Scientists from all over the world met at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo, Syria for the two-day "Stem Rust Baseline Survey Workshop on Standardizing Protocols and International Collaboration”. The workshop aims to standardize protocols and strengthen international cooperation to combat the stem rust (strain Ug99). Ug99 (after Uganda where it was first recorded in 1999) has defeated the resistance in varieties that were resistant to stem rust in the past. It was found in Yemen in 2006 and has recently been reported in Iran. It now threatens wheat production in the Near East and West Asia region.

The workshop was jointly organized by ICARDA, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and the Cornell University through the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative.

The complete press release is available at

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The crucial role of communication among stakeholders to encourage a transparent and science-based debate on crop biotechnology was again highlighted  during the annual  network meeting of the Biotechnology Information Centers (BICs) of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Representatives of the BICs in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam), Africa (Egypt and Kenya), and Europe (Spain) converged in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia to share communication strategies from interpersonal to tri-media approaches that were used to increase awareness and understanding of biotechnology in their respective countries.

Eighteen BICs are now part of the network and are sharing information, resources, expertise, and experiences to the global community. Other members include Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Russia, South Africa, Francophone Africa, and Brazil. The BICs are actively involved in translating and disseminating crop biotech information to various stakeholders, conduct workshops, and perform other knowledge sharing initiatives.

For more information on the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology and the BIC network visit

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The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AAFT) announced a private-public partnership to develop drought-tolerant maize for Africa. Known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), the project was formed in response to call by farmers, scientists and government officials to address the devastating effects of drought on small-scale African maize growers. WEMA will involve collaboration between CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), Monsanto Company, and the national agricultural research systems in participating countries (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda).

CIMMYT will provide drought-tolerant high-yielding maize varieties that are suitable for African conditions. These varieties were obtained through conventional breeding. Monsanto for its part will provide proprietary germplasms and breeding tools and expertise. It will also provide drought-tolerance transgenes (developed together with BASF) without royalty. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded an independent program at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health in University of Toronto to assess and monitor social, cultural, ethical and commercial issues related to the project.

The first conventional WEMA varieties are expected to be available by 2014. Transgenic drought-tolerant varieties will be available in about ten years.

For more details, read the press release at

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Purdue University researchers have identified soybean varieties resistant to the root-knot nematode, parasites of the genus Meloidogyne responsible for approximately six percent of global crop loss. The varieties will grow well in Midwestern American states like Indiana, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois where the presence of the parasite has recently been confirmed. In the United States alone, the nematode is responsible for a loss of more than 93,000 tons of soybeans annually. The researchers are now trying to identify nematode-resistant cover crop varieties. Cover crops are being used during winter to prevent soil erosion but can also provide habitat for the parasite. Another concern is that soybean, watermelon and maize - crops that are being cultivated in rotation in midwestern states, are all susceptible to root-knot nematodes.


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Asia and the Pacific

The research team at Kasetsart University in Thailand that elucidated the compound responsible for aroma in rice and the method to increase the aromatic fragrance has obtained a US patent. This invention is based on their discovery that the inhibition of Os2AP gene can result in the production of aromatic compound, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (2AP), the major potent flavor component of aromatic rice. The patent was applied in the US in January 2005 and granted on 13 November 2007. This patent has also been filed in Australia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, India, France and the European Patent Office (EPO).

Rice Gene Discovery Unit is a collaborative research unit between BIOTEC and Kasetsart Univerity.

To find out more, visit the University official website at or contact Supat Attathom of Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center at

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Bagasse, the agricultural waste of sugar cane in sugar production can now be used to produce a new kind of food packaging which is safe for health, environment friendly, and biodegradable. This technology is being developed in Thailand to minimize the accumulatiion of plastic and foam packaging materials which have already amounted to 2.3 million tonnes. The new food packaging could be degraded within 45 days without waste management involved.

