In This Issue

May 10, 2017

Latest Communication Products

Beyond Promises: Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2016
A visual presentation of the 10 important highlights about biotech crops from 1996 to 2016, taken from ISAAA Brief 52: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016.
From Fear to Facts: 17 Years of Agri-biotech Reporting in the Philippines (2000-2016)
The publication is based on a study conducted by ISAAA and SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center published in the April 2017 issue of Philippine Journal of Crop Science.
Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016
ISAAA Brief 52-2016 is now available! Get your copy now!
Executive Summary: ISAAA Brief 52-2016
Download PDF: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Swahili



The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) launched its 2016 report titled Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016. Two launch events were held on May 4 and 5, 2017 in Beijing, China.

The media conference held on May 4, 2017 at China Wold Hotel was attended by some 40 journalists from Chinese and international news agencies. ISAAA Chair, Dr. Paul Teng, presented the highlights of the report. He stressed that the adoption of biotech crops increased to 185.1 million hectares in 2016 after the slight decline observed in 2015. ISAAA Senior Program Officer, Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, talked about the development and adoption of biotech crops in Asia.

The following day, a seminar was held on May 5, 2017 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which was attended by 120 scientists, members of the academe, and students. Drs. Paul Teng and Rhodora Aldemita presented the highlights of the ISAAA report. Mr. Zhang Xianfa from the Ag GMO Division of the Ministry of Agriculture discussed the status of Chinese biotech crops regulation and development. The participants signified their interest in the adoption of more biotech crops in the country to benefit not just the farmers and their families, but also the consumers.

The events were organized in cooperation with China Biotechnology Information Center, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Chinese Biotechnology Society.

For more information about the events, send an email to The ISAAA report is downloadable at the ISAAA website.

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Amid the prevailing drought and army worms' invasion in Kenya, farmers have petitioned the government to avail of Bt cotton and Bt maize seeds for planting. One of their leaders from the Central region, Mr. Mugo Magondu, voiced out their question about why farmers in Kenya should continue to face these challenges while modern agricultural technology can provide a solution. He said this during a farmer's agri-biotechnology and biosafety sensitization forum held on April 28, 2017.

Mr. Jackson Omwoyo, a maize farmers group chair expressed his concern on the notable push and pull among government ministries and regulatory agencies that are delaying the adoption of agri-biotechnology. "There is a technology that has been developed to benefit the public. If you don't trust the information provided locally, why not send a team to the countries already growing these crops to see how it is done for us to adopt the same here in Kenya?"

The forum, which was co-organized by ISAAA AfriCenter, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB Kenya) and the Program for Biosafety Systems, was also graced by representatives from Agricultural Food Authority, National Biosafety Authority, Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization, and universities.

For more details, send an e-mail to ISAAA AfriCenter Director, Dr. Margaret Karembu at

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An international team composed of 77 scientists from 11 countries has reported the first high-quality reference genome sequence of barley. The research, 10 years in the making, reports vital information about the major cereal crop using a variety of state-of the-art methods, and published in the journal Nature.

Ten years ago, Nils Stein of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany led the International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium, and set out to assemble a complete reference sequence of the barley genome. The barley genome is almost twice the size of the human genome, and 80 percent of it is composed of highly repetitive sequences, which cannot be assigned accurately to specific positions in the genome without considerable extra effort.

Barley has been used for more than 10,000 years as staple food and for fermented beverages, and as animal feed. It is found in breakfast cereals and flour, and malted barley gives beer color, body, a good head, and natural sugars needed for fermentation. The study provides new insights into gene families that are key to the malting process. Regions of the genome sequence that have been vulnerable to genetic bottlenecking during domestication have also been identified, and this knowledge guides breeders to optimize genetic diversity in their crop improvement efforts.

For more details, read the news releases at UCR Today and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). The open-access paper is available at Nature.

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Researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) have discovered an unexpected strategy that can delay, and even reverse, the evolution of resistance by pests to genetically engineered crops. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that hybridizing genetically engineered cotton with conventional cotton reduced resistance in the pink bollworm, a voracious global pest.

The study is a collaboration between researchers at UA and China, and over 11 years, they tested more than 66,000 pink bollworm caterpillars from China's Yangtze River Valley. The main strategy for delaying resistance is providing refuges of the pests' host plants that do not make Bt proteins. This allows survival of insects that are susceptible to Bt proteins, and also reduces the chances that two resistant insects will mate and produce resistant offspring.

The strategy in China involves interbreeding Bt cotton with non-Bt cotton, crossing the resulting first-generation hybrid offspring, and planting the second-generation hybrid seeds. This process generates a random mixture within fields of 75 percent Bt cotton plants side-by-side with 25 percent non-Bt cotton plants. Bruce Tabashnik, senior author of the study, calls this strategy revolutionary because it was not designed to fight resistance and arose without mandates by government agencies, but emerged from the farming community of the Yangtze River Valley. While previous attention focused on the drawbacks of interbreeding between genetically engineered and conventional plants, the authors point out that the new results demonstrate gains from such hybridization.

