In This Issue

December 4, 2009

NEWS

Global
• China Approves Biotech Rice and Maize in Landmark Decision 
• Economics of GM Crops Reviewed 
• ICRISAT and IFAD Call for a Second Green Revolution 

Africa
• Agric Research Reduces Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa 

Americas
• Biotech Status in Argentina 
• ARS Finds PEMV-Resistant Pea Lines 
• Dow AgroSciences and Agrisoma Biosciences Ink R&D Pact 

Asia and the Pacific
• Acceptance of GM Crops Growing: India's Agriculture Minister 
• Vibha Seeds Opens India's Largest Multi-Crop Seed Processing Facility 
• Bangladesh Government Approves National Institute of Biotechnology Act 
• GM Rice in China Gets Biosafety Certificate 
• Malaysian Biosafety Act in Force 
• State-of-the-Art Plant Biotech Facility in University Malaya 
• International Advisory Panel Seeks Excellence in Basic Research in Malaysia 
• Philippines Celebrates Annual National Biotech Week 
• Fil-Tribe Launched to Enhance Biotech Education in the Philippines 
• Philippines Approves Syngenta's GA21 Corn 

Europe
• European Commission Clears Syngenta's GM Maize for Food and Feed Use 
• EFSA Seeks Comments on Scientific Opinion on the Assessment of Allergenicity of GM Plants 
• Farmers Biotech Network Urge Europe's Leaders to Invest in Biotech Agriculture 
• Ministerial Roundtable on GMOs in European Agriculture 
• Bayer and FuturaGene Sign Drought Tolerance Technology Licensing Deal 

Research
• ABA Signaling Mechanism Decoded 
• Roadblocks to Market Entry of Biotech Crops 

Announcements
• Scientific Communication Course in Nairobi 
• IUFRO Kuala Lumpur 2010 

 

News

Global

China Completes its Approval of a Troika of Key Biotech Crops – Fiber (Bt cotton), Feed (phytase maize) and Food (Bt rice)

by Dr. Clive James, Chair of ISAAA and author of the ISAAA Annual Brief on Biotech/GM Crops

In the ISAAA 2008 Brief, I predicted "a new wave of adoption of biotech crops….providing a seamless interface with the first wave of adoption, resulting in continued and broad-based strong growth in global hectarage". This prediction started to become a reality in the latter half of November 2009, when within the short span of one week, China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) granted two biosafety certificates, and approved biotech Bt rice, (rice is the most important food crop in the world that feeds half of humanity), and biotech phytase maize, (maize is the most important feed crop in the world). The two approvals have momentous positive implications for biotech crops in China, Asia and the whole world. It is important to note that the MOA conducted a very careful due diligence study, prior to clearing these two critically important biotech crops for full commercialization in about 2 to 3 years, pending completion of the standard registration field trials which applies to all new conventional and biotech crops. It is noteworthy that China has now completed approval of a troika of the key biotech crops in a logical chronology – first was FIBER (cotton), second was FEED (maize) and third was FOOD (rice). The potential benefits of these 3 crops for China are enormous and summarized below ·

  • Bt cotton. China has successfully planted Bt cotton since 1997 and now, over 7 million small farmers in China are already increasing their income by approximately US$220 per hectare (equivalent to US$1 billion nationally) due, on average, to a 10% increase in yield, a 60% reduction in insecticide application, both of which contribute to a more sustainable agriculture and prosperity of small poor farmers. China is the largest producer of cotton in the world, with 68% of its 5.6 million hectares successfully planted with Bt cotton in 2008.
  • Bt rice offers the potential to generate benefits of US$4 billion annually from an average yield increase of 8%, and an 80% decrease in insecticides, equivalent to 17 kg per hectare on China's major staple food crop, rice, which occupies 30 million hectares (Jikun Huang et al, 2005). It is estimated that 75% of all rice in China is infested with the rice-borer pest, which Bt rice controls. China is the biggest producer of rice in the world (178 million tons of paddy) with 110 million rice households (a total of 440 million people based on 4 per family) who could benefit directly as farmers from this technology, as well as China's 1.3 billion rice consumers. Bt rice will increase productivity of more affordable rice at the very time when China needs new technology to maintain self-sufficiency and increase food production to overcome drought, salinity, pests and other yield constraints associated with climate change and dropping water tables.
  • Phytase maize. China, after the USA, is the second largest grower of maize in the world (30 million hectares grown by 100 million households); it is principally used for animal feed. Maintaining self-sufficiency in maize and meeting the increased demand for more meat in a more prosperous China is an enormous challenge. For example, China's swine herd, the biggest in the world, increased 100 fold from 5 million in 1968 to over 500 million today. Phytase maize will allow pigs to digest more phosphorus, resulting in faster growth/more efficient meat production, and coincidentally result in a reduction of phosphate pollution from animal waste into soil and extensive bodies of water and aquifers.

