Two sets of priority actions are needed to address challenges from climate change. These are: strengthening public sector agricultural research, and increasing the amount, appropriateness, and accessibility of spatial data. Scientists from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) plus Indonesia and the United States gave these recommendations during the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security held in Beijing, China last November 7 to 8, 2011. The conference was organized by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Twelve research priorities were identified to address effects of climate change. These include biotechnology, pests and diseases, soil ecosystems, grain quality, intellectual property regimes for new research results, and land use change.
The recommendations were presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) side event "Climate Change and BRICS: Findings from the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security."
Read more on addressing climate change challenges at http://www.ifpri.org/pressrelease/leading-brics-researchers-recommend-agricultural-work-program-climate-change-convention
Crops yields are rising more slowly and thus have serious implications for global food production. In particular, countries in Europe such as Denmark, France, Finland and Switzerland have noted a decline in crop yield despite increased yield potential. Robert Finger of ETH Zurich, Switzerland makes these observations in Food Security: Close crop yield gap published in the journal Nature.
Finger identifies markets as a contributory factor due to reduced incentive for investment in equipment, fertilizer, and related inputs. Agricultural polices aimed at reducing environmental damage have also hindered growth in crop yields. To close yield gaps that would ensure sufficient global food production, Finger suggests more incentives particularly for low income countries.
Check out http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7375/full/ for the original article.
A research team from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas adopts a new approach to rapidly identify genetic material that can produce new crop varieties. This new method is called FIGS which stands for Focus Identification of Germplasm Strategy. It uses applied Bayesian mathematics and geographical information to help breeders to easily identify traits that can be used to develop different varieties of crops with resistance to drought, frost, insect pests, and other diseases that affect the crop yields in developing countries.
Dr. Ken Street, a senior genetic resource scientist at ICARDA, explains the unique FIGS approach: "The method uses detailed information about the environment from which the plant genetic samples were collected to precisely predict where plant traits – such as disease resistance or adaptability to extreme weather conditions – are likely to evolve. Accessions from these areas have a higher probability of containing the traits and genes of interest. From this we assemble smaller subsets of genetic material that have a high potential of containing the plant traits that breeders need to develop their robust new varieties," he explained.
For more information about FIGS, visit http://icardablog.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/a-new-approach-to-mining-agricultural-gene-banks-promises-to-speed-the-pace-of-research-innovation-for-food-security/.
Dr. Denis Tumwesigye Kyetere is the new Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Kyetere is known for his contributions in the identification and mapping of the maize streak virus gene 1 (MSV1), which confers tolerance to maize streak virus disease in maize. He also contributed in the development of Longe1, one of the most successful maize varieties.
"Dr Kyetere brings with him a wealth of experience in hands on agricultural research and management gained from working with both public and private sector partnership projects at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO)'' said AATF Board Chair Prof Idah Sithole-Niang, when she made the announcement to staff and management in Nairobi recently. ‘'This experience will be of great benefit to AATF whose mission involves working through partnerships to deliver on its key mandate of accessing and delivering affordable agricultural technologies for use by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa" Prof Idah added.
Dr. Kyetere will assume office on January 1, 2012. http://www.aatf-africa.org/userfiles/Press-Release-Kyetere-to-head-AATF.pdf
The Nigerian Government announced the release of three new varieties of yellow cassava biofortified with vitamin A. This is a good news not just to the farmers who need high yielding varieties, but also to the women and children of Nigeria because the crop could provide up to 25% of their daily vitamin A needs.
This new varieties were developed by experts at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Nigerian National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) using conventional breeding techniques. The team is now working on varieties that could provide half of the daily vitamin A requirement. This project is funded by HarvestPlus and other partner international agencies.
The National Biosafety (ANB) organized on 14 to 16 November 2011 a national workshop to deliberate on the revised Biosafety Law draft bill. The workshop came at a time where various stakeholders were calling upon the Biosafety Authority to reconsider sending the revised law to be tabled in parliament, stating that some of the new regulations were holding various stringent clauses.
In his opening remarks, the Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation, Professor Gnissa Konate recognized the importance of modern biotechnology in increasing agricultural production, achieving food security and in reducing the import and use of pesticides. He urged participants to make contributions that would ensure the safety for the environment, humans and animals without jeopardizing the benefits to be gained from modern biotechnology. He added that it is important that users and consumers be provided with accurate information and be allowed to choose freely.
"The validation workshop of the draft bill is an important step which ensure wide consultation at national level' said Prof. Chantal Zoungrana, the director of ANB.
