In This Issue

October 19, 2007


• Two Decades of Safety Assessment Studies of Virus-resistant GM Plants Reviewed 
• Developing Countries as the World's Next Top Biodiesel Producers 
• Agrow Awards for Best Plant Protection Companies 

• African and Asian Countries Collaborate for Legume Project 

• GM Poplar for Phytoremediating Contaminated Waters 
• A Gas that Helps Apples Stay Crisp 
• Tropical Maize May be the Ultimate Midwest Biofuel Crop 
• Pioneer Hi-Bred Has 23 New Soybean Varieties for 2008 
• EMBRAPA Holds Public Audience to Discuss Research Priorities 

Asia and the Pacific
• Illegal Bt Cotton Comprises 40 percent of Pakistan's Crops 
• Philippines' DA won't Impose GMO Ban 
• India Jumps on Jatropha Bandwagon 
• Asia Rice Production Challenges Discussed in Vietnam 
• In Vitro Technique Saves the Nearly-extinct Palaeobotanical Tree 

• EuropaBio Delegation Hosts EU Commissioners 
• BCPC President Calls for Use of Modern Technology 
• Emerging Possibilities for Plants as Pharma Factories 

• Folate Fortified Rice by Metabolic Engineering 
• Combating Nitrification in Wheat Using Wildrye Genes 
• GM Maize Expressing a Fungal Phytase Gene 
• Identification of Symbiotic Ectomycorrhizae of Yang Tree 

• Global Conference on GMOs 
• International Symposium on Underutilized Plants 
• BioMalaysia 2007 – Innovation for Quality of Life 

Document Reminders
• PK on Functional Foods 




There is no doubt that the pathogen derived resistance (PDR) technology is effective, wrote Marc Fuchs and Dennis Gonsalves in their paper published in the Annual Review of Phytopathology. The two reviewed results from field safety assessment studies on virus-resistant transgenic crops such as squash, papaya, plum, grape, and sugar beet.

Fuchs of Cornell University and Gonsalves of the US Department of Agriculture, also discussed topics of common concern related to the environment and to human health which include heteroencapsidation, recombination, synergism, gene flow, impacts on non-target organisms, and food allergenicity.

The researchers mentioned that only a limited number of studies have real significance for risks and most are dealing with virus-host interactions rather than with safety. They recommend that based on the extensive safety assessment data and history of safe commercial use of virus-resistant transgenic crops, it is time to focus on other factors that affect their deregulation and release.

The paper can be accessed by subscribers at

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Thailand, Colombia and Uruguay could be tomorrow’s world top biodiesel producers, according to a new study from the Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway of the Institute ranked 226 countries based on their potential to make large volumes of biodiesel at low cost, in addition to other factors such as local demands. The analysis revealed among the top ten the United States, the world’s top soybean grower; Brazil, already one of the world’s top biodiesel producer; and the European countries the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Spain.

According to the researchers, the real objective of the study was to identify developing countries that already export vegetable oil, but may not have considered producing biodiesel. The trade balances of these countries could be improved by exporting biodiesel, a high value commodity, instead of unprocessed vegetable oil. They could also use the biofuels for their own energy needs. By highlighting the countries where biodiesel production is likely to soar, Johnston and Holloway hope that their study will help people recognize the problems associated with the biofuel industry beforehand. Many institutions, including the United Nations, expressed their concerns over the tendency of diverting vegetable oil use from food to fuel production, as it will definitely affect the world’s poor.

Read more at and

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The inaugural Agrow Awards were given to various individuals and companies in recognition of their excellence in the crop protection and production industry. The awards are being given by various sponsors such as Plant Impact, Syntech Research, JSC International, and Barclay Crop Protection, in association with the British Crop Production Council (BCPC). Among those receiving awards in Glasgow, United Kingdom, were:

Dupont Crop Protection for Most Innovative Chemistry, Best R&D Pipeline, and Best Novel Agricultural Biotechnology;  Dow AgroSciences for Best Formulations Innovation; Monsanto for Best New Crop Protection Product (YieldGard VT Triple); and CropLife Canada for Best Stewardship Product.