The above advantages of Bt cotton, Bt rice and phytase maize, (importantly, all developed by Chinese public sector institutions) also offer similar benefits to other developing countries, particularly in Asia, (but also elsewhere in the world) which have very similar crop production constraints. Asia grows and consumes 90% of the production from the world's 150 million hectares of rice, and Bt rice can have enormous impact in Asia. It could not only contribute to increase productivity but could also make a substantive contribution to the alleviation of poverty for poor small farmers who represent 50% of the world's poor. Similarly, there are up to 50 million hectares of maize in Asia that could benefit from biotech maize. China's exertion of global leadership in approving biotech rice and maize will likely result in a positive influence on acceptance and speed of adoption of biotech food and feed crops in Asia, and more generally,  globally, particularly in developing countries. The approval and deployment by China of the most important food and feed crops in the world, biotech rice and maize, to maintain "self-sufficiency" as opposed to "food security", (the distinction is important) can serve as a model for other developing countries which could have substantive implications for:

  • a more timely and efficient approval process for biotech crops in developing countries;
  • new modes of South-South technology transfer and sharing, including public/private sector partnerships;
  • more orderly international trade in rice and reduction in probability of recurrence of 2008-type price hikes, which were devastating for the poor; and
  • shift of more authority and responsibility for developing countries to optimize "self sufficiency" and provide more incentive for their involvement to deliver their share of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, Bt rice and phytase maize should be seen as only the first of many agronomic and quality biotech traits to be integrated into improved biotech crops, with significant enhanced yield and quality, which can contribute to the doubling of food, feed and fiber production on less resources, particularly water and nitrogen, by 2050. The approval by China of the first major biotech food crop, Bt rice, can be the unique global catalyst for both the public and private sectors from developing and industrial countries to work together in a global initiative towards the noble goal of "food for all and self sufficiency" in a more just society.

Reference: Huang, J., R. Hu, R. Scott and C. Pray. 2005. Insect-Resistant GM Rice in Farmers' Fields: Assessing Productivity and Health Effects in China. Science: 308:5722 (688-690). http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1108972

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Genetically modified crops can contribute significantly to food security and sustainable development at the global level. However, concerns about new risks have led to complex and costly biosafety, food safety, and labeling regulations. These are insights forwarded by Matin Qaim in a review paper The Economics of Genetically Modified Crops published in the Annual Review of Resource Economics. Qaim also notes the following:

  • Impact studies show that GM crops are beneficial to farmers and consumers and produce large aggregate welfare gains. In many cases, farmers in developing countries benefit more than farmers in developed countries.
  • Bt crops can be suitable for small-scale farmers. They contribute to higher household incomes and poverty reduction, when embedded in a conducive institutional environment.
  • Future GM crop applications, involving tolerance to abiotic stress and higher nutrient contents, may lead to much larger benefits.
Qiam's paper can be downloaded at http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/eprint/Ec5XmuiH3JwHVFxg742s/full/10.1146/annurev.resource.050708.144203..

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The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in a joint statement, stressed the need for a second Green Revolution to end hunger and poverty in the drylands. ICRISAT Director General William Dar and IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze called upon national governments to draft polices that would transform dryland agriculture into a successful business. They said that to turn agriculture profitable for farmers, governments need to create local demand and make local markets viable.

"Climate change is going to erode the development that took place (in agriculture) in the past two and a half decades unless we take required steps and stress on research for more resistant crops,'' noted Nwanze. Climate change is expected to severely compromise agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions, for instance in sub-Saharan Africa. The IFAD head also stressed the need to "develop better seeds, which can withstand water shortage, new pests and adverse weather conditions including flooding."

IFAD has been working with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which supports ICRISAT. IFAD contributes around USD 12 million to CGIAR centers every year.