Food-packaging manufacturer Biodegradable Packaging for Environment's managing director Dr Weerachet Kittirattanapaiboon said that the company has developed a technology and a production process to use bagasse to produce food packaging. A key technology in the production process is the binder, a polymer substance that can force the bagasse pulp particles to join together so when it is used for food packaging, it can be heat resistant and waterproof. The company's binder has passed the safety standards set by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

The complete article is available at For details contact Supat Attathom of Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center at

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To encourage the emergence of the biotechnology business in Thailand, the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Thailand Centre of Excellence for Life Science (TCELS) are working with the Board of Investment to promote investments in the biotechnology area. As Thailand has a strong biotechnology base, especially in food, biodiversity and healthcare, it could become a hub for biotechnology-business development in the region, said NSTDA's president Sakarindr Bhumiratana. Satit Charnjavanakul, the BoI secretary-general, said the board offered privileges for biotechnology businesses through an eight-year tax exemption, while investors would also pay zero tariffs when they import machinery into Thailand. There are four key areas of biotechnology which would get investment promotion privileges. They are seed production or plant and animal breed improvement businesses; bio-pharmaceutical business; medical diagnostic kits, agriculture, food and environment businesses; and biomolecule and bio-active compound production businesses.

The complete article is available at For further details, contact Supat Attathom of Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center at

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To benefit from the advances in biotechnology, Indonesia's regulations should be set in place. A study was conducted by Dr. Bahagiawati and Dr. Sutrisno from the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development (ICABIOGRAD) on the "Application of Genetically Modified Crops: Status, Regulation and Detection Method in Indonesia". The results published in the Journal AgroBiogen, showed that Indonesia had several regulations on application of  transgenic crops such as Government Regulation (GR) 21/2005; GR 69/1999 on labeling of GMO products; and GR 28/2004 on GM food. However, according to the authors, the implementation of GR 69/1999 and GR 28/2004 are still not realized since there is no implementation guidance, lack of laboratory  facility, and capable human resources to implement the rules. 

In Indonesia,  the labeling of GMO is still mandatory with the threshold of 5.0. The authors also mentioned that until now, Indonesia has only four GMO detection laboratories, of  which two are government laboratories (ICABIOGRAD, Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Drugs Agency), and two private laboratories (PT. Saraswanti and Atmajaya University). The authors further recommended that Indonesia needs to have a biosafety framework, enhanced facility and human resources to assess the existence of GMO in any food materials.

See more details at: or contact the authors for more information at ,, or Dewi Suryani of IndoBIC at

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Business enterprises based on the use of biological knowledge are contributing to economic development as shown by the experience of the United States where biosciences contributed to a third of its gross domestic  product.. Developing countries should exploit this development, says Dr. Paul Teng of the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He  spoke on "Bioscience entrepreneurship: Creating value and wealth from biology" in a public seminar on commercialization of biotechnology at the University Pertanian Malaysia in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Potential bioscience enterprises in Asia include hybrid plant and seed varieties, tissue culture, biofermentation, biofertilizers and biopesticides, biofuels, bioremediation, biodetection, and biotechnology crops. Teng notes that the opportunities for bioscience entrepreneurship are growing and Malaysia can take an active role  through capacity development, intellectual property product development, incubator support, financing, and services.

In the same seminar, Mr. Izhar Hifnei Ismail of the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation discussed "Incentives for biotechnology companies in Malaysia". Aware of "biotech for wealth creation" the Malaysian government  has set up the BioNexus status which is a designation awarded to qualifying biotechnology companies, making them eligible for privileges. These privileges include fiscal incentives such as income tax excemption, tax exemption on dividends, and exemption of import duty and sales.

More information on the seminar can be obtained by emailing Mahalechumy Arujanan of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center at


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Origin Agritech Limited has updated its GM pipeline to set forth the next generation transgenic corn products in China. These include:

  • Phytase corn, expected to be the first for transgenic maize in China, is currently in its final approval (Phase 5) stage in the country. Phytase is currently being used as an additive necessary for animal development and growth. It also limits the amount of phosphorus in animal wastes. Addition of phytase to animal feed is mandatory in Europe, Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Japan.
  • Glyphosate resistant maize is in the intermediate testing stage (second phase). To date, herbicide-tolerant crops represent the largest segment of the GM crop market worldwide.
  • Bt corn is also in its second phase, the same as with GM corn with stacked traits (Bt and glyphosate resistance).
  • Transgenic corn with nitrogen efficiency and drought tolerance traits are in the laboratory testing phase (Phase 1).