For more of the Agrow Awards, visit

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Rich in nutrients, especially protein, and with high commercial potential, legumes hold great promise for fighting hunger, increasing income and improving soil fertility in many poverty stricken countries, especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where they are considered as staples. A new project aimed at enhancing the productivity of certain legumes for improving food security and reducing poverty among smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia was initiated by 14 national agricultural research institutions from countries including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mali, Myanmar, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

The Tropical Legumes Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a two-pronged project. The first prong, led by the Generation Challenge Program (GCP) of the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research (CGIAR), will focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and the development of beans, cowpeas, groundnuts and chickpeas. The second component focuses on large-scale breeding and seed multiplication and distribution. Led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the second prong will also focus on soybean and pigeon pea development. In addition to equipping and supporting project scientists, the project will also ‘plant seeds’ by supporting Masteral and PhD students from selected regions of Africa and Asia.


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Scientists have known that plants can be used for the treatment of environmental pollutants. They can act as solar-powered pump-and-treat systems, capable of extracting water-soluble contaminants from polluted soils and metabolize or store them afterwards in specialized tissues. The process is known as phytoremediation. Although plants can be used to remove organic pollutants from soils, the activity is often too slow to be of practical use. Scientists are hoping to speed up phytoremediation through the introduction of genes that are known to be involved in metabolism of pollutants.

By introducing the mammalian gene coding for cytochrome P450 2E1, a group of US researchers have developed transgenic poplar trees with enhanced phytoremediation capabilities for removing and degrading pollutants like trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride and carbon tetrachloride from soil and ground water. Most of these compounds, known as carcinogens or neurotoxins, are widely used in industries and found their way into groundwater because of improper disposal. The GM poplar trees were also found to be capable of removing air pollutants like vinyl chloride, chloroform and benzene, substances usually used in petroleum and plastic processing. Because of the concerns that the GM trees might get into natural forests, the authors of the study believe that transgenic poplars may be a good choice. Poplars are fast growing and can grow for several years without flowering, at which time they could be harvested to prevent seeds from generating.

Read more at The full paper published by PNAS is available at

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Apples lose their firm texture during storage because of the activity of various plant hormones. Although extensive precautions are being taken to properly store fruits so as to prolong their quality and crispness, “mushy” apples can not always be prevented. Studies made by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) showed that the gas 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) may help apples retain their firm texture even after long periods of storage. 1-MCP prevents fruit softening by suppressing the activity of ethylene, another gas that regulates fruit ripening and aging. Previous studies in the early 90’s showed that 1-MCP can minimize superficial apple scald, a peel-discoloring disorder that's a major storage problem. Other studies also showed that 1-MCP can inhibit fungal rots in apples stored under controlled-atmosphere conditions, which use specific mixtures of oxygen and carbon dioxide to slow ethylene production. Apples treated with 1-MCP stayed firm for three to six months longer than untreated controls.


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Tropical maize may prove to be the ultimate U.S. biofuel crop according to preliminary results of studies being conducted by the University of Illinois. Since it does not produce any ears, tropical maize requires less crop inputs like nitrogen fertilizer. Compared to other biofuel crops, it is easier for farmers to adopt tropical maize cultivation since it can be easily rotated with soybeans and other commercial crops. There is also no need for additional equipments, as tropical maize can be planted, cultivated and harvested using the same equipments the farmers already have. Finally, since tropical maize stores energy in form of simple sugars it will require less processing than corn grain and stover, switchgrass and other biofuel crops.

Fred Below, who led the study, said that tropical maize could be considered the 'Sugarcane of the Midwest’ in terms of biofuel production. He explained that sugarcane used in Brazil to make ethanol is desirable for the same reason: it produces lots of sugar without requiring a great deal of nitrogen application, and this sugar can be fermented to alcohol with less processing than that required by high-starch and cellulosic crops.


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Twenty-three new soybean varieties will be added to Pioneer Hi-Bred's line-up for 2008. These new soybean varieties will offer increased protection against pests and diseases such as soybean cyst nematode (SCN), sudden death syndrome (SDS), Phytophthora root rot and brown stem rot (BSR). The majority of  the new Pioneer soybean varieties contain the Roundup Ready® (RR) gene.  

"For 2008 we're excited to offer a strong class of new products that support all parts of the North American soybean market," says Don Schafer, Pioneer senior product line manager - soybeans. "The majority of these varieties are adapted across their respective maturity zones and display high performance along with solid agronomic stability."

See the full press release at

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The Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA) held this week a public audience to discuss the main achievements of 2007, and to define research priorities for the coming years. The main areas of focus of EMBRAPA are genetic resources, biotechnology, biological control and biosafety.

According to Sérgio Folle, head of Business and Communication, EMBRAPA Genetic Resources and Biotechnology, a public audience is a very effective way to report to society, and to work together in the definition of new tendencies, projects, and collaborative initiatives. Among EMBRAPA’s main research breakthroughs in 2007 is the sequencing of Mycosphaerella fijiensis, the fungus responsible for Black Sigatoka, one of the most severe diseases affecting bananas.