The press release is available at http://www.icrisat.org/newsite/newsroom/news-releases/icrisat-pr-2009-media26.htm

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Africa

Results of a study conducted by researchers at the Nigeria-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) show that agricultural research is reducing the number of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2.3 million annually. The report, authored by Arega Alene and Ousmane Coulibaly, finds that the estimated aggregate rate of return from agricultural research runs as high as 55 percent and that doubling investments in agricultural research and development in the region from the current USD 650 million could reduce poverty by two percentage points every year.

The study however notes that the region also faces several constraints outside the research system that hinders the realization of potential research benefits, particularly weak extension systems, lack of efficient credit and input supply systems, and poor infrastructure development. Efforts aimed at improving these constraints could further contribute to reducing poverty when coupled with agricultural research.

Read the original article at http://www.iita.org/cms/details/news_feature_details.aspx?articleid=3078&zoneid=342

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Americas

According to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA/FAS), Argentina continues to be the world's second largest biotech crop producer (after the United States) for the 2008/09 planting year, with 16.8 percent of the global area of GM crops located in the country. Almost all soybean area planted in the country is biotech, and 83 percent and 94 percent of corn and cotton areas respectively are also biotech. In addition, the area cultivated with the corn stacked event represents 25 percent of the total, a significant increase in the adoption rate compared to the 2 percent cultivated during the previous year.

"No other Latin American country has embraced biotech crops as wholeheartedly as Argentina," said the report.

The report also noted that the Government of Argentina, which recently created the Ministry of Science and Technology, has placed a priority on promoting biotech research and innovation. Disagreement between biotech giant Monsanto and the Government of Argentina (GOA) on a royalty collection system for Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans, however, is still pending. The current Argentine Seed Law allows producers to save seeds for use on their own farms.

Download the full report at http://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/AGRICULTURAL%20BIOTECHNOLOGY%20ANNUAL_Buenos%20Aires_Argentina_10-27-2009.pdf

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Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) have identified four pea breeding lines resistant to the dreaded pea enation mosaic virus (PEMV). The virus is transmitted to peas, as well as to chickpeas and other legumes, by aphid feeding. Chemical control of aphids however is often ineffective in controlling the virus.

The researchers are now developing PEMV-resistant commercial pea varieties from the breeding lines. According to the ARS, there are no PEMV-resistant dry pea cultivars. The few fresh pea cultivars that are resistant all contain the same single dominant gene, the En gene, for resistance. Researchers worry that the virus could quickly evolve virulent new forms to overcome the resistance gene.

The ARS researchers found in trials that the PEMV-resistant lines tolerate the virus' presence, even at high concentrations, without sustaining significant damage, loss of growth or seed yield. Because of this plant- pathogen "truce," PEMV may be less apt to turn more virulent than it would with resistant varieties, the ARS said.

Read the original article at http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=1261

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Dow AgroSciences LLC announced that it has signed a research and commercial license option agreement with Agrisoma Biosciences, Inc for agricultural crops. The agreement provides Dow AgroSciences with access to Agrisoma's Engineered Trait Loci (ETL) technology on an exclusive basis in canola, soy bean, corn, wheat, and rice and on a non-exclusive basis in other crop species. The ETL technology can stack up various traits and genes in any crop species. It has been used to engineer oil composition, oil content and yield for the renewable energy market and ETL-engineered crops are now undergoing a second year of field trials at multiple locations. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

The media release is available at http://www.dowagro.com/newsroom/corporatenews/2009/20091201a.htm

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Asia and the Pacific

"Since the release of the first genetically modified variety of tomato in 1994, the acceptance of GMOs have grown over time throughout the world," said Prof. K.V. Thomas, India's Minister of State for Agriculture, while inaugurating the 7th Pacific Rim Conference on the Biotechnology of Bacillus thuringiensis and its Environmental Impact held on 25th-28th Nov 2009 in New Delhi. The four day Conference was organized by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), University of Calcutta, Kolkatta and the All India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) and attended by more than 150 Bt scientists from different parts of the world. Prof. Swapan K Datta, Dy. Director General (Crop Science), ICAR was the convener of the conference.

Minister Thomas stated that various traits have been improved in soybean, maize, cotton, oilseed Brassica, sugarbeet,  papaya and others through genetic engineering. Notable of which are herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, combination of these two, and virus resistance.  In this context new innovation and technology in terms of improved products and processes become absolute requirements in modern agriculture research. Applauding the success of Bt cotton, Minister Thomas said, "The first commercialized GM crop in India is Bt cotton which has been a spectacular success story. Many transgenic crops are currently being developed and tested at various public and private institutions in the country. Such efforts include among others, development of insect resistant rice at Calcutta University, late blight resistant potato at Central Potato Research Institute, pro-Vitamin A enriched rice at IARI, DRR and TNAU, Bt brinjal and Bt cotton at Mahyco, Jalna."