The work was carried out in groups and they were marked by heated debates. Participants were finally able to reach an agreement and made meaningful contribution to the document. The director of ANB concluded the workshop saying "The discussions were long, sometimes stormy but we still found a consensus that we recorded in this document, and I think our contributions address concerns from all stakeholders"
For more information please contact the author of the article Mr. Cyr Payim Ouédraogo, Journalist at l'Observateur Paalga on firstname.lastname@example.org
A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found the reason behind why some people find broccoli's taste to be bitter while the others not. It has long been perceived that preference for broccoli is based on cultured palate.
The team studied a gene (TAS2R38) which codes for a bitter taste receptor protein. Persons with a certain version of that gene can taste a bitter compound called phenylthiocarbamide, which is similar to glucosinates, another bitter compound present in cruciferous vegetables. These persons find such foods bitter while other with a different version of the gene can't detect the bitter taste.
"Because there is more genetic variation in African populations, you're likely to see unique variants you may not see elsewhere," said Sarah Tishkoff, one of the researchers. "Our study of variation at the TAS2R38 gene in Africa and correlations with taste perception and diet gives us a clue about the evolutionary history of the gene and how natural selection might be influencing the pattern of variation."
Read the media release at http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-geneticists-help-show-bitter-taste-perception-not-just-about-flavors.
A research collaboration between universities in the US (Iowa State U, University of California (UC) Davis, UC Los Angeles and Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, New York) and Japan (University of Tokyo, Osaka University, and Kyoto University) in partnership with Samuel Roberts Foundation was forged to develop technologies towards a low-carbon society. The scientists will conduct various studies including plant modification to produce more and better oils or lipids which are considered more efficient in storing energy than starch molecules. Thus, these plants may be tapped to produce more efficient biofuels and better, more cost-effective biochemicals, which have higher value than biofuels.
"We are trying to better understand the biology (of plants) and make it a more predictable science in terms of predicting positive attributes," said Basil Nikolau, professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology. "With that information, we can manipulate (plants) to do anything you want."
Details of this article can be viewed at http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2011/dec/nikolau
Asia and the Pacific
China officially issued The Consensus Document on GMOs (Volume 1) compiled and translated by the Science and Technology Development Center of the Ministry of Agriculture. Authored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the book has three parts: (1) Consensus document on biology of rice, wheat, corn, cotton, soybean, and canola, (2) Consensus document of such crops on compositional considerations for new GM varieties of key food/feed nutrients and anti-nutrients, and (3) Consensus document on Bt-crop safety information.
See article in Chinese by visiting blogsite of GMOs Management Office at http://aqpjcn.blog.163.com/ .
Pakistan will have to adopt genetically modified (GM) or biotech crops in the shortest possible time to tap true potential of agricultural productivity in the country. This was the gist of talks made at a seminar on "Benefits of using biotechnology to boost agriculture produce", organized by Pakistan Biotechnology Information Center (PABIC) in collaboration with the Agriculture Journalists Association (AJA). The seminar aimed to build capacity of agriculture journalists about benefits of biotechnology.
Experts were Dr. Anwar Nasim, Chairman of the International Council for the Life Sciences – Pakistan Chapter, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Director General (Biosciences Division) Dr. Yusuf Zafar, International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), Associate Professor Dr. Saifullah Khan and Dr. Kausar Abdullah Malik, former Member (Agriculture) Planning Commission and senior scientist.
The scientists urged the government to expedite the process of licensing the new variety of hybrid corn seeds which have successfully completed the field trials, enact enabling laws like Plant Breeders Act and implement IPR laws effectively.
For more information view http://www.pabic.com.pk/Pakistan%20needs%20biotech%20crops%20for%20food%20security.html
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has applied to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator to release up to 232 GM-wheat ''lines'' and 41 barley lines. The Capital Territory's first field trial of GM crops will establish how well the crops fare in ''rain-fed'', drought-prone, and fungal disease-prone environments.
In addition, CSIRO will seek permission to test flour made from GM wheat in small-scale human and animal feeding trials. Its proposal said: ''Flour derived from the grain of a few GM wheat and barley lines with altered grain composition is proposed to be used for a range of carefully controlled, small-scale animal and human nutritional feeding trials under the oversight of CSIRO.''
CSIRO emphasized that it had no concrete plans to test GM crops on humans. ''We have applied for permission to conduct human trials in the event that the research project gets to that stage, but we currently have no plans in train to conduct human trials,'' spokesman Owen Craig said.