Read more at:

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Asia and the Pacific

A new Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) report released by the United States Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA FAS) estimated that illegal Bt cotton varieties comprise nearly 40 percent of Pakistan’s total cotton crop for the year 2007/2008. Of the estimated 11 million bales of cotton, 4 million is expected to be from illegal biotech varieties. According to the report, the majority of the illegal cotton seeds were likely smuggled to Pakistan from India, China and Australia, while some were probably obtained from local research institutes where new genetically modified cotton varieties are being developed. There are no GM crops approved for commercial release in Pakistan.

Modified to be resistant to the cotton bollworm, the Bt cotton is not effective against mealy bugs and the cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV), serious threats to Pakistan’s cotton crop. Initiatives are now being taken to develop new cotton varieties suited to Pakistan’s climate, insect pests and plant diseases. A Federal Committee has been formed to promote cooperation between international biotechnology companies and Pakistan’s research institutes.

Read the USDA GAIN Report at

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The Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that it will stand by its policy to promote the safe use of modern biotechnology and rejected the call of Provincial Governor Joseph Maranon to ban genetically modified crops in the province of Negros Occidental. Governor Maranon aims to promote the province as an organic-food island. DA undersecretary Bernie G. Fondevilla said that the department would not impose any GMO ban, as it will contradict the national policy issued by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on 2001, which states that the Philippines "promotes the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology as one of several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development." The DA however pointed out that they respect the decision to establish the province as an organic food island. Fondevilla said that they are also promoting organic agriculture through compliance with organic standards and accreditation systems.

 For the latest postings on biotechnology, contact the SEARCA BIC at

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The poisonous shrub Jatropha curcas has long been used in India as an ideal fuel oil. It is drought-resistant, is capable of growing even in rocky and saline soils and does not compromise food security. The use of jatropha as an environment-friendly energy source has received widespread attention especially in several developing countries in Asia like the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. India’s national biofuel mission, although yet to be approved, now aims to plant 12 million hectares of jatropha and produce biofuels at the village level. The government hopes to reduce the spread of desert and cover arid/semi-arid land with green shrubs while providing farmers with extra earnings. Some Indian states are now providing farmers with free seedlings. However, several scientists are expressing doubts on jatropha cultivation. Since the plant has never been fully domesticated, some of its agronomic properties are not yet fully understood. Indian scientists are now conducting an extensive study to find the ideal water and soil conditions for jatropha.

Read the full article at

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More must be done to accelerate the development and dissemination of rice varieties to help farmers keep up with production demands. "The rice-producing nations of Asia are facing many of the same challenges in producing the rice they need, so it makes sense for us to work together to overcome these problems,” said Mangala Rai, Chair of the Council for Partnerships on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA). Senior research representatives of 16 major rice countries that fare members of CORRA converged in Vietnam to discuss the issues and challenges of the Asian rice industry. Rai is also Secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Rai also stressed that rice researchers should have access to advanced scientific tools such as biotechnology. “We decided that we should actively support the policies of our governments to promote the responsible use of biotechnology to help achieve food security and reduce poverty,” he said. “We also endorsed the risk assessment–based use of transgenic technology in rice as per national priorities for agriculture and for trade.”

Details on CORRA are available at or for more information email Duncan Macintosh of the International Rice Research Institute at

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News on the success of  producing plantlets through in vitro culture of the endangered gymnosperm Glyptostrobas pensilis was received by the Vietnamese conservationist with much enthusiasm. This palaeobotanical specimen called Thuy tung in Vietnam is considered to be a living fossil of the gymnopermae species. It  is distributed throughout Vietnam and recent count estimates the tree to be less than 150, most of them seriously degenerated in the past 35 years with no new seedling growth. The risk of extinction is very high, urging the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to issue a warning that it is an endangered species.

Attempts to reproduce the tree by Vietnamese scientists have failed until a research group led by Dr. Nguyen Van Ket, a lecturer of the Agriculture-Forestry Faculty at Da Lat University successfully propagated the tree in vitro. Thuy tung trees have developed good roots in the test tubes and will be brought out to the greenhouse and to the natural environment very soon.