"In the near future we may expect many GM crops that have been modified for better availability of vitamins, iron, micronutrients, quality proteins and oils, which would ensure nutritional security to the masses, in addition to insect pest resistance. Based on the experience of several successful field evaluations of GM crops, it is evident, that gene technology combined with precise plant breeding and efficient crop management has the potential to provide benefits to human society. Utilization of the technology to maximally benefit Indian agriculture demands a greater coordination among technology owners and innovators, policy makers, agri-industry and farmers" said the Minister.  "The much needed production enhancement, sustainability and profitability in agriculture has been imparted by the use of Bt in India. Bt has a history of useful utilization in pest management and there is no doubt on the environmental safety of Bacillus thuringiensis. Transgenic culture in agriculture is the order of the day," said Dr. Mangla Rai, Secretary, Director General of ICAR.

More information about the 7th Pacific Rim Conference is available at http://www.7btconference.org/ For more information about biotechnology developments in India contact  b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

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Vibha Seeds has opened a US$45 million state-of-the-art multi-crop seed conditioning and processing plants at Janampet in Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, India on November 29, 2009. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Dr. K. Rosaiah, formally inaugurated this world-class facility. Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests and Mr. N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture and Horticulture, Government of Andhra Pradesh were also present during the occasion. "Our constant endeavor has been to be innovative and to pioneer cost-effective technologies that can meet the requirements of farmers, markets and agro-industries," said Vidyasagar Parchuri, Chairman & Managing Director of Vibha Seeds.

The new seed facility has a processing capacity of 1200 tonnes per day of field and vegetable crops. The newly set up plant has six sophisticated units that include an industrial scale biotech lab, a corn-cob drying facility, a cotton processing plant, a warehousing-packaging facility and cold storage facilities. The facility can roll out 100 trucks of processed seeds per day – of over 190 products in 12 field crops and 18 vegetable crops. A seed quality assurance system with highly modern facilities is also in place for ensuring stringent adherence to quality. All the six units are built over 1.2 million square feet in 106 acres with an investment of Rupees 200 crore (US$45 million).

Vibha Seeds press release "One of the world's largest state-of-the-art multi-crop seed conditioning facilities from Vibha Seeds inaugurated" is available at http://www.ramakanthspace.com/PressRelease-English.pdf For more information about Vibha Seeds group visit http://www.vibhaseeds.com/ For more information about biotech developments in India contact: b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

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The long-awaited National Institute of Biotechnology (NIB) Act has been recently approved in the Cabinet Meeting of Ministers presided by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The feasibility paper was recommended by a committee of experts under the leadership of Desh Pal Verma, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the Ohio State University, USA, and was submitted to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Since its inception in 1996, NIB was administered by Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission of Science and the Ministry of Science Information and Communication Technology (ICT) under a development project. Under the Act, the NIB will now be an independent and autonomous institute under the Science & ICT Ministry, and will receive budget from the government revenue directly. Bioscientists are grateful to the Science & ICT State Minister Engg. Yeafesh Osman whose initiative made this endeavor possible.

Following the transfer of NIB to the Revenue Budget with full autonomy, the research work relating to economic development of the country will be launched in full swing. The NIB will have its own Director General and flourish as the National Focal Point for Biotech activities in Bangladesh.

For details of the story, contact Dr. K. M. Nasirrudin of Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at nasirbiotech@yahoo.com.

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China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) recently released a list of GM crop varieties that obtained a biosafety certificate from the GM biosafety administration office of MOA in 2009. In the list was GM rice developed by Huazhong Agricultural University. The approved GM rice varieties are "Huahui No. 1" and hybrids "Bt Shanyou 63" with Bt cry1A gene showing high resistance to rice lepidopteran pests.

The MOA said "This is our important achievement in transgenic technology research with independent intellectual property rights, which lays a good foundation for commercial production. GM seed product in China must undergo a multi-year safety evaluation including five separate stages consisting of laboratory approval, intermediate testing, environmental release, production test and applications for safety certificate. Access to a biosafety certificate does not mean immediate commercial planting. The transgenic rice must undergo variety validation to obtain seed production and management permit before commercial application."