Following the success in the release of the first draft of the cassava genome from a CIAT accession in 2009, a new large scale collaborative project between the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Beijing Genomic Institute (BGI) Shenzhen, China was established to sequence 5,000 cassava genotypes, including landraces, improved varieties, experimental populations and related wild species of the crop.
Dr. Joe Tohme, Director of CIAT's crop research area, emphasized the importance of the partnership towards meeting the center's mission of alleviating hunger and poverty in the tropics through research on eco-efficient agriculture. "This collaboration represents an unprecedented opportunity to boost cassava research and accelerate crop improvement for millions of smallholder farmers," he said. "This work will also help to establish the importance of cassava, giving it the recognition and research support that it rightly deserves."
With this new initiative, scientists will have a better understanding of the crop's evolution and distribution from its origins in the Americas to Africa and Asia and valuable information necessary for breeders to seek and tap new traits for adaption to new production systems, new markets, and to climate change.
Detailed information can be viewed at http://en.genomics.cn/navigation/show_news.action?newsContent.id=8957
An Invitation to comment the Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) for the limited and controlled release of genetically modified wheat and barley has been recently released by the Australian Gene Technology Regulator. The release will involve up to 292 lines of wheat and 41 lines of barley with altered grain composition, nutrient utilization efficiency and disease resistance or stress tolerance.
The trial is set to assess the agronomic performance of GM wheat and barley on a maximum area of 2.3 hectares per year between May 2012 and June 2017. Comment submissions should be received by close of business on 16 January 2012. Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, MDP 54, GPO BOX 9848 CANBERRA ACT 2601.
For more details see http://www.ogtr.gov.au/
The Australian Office of Gene Technology Regulator decided to issue a license authorizing Bayer CropScience Pty Ltd to commercially release generically modified herbicide tolerant canola and a hybrid breeding system (InVigor® x Roundup Ready® canola) throughout Australia. The license covers "the GM canola and products derived from the GM canola that would enter general commerce, including use in human food and animal feed."
The decision to issue the license was based on the extensive consultation on the Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) with the public, State and Territory governments, Australian Government agencies, the Minister for the Environment, the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee, and local councils, as required by the Gene Technology Act 2000 and corresponding State and Territory laws.
Details of this news can be viewed at http://www.ogtr.gov.au
A Workshop on "The Role of Biotechnology in Potato Breeding and its Regulations in Indonesia" for government officials and farmers was successfully concluded in Mataram, Indonesia on 23 November 2011. Prominent speakers from ICABIOGRAD Dr. M. Herman and Dr. Toto discussed biotechnology products and its regulations in Indonesia and biotechnology applications in potato trait improvement, respectively, while Dr. Dinar Ambarwati, discussed potato variety improvement through conventional breeding.
The head of agricultural bureau of East Mataram welcomed the participants and expressed his enthusiasm in enhancing potato yield through biotechnology application. Moreover the farmer participants fully supported the activity knowing that biotechnology can be a tool to help them improve the potato yield and their income.
The workshop brought together 39 farmers and agricultural officials from Mataram through the support of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP II) in collaboration with IndoBIC and ICABIOGRAD, ISAAA, and SEAMEO BIOTROP.
For more information, email Dewi Suryani at email@example.com.
A Biotechnology Seminar entitled "Go Biotechnology for Our Green Future" was conducted in Universitas Nasional, Indonesia on 26 November 2011. Dr. Retno Widowati, of Universitas Nasional discussed current developments in biotechnology and its various applications including bioremediation with focus on bioleaching - a process of using bacteria to dissolve metals such as nickel, copper, zinc, cobalt, gold, lead, and arsenic instead of chemical solutions.
Other speakers include ICABIOGRAD scientists Dr. M. Herman and Ir. Herry Kristanto of Monsanto who discussed biotechnology and genetically modified organism development; and the development of genetically modified food in the world and its impact, respectively. The seminar was sponsored by Biology Faculty of Universitas Nasional (UNAS) in collaboration with IndoBIC, ABSP II, Monsanto, INACO and Unilever, and attended by students and faculty of the university as well as by members of the private sector.
For more information on the seminar, email Dewi Suryani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Begum Motia Chowdhury, Minster for Agriculture in Bangladesh has expressed her support to promote and adopt biotech crops in Bangladesh if it is found useful and safe for the country. She expressed her good wishes for the two day long workshop on "Biotechnology for food security and economic development to encourage agriculture research and development using good advanced science."
