for biotech Bt brinjal. A short version of this brief in the form of a Pocket K on Bt brinjal in India has been published, updated and translated in 8 Indian languages which are available at: http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/default.html#Pocket_K_No._35.htm

The full ISAAA Brief 38 is made available, free of charge on the ISAAA website at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/38/download/isaaa-brief-38-2009.pdf


The inaugural Biosafety Newsletter has been published and posted on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) website. This newsletter can be downloaded from http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/newsletter.shtml. The Biosafety Core Team of the Ministry will be responsible for publishing this newsletter on a quarterly basis to keep stakeholders informed on biosafety, regulations, capacity building, events and other related matters.

Further inquiries can be sent to Mr. Letchumanan Ramatha at letchu@nre.gov.my

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