More information about the certificate is available at http://www.stee.agri.gov.cn/biosafety/spxx/t20091022_819217.htm

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After a series of consultation with the industry and other stakeholders, the regulations to support the Biosafety Act which was gazetted in 2007 was approved by the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). With this, the Biosafety Act is in force effective December 1, 2009. The National Biosafety Board will be established which will be comprised of the Secretary General of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, representatives from Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Plantation Industry and Commodities, Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and not more than four other persons with knowledge and/or experience in any disciplines or matters relevant to this Act. The GMAC is also expected to be revamped and made into a formal entity.

It is envisaged that the Biosafety Act and the supporting bodies will be enabling tools to promote modern biotechnology while taking necessary measures to minimize any risks involved.

For more information, visit http://www.biosafety.nre.gov.my/. Further inquiries can be sent to Mr. Letchumanan Ramatha at letchu@nre.gov.my or biosafety@nre.gov.my

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A state-of-the-art plant biotech facility (PBF) was officially opened by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Datuk Seri Dr. Maximus Johnity Ongkili on December 1, 2009 at the University Malaya. The PBF is a research facility of the Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture (CEBAR). In her welcome speech, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Jennifer Ann Harikrishna, the head of CEBAR said PBF will support academics, students and their industry partners to take their research from the laboratory to practical applications in compliance with International Biosafety Standards. She further stressed the need for human capital development in the areas such as plant breeding, bioinformatics, botany, plant pathology, molecular biology, and biosafety regulations to move forward in plant biotechnology.

Datuk Seri Maximus emphasized the need for a second revolution in agriculture with a focus on modern biotechnology to ensure self-sufficiency and to reduce the dependence on imported food and feed, and also to ensure the availability of renewable sources for fuel. He acknowledged GM technology as a key tool to support plant biotechnology and the traits available in the market such as herbicide tolerance, resistance to disease and pests which increases yield. The minister also endorsed the need to introduce new traits in crops through GM technology to encounter climate change and the growing population.

More news about biotechnology in Malaysia can be obtained by emailing Mahaletchumy Arujanan at maha@bic.org.my.

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The International Advisory Panel (IAP) noted Malaysia's achievements in the biotechnology industry since the inception of the National Biotechnology Policy. The number of Bionexus status companies currently stands at 135 and is expected to be 185 in two years. These companies are currently contributing 2.2 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and by 2011 it will increase to 2.5 per cent. The total approved investment for the 135 companies is more than RM1.51 billion (USD 0.4 bill). These companies employ 2,260 knowledge workers and generate more than RM700 million (USD200 mill).

However, the IAP is keen to see basic research in Malaysia reaching greater heights. Most IAP members strongly recommended to bring the country's science foundation to higher level so that it will not be a limiting factor for the biotechnology industry to excel.

For more news about biotechnology in Malaysia email Mahaletchumy Arujanan at maha@bic.org.my

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The Philippines celebrated the 5th Annual National Biotechnology Week last November 23-29, 2009 with the theme "Biotechnology for the country's environment, health, beauty, livelihood and development". The week-long activity included a press conference, business forum on bio-enterprise, book launching, biotech for kids activities, teacher's conference and scientific session on biotech for local development and environment, and a public forum on healthcare and biotechnology. The timeline of modern biotechnology development in the  Philippines, global biotech crops adoption and benefits, and biotechnology products commercially available and those in the pipeline, were showcased in the celebration's inter-active and techno-mart exhibits.

National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) President, Dr. Emil Q. Javier, emphasized during the opening ceremony that biotechnology is not just for scientists or policy makers but more so for all Filipinos. NAST, the country's premiere advisory body on science and technology,  has been an important advocate for biotech R&D and acceptance in the country. Moreover, Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Yap, in a speech read on his behalf, believes that "biotech is the way forward and the future for Philippine agricultural growth, sustainable development, and national progress and survival". The department will continue its investment and support to capacity building, public information campaign, and agricultural biotech research and innovation.

The event spearheaded by the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Agriculture, and supported by several government and private sectors in the Philippines, was attended by thousands of scientists, environmentalists, health enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, decision makers, development advocates, farmers and students.

For more updates on biotech developments in the Philippines, email bic@agri.searca.org or visit http://www.bic.agri.searca.org .