For further information visit

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A Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) was launched by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) at its headquarters in Patancheru, India, in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Government of India. ICRISAT also announced the launch of a Bio-Food Knowledge Center (BFKC) in its Agri-Science Park with financial support from the Government of Andhra Pradesh.

The CEG has started providing the following services:

  • High-throughput, low-cost, allele detection platforms, to help with molecular-marker assisted breeding.
  • Access to large-scale field screening for abiotic stresses, such as drought and salinity.
  • Biometrics (agricultural statistics) and bioinformatics (information management and analysis) support.
  • Training courses for scientists and students from Indian institutes in the use of high-throughput methods in breeding and research.

The BFKC on the other hand, will develop a platform for R&D, innovation, technology transfer, and commercialization in food processing focusing on cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It will be developed as a public-private partnership model and also to backstop food processing related research requirements for ICRISAT mandate crops.

View the complete press release at

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Notifications on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified (GM) crops for non-commercial use in Europe have been posted online. For March 2008, these include:

  • Herbicide tolerant GA21 maize (Syngenta) field trial in Denmark
  • MON 89034 × MON 88017 maize for use in field trials in Romania
  • NK603 maize for use in field trials in Romania
  • Glyphosate tolerant H7-1 sugarbeet for use in field trials in Spain
  • Stacked Bt-maize with European corn borer and Western corn rootworm resistance genes on non-target organisms in Germany
Visit for more information..

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Scientists from the Suranaree University of Technology in Thailand and Louisiana State University have developed transgenic tomato lines with increased resistance to the common cutworm. The transgenic lines were modified to express a potato gene coding for the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO). Polyphenol oxidase, which has also been implicated for plant resistance to the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae catalyzes the conversion of phenolics to quinones, plant secondary metabolites that are involved in pathogen defense.

Growth rates of cutworm in the PPO-expressing lines were up to three times lower compared to their non-transgenic counterparts. Higher levels of PPO also resulted to increased larval mortality, with the cutworm third instar consuming less foliage. The results suggest a critical role for PPO-mediated phenolic oxidation in pest resistance.

For more information read the article published by the Plant Journal at

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One of the major concerns with the use of insecticidal protein-expressing transgenic crops is their possible effects on target organisms. Using a novel bioassay, a group of scientists from Switzerland evaluated the effect of several insecticidal proteins on the green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea). Green lacewing is a common predator, usually of aphids and other soft-bodied arthropods, in Western and Central Europe.

 Lacewing larvae were exposed to sucrose solution containing different toxic proteins. The researchers were able to establish that the larvae are sensitive to ingested avidin and snowdrop lectin (GNA), two proteins that are known to be relative broad-spectrum in their activity. In contrast the soybean trypsin inhibitor (SBTI) and two Bt Cry proteins (Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac) did not cause any direct effects on the developing larvae. This confirms that the larvae of this important predatory species are not directly affected by the Bt Cry proteins that are expressed in most of today's Bt maize and cotton varieties.

Read the article at For more information contact Nora Lawo at

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An international research consortium has reported the genome sequence of the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum, the first for an insect pest. Tribolium is a notorious invader of stored grains and grain products. The genome consists of approximately 200 million DNA bases that code for about 16,000 proteins, one third of which represents repetitive sequences. The study may have a big impact on agriculture as development in Tribolium  is more representative of other insects than is Drosophila (the first insect with its genome sequence).

With the available genome sequence, the scientists enumerated numerous possible insecticide targets. These include:

  • Cytochrome P450 proteins involved in metabolic detoxification of plant defense chemicals
  • C1 cysteine peptidase genes associated with a protein-degrading complex in the larval gut
  • Neurohormones and G-protein-coupled receptors that are involved in control of insect development, reproduction, and other physiological processes

The full paper published by Nature is available at

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