The workshop was organized by USAID, ABSPII and Cornell University on 30 October, 2011 at Dhaka and attended by around 100 teachers. Invited scientists Prof. K V Raman, Dr. Vijayaraghavan, Dr. Shotkowski and other experts shared their knowledge and technical know how on the different aspects of GM crops around the globe, as well as the way forward for the possible development and promotional activities regarding GM crops.
Details of the workshop can be obtained from Prof Dr K M Nasiruddin of Bangladesh BIC at email@example.com.
A new EU project was launched on December 1, 2011 to evaluate the impacts of GM crops in European environments using scientific data. The project called AMIGA, short for Assessing and Monitoring the Impacts of Genetically Modified Plants on Agro-ecosystems, will run for 4 years.
The AMIGA consortium includes 22 partners like research centers, universities, state agencies, and private enterprises with experts in the fields of project research and analysis of various aspects of GM plants and their cultivation. The National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) of Italy serves as the coordinator of the project. The project activities include case studies on maize and potato, which are the two GM crops currently approved for cultivation in Europe.
Read the press release at http://cordis.europa.eu/wire/index.cfm?fuseaction=article.Detail&rcn=28673&rev=0. The official website of AMIGA will soon be published at http://cordis.europa.eu/wire/index.cfm?fuseaction=article.Detail&rcn=28673&rev=0.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding (MPI) in Cologne, Germany have discovered that the genetic material in seeds becomes more compact and the nuclei of the seed cells contract when the seeds begin to mature. The scientists perceive that this mechanism is exhibited by seeds to protect their genetic material from dehydration.
"The size of the nucleus is independent of the state of dormancy of Arabidopsis thaliana seeds," says Wim Soppe, one of the researchers. The reduction of the nucleus is a continuous activity to increase resistance to dehydration.The condensation of the chromatin is not linked to the changes in the nucleus.
Results of the study could be used to protect other organisms against dehydration because the mechanisms involved in the organization of the chromatin remain the same over the course of evolution.
Read the complete article at http://www.mpg.de/4671131/plant_seeds_dehydration.
With the impending increase in temperature due to climate change, scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) predicts an enormous usage of insecticides that could negatively impact bodies of water in Europe. The study published in the journal Ecological Applications highlights "how the use of insecticides in agriculture will jeopardize the state of streams across Europe, especially in central Europe, and the Baltic and Nordic regions." The researchers established an association between insecticide use and temperature as "climate change will trigger a jump in the rate of development of insects and the rate of survival in the winter."
The research team, currently working under the EU Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC), targets to secure and maintain a good chemical and ecological status for all waters. The team believes that exposure of streams and rivers to pesticide exposure needs to be reduced, and this can be reached by cutting pesticide use and establishing buffer zones along the streams. The buffer zones would serve as a refuge for threatened species, from where they can start to evolve a new population in the future.
For more on this article, see http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=34116
Spider mite is a pest of various plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, apples, pears, maize and soya. Damages caused by this mite on crops could go as high as EUR 735 000 mark. An international team of scientists deciphered the first genome of the pest and recently published in the journal Nature. The paper discussed the genetic basis of the capacity of the spider mite to survive by feeding more than 1000 plants.
The paper also discussed how mites could multiply and evolve new genes for the detoxification of plant toxic molecules. In particular, it can effectively 'hijack' detoxification genes from bacteria, fungi and plants to fight the plants by incorporating them into its own genome. More specifically, the team identified how some discovered genes such as the Hox complex contribute significantly to ensuring the proper basic structure and orientation of an organism. The new knowledge on the evolution of arthropod and plant-herbivore interactions would allow scientists to work on developing non-pesticide tools to make agriculture more sustainable.
In addition, the mite also produces a particular kind of silk which has unique lightness and other properties that can have industrial and pharmaceutical uses.
Details of this article can be viewed at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS_FP7&ACTION=D&DOC=4&CAT=NEWS&QUERY=01342185ffa3:a458:23b09eeb&RCN=34080
Pectobacterium carotovorum is a bacterium that causes soft rot disease in a wide variety of plants including carrots and potato. Virulence in soft rot bacteria is driven by environmental factors, host and bacterial chemical signals, and a number of gene-specific bacterial regulators. A team of researchers led by Caleb Kersey of the Tennessee State University isolated a mutant of P. carotovorum that have reduced production of pectate lyase, protease, polygalacturonase, and cellulose. The researchers observed decreased virulence as it macerates less host tissues than its parent and is severely impaired in multiplication. The gene responsible for this reduction in virulence was found to be corA, which codes for a magnesium/nickel/cobalt membrane transporter. When compared with its parent, the mutant was found to be cobalt resistant. These results indicate that CorA is important for exoenzyme production and virulence in P. carotovorum.