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Fil-Tribe or Filipino Teachers Recognizing the Importance of Biotechnology Education was launched during the 1st National Biotechnology Education Conference for Teachers held at the Heritage Hotel Manila, Philippines last November 27, 2009. The group composed of university and secondary level teachers teaching biology and biotechnology-related topics will seek to improve instruction of biotechnology in various educational levels. 

Dr. Cynthia Hedreyda, professor of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines Diliman, says that efforts will be done to develop biotechnology programs and institute biotechnology courses as well as introduce tools for teaching biotechnology, and provide updates on current trends in the field. The conference which coincided with the celebration of the National Biotechnology Week in the Philippines was supported by the Department of Agriculture and the Commission on Higher Education.

For more information about Fil-Tribe email Dr. Cynthia Hedreyda at cynthiahedreyda@yahoo.com.

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Following biosafety and other required assessments, the Philippines' Department of Agriculture approved Syngenta's GA21 corn for commercial cultivation in the country. The GM corn expresses the EPSPS protein, an enzyme responsible for tolerance to glyphosate herbicides. The country has been importing GA21 corn for food and feed use since 2003.

Studies conducted by United Kingdom's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) concluded that GA21 does not pose any risk to human and animal health. The GM corn is approved for commercial cultivation in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. It is also approved for import, processing and food/feed use in the European Union, Japan, Russia and Australia.

For more information, visit http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_091203.html

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Europe

The European Commission decided, after several months of impasse, to authorize the genetically modified (GM) maize MIR604 for food and feed uses and imports and processing. The maize has been genetically modified to produce the mCry3A protein, which confers resistance to the western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera) and other coleopteran pests of maize. The authorization is valid for ten years.

The Commission in a press statement said that "MIR604 maize received a positive safety assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and underwent the full authorization procedure set up in the EU legislation." EFSA earlier this year released a scientific opinion concluding that the GM maize is "as safe as its conventional counterpart with respect to its potential effects on human and animal health or the environment."

Following the approval, imports of soymeal and soybeans for animal feed could start again. More than 200,000 tons of soymeal and soybeans were refused entry into the EU earlier this year because they contained traces of unapproved GM events.

Visit http://dx.doi.org/ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm for more information.

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The European Food and Safety Authority's GMO Panel has published for public consultation a draft report on the assessment of allergenicity of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed. This report discusses various aspects to increase the strength and accuracy of the weight-of-evidence approach which is done on a step-by-step and case-by-case basis, and which is considered the most appropriate way of assessing the allergenicity of GM food and feed. The Panel recommended that with regard to the search for sequence homology and structural similarities, local alignment method with a known allergen with a threshold of 35 percent sequence identity over a window of at least 80 amino acids is considered a minimal requirement. Interested parties are invited to submit written comments by 31 January 2010.

For more information, visit http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211903078245.htm

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The Farmers Biotech Network composed of European farmers has released a declaration calling on Europe's leaders to invest in green biotechnology agriculture. The declaration states: "We demand the freedom of choice between traditional, organic and green biotechnology agriculture. We call upon the EU Commission and the European Parliament to allow us to become more competitive and more sustainable. National governments must also provide significant political and public support to strengthen our ability to meet current and future expectations of farm productivity."

In particular, the Network called on several urgent measures, notably: the immediate stop to GM bans across Europe; accelerate the processing and approval of GM applications in the EU; and ensure an open debate about the future of agriculture policy for Europe.

A copy of the declaration is at http://fundacion-antama.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/FBN-Declaration-Manifesto-ENGLISH.pdf

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A Ministerial Roundtable of the Conference on GMOs in European Agriculture and Food Production was held on November 26, 2009 in the Hague, the Netherlands. Highlights of the roundtable include: 

  • Ministers and representatives stressed new challenges worldwide particularly in agriculture. Opportunities that GMOS could provide such as in increasing agricultural competitiveness, productivity and food security were expressed.
  • Support was expressed for the concept of granting Member States and/or specific regions the right to decide on cultivation of GMOs on their own territory. A suggestion was made to develop a framework that would improve the effectiveness of GMO procedures in the European Union.
  • A recommendation was made to promote independent socio-economic and agronomic impact studies of GMOs. Involvement of all affected stakeholders in the discussions was considered essential.
More details of the Ministerial Roundtable are available at http://www.gifsoja.nl/Gifsoja/nieuws/Artikelen/2009/11/25_10.500_protestmails_tegen_RTRS_aan_minster,_
protest_voor_en_in_pro-GMO_conferentie_files/main_findings_ministerial_roundtable_gmo_091126.pdf
.