For details contact  Hien Le of Vietnam BIC at

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A delegation from the European Association for the Bioindustries (EuropaBio) met with European Union (EU) commissioners Günter Verheugen and Janez Potočnik to discuss the implementation of the mid-term Review of the European Strategy for Life Sciences and Biotechnology, and the need to achieve a coherent biotech policy across Europe. This year, the Commission intends to update the Strategy based on an in-depth assessment of the progress made since the year of its adoption in 2002. Key topics addressed in the meeting include:

  • Market access and approval system for biotech products
  • Access to renewable resources at world market prices for the bio-based economy
  • Adventitious Presence of GM materials in seeds and commodities
  • The need for “pull measures” for biobased products in Europe
  • Improving communication on green biotechnology

Steen Riisgaard, President and CEO of Novozymes and Chairman of EuropaBio, pointed out that Europe was the first to develop a Strategy for Life Science and Biotechnology. The Strategy can serve as a basis for policy makers and industry leaders to work together to support a competitive biotech industry in Europe while meeting challenges in innovative, economically prudent and environmentally friendly ways.

Read the press release at

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"We must defend our ability to protect our crops against pests, diseases and weeds by the appropriate use of modern technology. If we do not, we shall legalize modern starvation", said Hugh Oliver-Bellasis, president of the British Crop Production Council (BCPC) during the opening ceremony of the XVI International Plant Protection Congress in  Glasgow, United Kingdom. BCPC is a non-profit organization that brings together scientists to share informaiton on key issues.

Oliver-Bellasis added that if the apathy to sophisticated techniques of plant breeding and biotechnology continued to grow, the ability to produce more would dissipate fast. His recommended solutions include convincing policy makers that there is a political issue to be addressed as well as a practical one, and the need to inform consumers about the realities of the world situation.  

Read BCPC's press release at

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Scientists are getting excited about the use of plants as production hosts to produce valuable recombinant proteins and small molecules. During the international congress on "Plants for human health in the post-genome era" in Helsinki, Finland, organized by the Photochemical Society of Europe and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the following cases were presented:

  • Production of recombinant proteins from plant systems which are identical to the ones produced in mammalian systems. This alternative expression system provides potential advantages, such as inexpensive, large-scale biopharmaceutical production without sacrificing product quality or safety.
  • Possibility of producing human insulin in plants such as safflower seeds. Plant-derived insulin is identical to the one of animal or human origin.

There are already plant-derived pharmaceutical products approved for human use, and many more products are under development. The use of plant-based insulin is undergoing clinical trials and is expected to be commercialized by 2008.

The program of the Congress can be found at

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Rice is responsible for providing 80% of the daily caloric intake of almost 3 billion people. However, it is a poor source of micronutrients and vitamins including folates (vitamin B9). Folate deficiency results to spina bifida (unclosed neural tube) in infants and megaloblastic anemia (immature and dysfunctional red blood cells in the bone marrow) in adults. Folic acid biofortification in rice may prove to be an effective solution in combating folate deficiency especially in developing countries.

A group of scientists from Ghent University in Belgium obtained japonica rice lines with enhanced folate levels by introducing the genes coding for GTPCHI and ADCS (enzymes necessary for the biosynthesis of folates) from Arabidopsis. The transgenic rice lines exhibit similar phenotype and seed-set capabilities with the wild type. The highest level of folate reached in the GM rice lines corresponds to 1,723 mg/100 g fresh weight, the highest folate content reported for plant species thus far. Further studies are being made to introduce the high folate trait to culinary-appreciated indica rice varieties either by breeding or direct transformation. Researchers are also monitoring the storage stability of folic acid, as rice grains are usually stored for long periods of time.

The paper was published by Nature Biotechnology. Read the abstract at or the full paper at

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Nitrification, wherein ammonia is oxidized to nitrites followed by the oxidation of nitrites to nitrates, is a serious problem for agricultural production resulting in costly nitrogen loss. Nitrates are easily removed from the soil profile by leaching. Synthetic nitrification inhibitors, such as dicyandiamide and nitrapyrin, are currently being used to minimize nitrogen loss. Using a recombinant luminescent bacterium that can quantify biological nitrification inhibition (BNI) activity in root hairs, the wheat and barley relative Leymus (mammoth wildrye) was found to have high BNI capacity. Leymus was found to be capable of producing BNI compounds equivalent to 52.5 g of nitrapyrin in a hectare per day. Researchers from Japan, Australia and the US are now studying the possibility of transferring the BNI genes from Leymus to the cultivated wheat variety. Previous efforts of transferring pathogen resistance from the same species to barley proved to be successful. Over expression of the BNI genes in Leymus can also be exploited to produce sufficient nitrogen-loss inhibiting compounds for commercial use.