Read the abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1364-3703.2011.00726.x/abstract.
A group of plant hormones called jasmonates (JAs) is known to have significant function in various developmental processes as well as in mediating responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. The action of JAs could be manipulated by a number of bacterial strains of Pseudomonas syringae such as the DC3000 strain. This strain secretes coronatine which copies the form of jasmonyl-l-isoleucine (JA-Ile), a key enzyme in the breakdown of JAs. Scientist Agnes Demianski and colleagues at Washington University investigated JA signaling during infection to fully understand the influence of JA-Ile-mediated processes to P. syringae disease susceptibility.
The researchers examined JASMONATE ZIM-DOMAIN (JAZ) gene expression during infection of Arabidopsis by DC3000 and found that 8 out of 12 JAZ genes are stimulated in a coronatine-dependent manner. Most JAZ genes were not dependent on the transcription factor JASMONATE INSENSITIVE1 (JIN1), implying that there are other transcription factors involved in regulating JAZ genes. Further analysis also revealed that JAZ10 is a negative regulator of both JA signaling and disease symptom development.
Read the abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1364-3703.2011.00727.x/abstract.
Sorghum like many other important crops experience various plant diseases especially those caused by bacterial pathogens. One such disease is sorghum anthracnose which is caused by Colletotrichum sublineolum. Thus, Moses Biruma of Makerere University and colleagues conducted a study to identify resistance genes for C. sublineolum. They profiled East African sorghum genotypes and generated a final set of 126 sequenced genes, wherein 15 were identified to be biotic stress related. Seven of the genes were subjected to functional analysis followed by fungal inoculation and PCR analysis.
The resulting candidate set of genes include those that encode resistance proteins (Cs1A, Cs2A), a lipid transfer protein (SbLTP1), a zinc finger-like transcription factor (SbZnTF1), a rice defensin-like homolog (SbDEFL1), a cell death related protein (SbCDL1), and an unknown gene. When the expression of Cs1A, Cs2A, SbLTP1, SbZnF1 and SbCD1 were silenced, the resistance was highly compromised, unlike the milder effect in SbDEFL1 and SbCK2 silencing.
Genome analysis revealed that Cs1A and Cs2A genes are located in two different locations on chromosome 9 closely linked with duplicated genes Cs1B and Cs2B, respectively.
Subcribers of Theoretical and Applied Genetics may download the complete article at http://www.springerlink.com/content/f3242u8mv1475322/fulltext.pdf.
Beyond Crop Biotech
Scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in the U.S. developed genetic markers that can be used by federal seafood agents to genetically test blue marlin and know their ocean of origin. The test is needed by the agents to make sure that the blue marlin sold in the U.S. markets were harvested from the Pacific or Indian oceans and not from Atlantic Ocean. Catch from the Atlantic waters is restricted due to the reported drop of blue marlin population caused by overfishing.
The VIMS research team identified 10 microsatellite markers that can be used to determine if blue marlin is Indo-Pacific or Atlantic. "These new markers amplify well using samples from Atlantic and Pacific blue marlin," says Laurie Sorenson, one of the authors of the study. "That means that they have value and utility in studies of both stocks. Use of these markers will provide a more powerful means of identifying the ocean of origin, allowing enforcement of regulations for this species."
Results of the study were published at the latest issue of Conservation Genetics Resources.
BioAsia 2012 will be held on February 9-11, 2011 at the Hyderabad International Convention Center in Hyderabad, India. The theme is "Optimising Opportunities" focusing on health, pharmaceutical, and agribiotech sectors. The gathering will also provide an opportunity to discuss relevant topics like the future of biotech industry in India, where do Asian biotech companies stand in front of global biotech companies, experience/challenges/changes faced by International companies in Indian biotech market, biotech products in India, and the Indian competitive edge in the biotech sector.
Visit the conference website at http://www.bioasia.in/2012/.http://www.expresspharmaonline.com/20111215/events03.shtml
Frank Chalmers, Editor of Bite, a UK Food Agency Magazine with Teeth, has put together a "roundtable discussion" on GM crops that include various stakeholders including farmers, scientists, consumers, technology developers, and policy makers. The themed issue of Bite,tackles the debate on many issues including food availability for the growing population; a debate whether the world actually needs GM or whether other means of farming are better for the environment and for people; why GM technologies could play a part in securing our future; and why GM is a valuable addition to the toolbox, among others.
The issue of BITE can be accessed at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/publication/bitesummer11.pdf