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Bayer CropScience and London-based FuturaGene PLC announced that they have entered into a license agreement for a drought tolerance technology. The agreement grants Bayer CropScience exclusive worldwide rights to utilize a FuturaGene technology to protect the yield of cotton plants when they are subjected to drought. The London-based biotech company will receive an upfront license fee, followed by development milestone payments and trait royalties on sales of cotton seeds incorporating this technology. Further financial details were not disclosed.

Visit http://www.bayercropscience.com/bcsweb/cropprotection.nsf/id/EN_20091203?open&l=EN&ccm=500020 for the media release.

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Research

Plants use specialized signals, such as plant hormones, to sense difficult times and adapt to stressful conditions to enhance survival. One plant hormone, abscisic acid (ABA), coordinates responses to stressors such as drought and salinity. ABA regulates various physiological processes such as stomatal closure, bud dormancy and seed germination. Understanding the inner workings of the ABA signaling pathway, scientists say, could help develop crops that thrive in harsh environmental conditions and combat global food shortages.

However, the exact molecular mechanism by which ABA helps plants tolerate extreme conditions remains poorly understood. The hormone receptor has eluded researchers for decades. Earlier this year, Sean Cutler of the University of California Riverside and colleagues identified a family of protein, dubbed PYR/PYL/RCAR, that inhibits the activity of ABA response associated phosphatase enzymes (PP2C). Now six independent groups of researchers have defined the structure and function by which the stress hormone is sensed by PYR/PYL/RCAR proteins.

In the absence of ABA, PP2C inhibits the phosphorylation of a family of kinases (SnRK). ABA enables the receptor proteins PYR/PYL/RCAR to sequester PP2C, therefore ‘liberating' the kinases. These kinases become activated and subsequently activate transcription factors that will initiate the expression of certain genes. Laura Sheard and Ning Zheng, in a synthesis paper published by Nature, summarized the ABA signaling pathway, which they said "is attractive in its simplicity and offers a seamless complement to the known body of ABA literature."

The synthesis article, which provides links to the original research papers, is available to Nature subscribers at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/462575a

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After more than two decades of research, the market for genetically modified plants is dominated by "by applications of just a handful of methods and genes." This is despite the billions of dollars spent every year in GM plant research and the resulting surge in publications and patents. Caius M. Rommens, in a paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal, identified the roadblocks to market for transgenic crops and discussed the methods and approaches on how to overcome these, particularly in the United States. These barriers, Rommens wrote, include: trait efficacy in the field, critical product concepts, freedom-to-operate (FTO), industry support, identity preservation and stewardship, regulatory approval and retail and consumer acceptance.

Rommens recommended several guidelines that may help overcome barriers to market biotech crops. These include:

  • carefully assessing the efficacy of genes in the field by employing the full toolbox for agronomy,
  • focusing on product concepts that address critical issues and/or needs,
  • ensuring FTO by licensing all applicable methods and genetic elements,
  • implementing robust IP systems that comply with governmental guidelines,
  • obtaining early buy-in from growers, processors, and retailers,
  • ensuring that the gene-of-interest does not code for proteins which raise concerns with regard to potential toxicity and allergenicity, and maintaining frequent and forthright communication with the regulatory agencies involved,
  • and obtaining end-user support by addressing perception issues and providing clear consumer benefits.
The original paper is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00464.x.

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Announcements

A five-day Scientific Communication and Publishing Course will be held at the University of Nairobi, Chiromo Campus on December 14-18, 2009. Topics will include technical communication writing for reports, theses, scientific papers and reviews; writing for peer-reviewed journals; preparing and giving oral communication for different audiences; and communicating to non-experts.

For placement in the course, email Joy Owango at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Nairobi, Chiromo Campus at joy.owango@tcc-africa.org.

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IUFRO Kuala Lumpur 2010, a joint conference of IUFRO Working Parties 2.04.01 (Population, Ecological and Conservation Genetics) and 2.04.10 (Genomics) will be held on March 7-12, 2010 at Legend Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) are the hosts for the conference. Invited and contributed presentations and posters, discussion sessions, workshops, satellite and business meetings and an in-conference tour will be the major activities.

For more information, visit: http://www.iufrokualalumpur2010.org/

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