The complete paper published by the journal Plant and Soil is available to subscribers at Non subscribers can read the abstract at

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Phytic acid, a chemical largely contained in cereal grains, has a negative impact on animal nutrition and the environment. Phosphorus in maize seeds exists as phytate, which is unavailable to monogastric animals because they lack the enzyme phytase needed for its digestion. Inorganic phosphate is therefore being added to the otherwise phosphorus rich seeds. Phytic acid is also known to form complexes with metal ions like iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium, preventing the absorption of these minerals by animals. In addition, the undigested phytic acid excreted in animal wastes is considered as the leading source of phosphorus pollution from agriculture.

By introducing the gene phyA2 from the fungus Aspergillus, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences obtained transgenic maize lines stably expressing the enzyme phytase. Phytase activity in GM maize seeds reached a 50-fold increase compared to their non-transgenic counterparts. The agronomic properties of the GM maize lines were not affected and phytase expression was found to be stable for four generations. The phytase expression lines can be used for further development of new maize hybrids with improved phosphorus availability.

Read the full paper published by Transgenic Research at or read the abstract at

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Yang tree (Dipterocarpus alatus) is a forest tree species that has high economical and ecological value as a timber export of Thailand. Yang tree forests had been over-logged and degraded, and thus planting and regenerating them has gained priority. Yang tree is unusual among tropical tree in being associated with ectomycorrhizal fungi. Ectomycorrhizae are the mutually beneficial symbioses between fungi and the fine roots of woody plant, and they assist the plant in the uptake of nutrients. Moreover, ectomycorrhizae are also known to be able to increase the tolerance of trees to drought,  protect the root from pathogens, and provide support, thus tree growth. However, the potential use of ectomycorrhizal fungi in reforestation initiatives relies on sound knowledge of the biological diversity and symbiotic range between trees and fungi. The identification of the fungal symbionts in ectomycorrhizae is therefore necessary.

Researchers at King Mongkut’s University of Technology in Thonburi, Thailand, have successfully identified ectomycorrhizae species by amplifying and sequencing the mitochondrial large subunit rDNA (mtLrDNA) of symbiotic fungi, and comparing the sequences to databases to identify fungal symbionts. The results revealed that the most abundant fungi were in family Thelephoraceae (i.e. Tomentella spp.).

For the abstract visit the following link:

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The 1st Global Conference on GMO Analysis organized by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission will be held in Villa Erba, Como, Italy on 24-27 June 2008. Experts will discuss the following topics: sampling for GMO analysis, analytical tools and applied procedures along the commodity production chains, consistency of tests results, result interpretation and reporting, and harmonizing standards for detection of GM traits. For more details about the conference go to

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A symposium entitled "Underutilized Plant Species for Food, Nutrition, Income, and Sustainable Development" will be held in Arusha, Tanzania on 3-7 March 2008. Underutilized plants are species that are under-exploited but have huge potential for contributing to food security and nutrition. The symposium is organized under the auspices of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and will specifically discuss four main areas of importance - food security, nutrition and health, income generation, and environmental sustainability.

More information is available at

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BioMalaysia 2007, Malaysia’s premier international biotechnology event, will bring together biotechnology and life science professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers from all over the world. The event will be held from 26 - 29 November 2007 in Putra World Trade Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jointly organized by Malaysia's Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MOSTI), the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation Sdn Bhd and Protemp Exhibitions Sdn Bhd, this year’s event is expected to attract more than 7,500 local and international visitors and about 1,200 delegates.

BioMalaysia 2007 Exhibition will showcase the latest developments in the industry and at the same time provide an outstanding opportunity for knowledge-gathering, networking and marketing. To be held at the same time, BioMalaysia 2007 Conference will feature presentations from renowned speakers in biotechnology fields from various institutions and organizations in the region and in the international arena.

For enquiries, please visit or contact: Karen Dass at tel no. +603 6140 6666 fax no. +603 6140 8833 or e-mail to

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Document Reminders

Functional foods are foods or dietary components that claim to provide health benefits aside from basic nutrition. They contain biologically active substances such as antioxidants that may lower the risks from certain diseases associated with aging. Crops are now being enhanced  through biotechnology to increase levels of important biologically active substances. Know more about functional foods in the latest  Pocket K entitled "Functional foods and biotechnology" developed by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Pocket Ks are Pockets of Knowledge packaged information on crop biotechnology products and related issues. Download the material at

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