For more details, read the news article at the UANews.

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Brazil maintained its second ranking in the top producers of GM crops in 2016, following the US, according to ISAAA Brief 52 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 released last week.

In 2016, Brazilian farmers planted biotech soybean, maize, and cotton on 49.1 million hectares of land, which is 27% of the 185.1 million hectares of GM crops planted globally. Brazil also recorded the highest percentage increase in adoption from 2015 with 11%, making the country the engine of growth of GM crops worldwide.

Brazil planted 32.7 million hectares of biotech soybean, 15.7 million hectares of maize, and 0.8 million hectares of biotech cotton in 2016. Soybean, maize, and cotton were planted to 52.6 million hectares, wherein 49.1 million or 93.4% was biotech. This is expected to increase in 2017 because of the continuous demand for steady supply of maize for pork and livestock in the country.

Download the Executive Summary of the ISAAA report from the ISAAA website. The Executive Summary is also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, and Portuguese.

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Misinformation on biotechnology is expected to decrease in the U.S. because of the proposed markup in the budget for biotech education. The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations is considering to increase the budget for agriculture spending bill, Fiscal Year 2017 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. US$3 million was proposed to be used by the Food and Drugs Administration and the Department of Agriculture for consumer outreach to promote the understanding and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology and its products.

According to the full committee report draft on the agriculture bill, FDA and USDA will take charge of the initiative through publication and distribution of science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian benefits of biotechnology food and feed products.

In line with this, 66 food and agricultural organizations showed their support for biotech education by sending a letter to the Congressional leaders. "The United States is strong and prosperous because American leaders embrace the responsible use of technology and set forth public policies to move the nation forward in this regard. Science education plays an important role in this forward momentum. That is why we support the inclusion of $3 million for FDA and USDA to help the public better understand science- and fact-based information about agricultural biotechnology," stated in the letter.

Read the full committee report draft from the Committee of Appropriations' website. Read the letter from the food and agri groups in Biotech Now.

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In a three-year field study conducted in the United States, researchers proved that engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in the year 2050, when population is predicted to be at 9.7 billion and carbon dioxide levels to hit 600 parts per million—a 50% increase over today's levels.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, found that the modified crop yielded more when subjected to both increased temperature and carbon dioxide levels; however, they found little to no difference between the modified and unmodified crops grown in either increased temperature, increased carbon dioxide, or today's climate conditions.

More details are available at the University of Illinois website.

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Wendelin Schnippenkoetter from the CSIRO Agriculture and Food in Australia investigated the ability of the wheat Lr34 multipathogen resistance gene (Lr34res) to function across a wide range of species using transgenic sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). The transgenics exhibited increased resistance to sorghum rust, caused by Puccinia purpurea, and anthracnose disease caused by Colletotrichum sublineolum.

Furthermore, transgenic sorghum lines highly expressing the wheat Lr34res gene also exhibited increased immunity to sorghum rust compared to low-expressing single copy transgenics, which only exhibited partial resistance. Pathogen-induced pigmentation mediated by flavonoid phytoalexins was also evident and characterized highly expressing transgenic lines inoculated with P. purpurea.

Metabolite analysis of mesocotyls infected with C. sublineolum also showed increased levels of 3-deoxyanthocyanidin metabolites. These metabolites are associated with reduced symptoms of anthracnose.

For more on this study, read the article in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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Drought stress limits plant growth and development, leading to a reduction in crop productivity. Previously, several E3 ligases have been reported to regulate the drought stress response. Hyunhee Joo and Chae Woo Lim from Chung-Ang University in South Korea now reveal that the pepper (Capsicum annuum) Drought Induced RING type E3 ligase 1, CaDIR1, regulates the drought stress response via abscisic acid (ABA)-mediated signaling.

CaDIR1 contains a C3HC4-type RING finger domain in the N-terminal region, which functions during protein degradation via attachment of ubiquitins to the target proteins. The expression levels of the CaDIR1 gene were found to be suppressed by ABA and were induced by drought stress. The team conducted genetic studies to examine the function of CaDIR1 in response to ABA and drought stress.

CaDIR1-silenced pepper plants displayed a drought-tolerant phenotype while CaDIR1-overexpressing Arabidopsis plants exhibited an ABA-hypersensitive phenotype during the germination stage, but an ABA-hyposensitive phenotype exhibit this during the adult stage. Moreover, adult CaDIR1-overexpressing plants also exhibited a drought-sensitive phenotype.

These results indicate that CaDIR1 functions as a negative regulator of the drought stress response via ABA-mediated signaling.

For more on this study, read the full article in Frontiers in Plant Science.

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New Breeding Technologies

Citrus canker caused by Xanthomonas citri subsp. citri (Xcc) is damaging to the global citrus industry. Targeted editing of host disease-susceptibility genes could be a good alternative to plant breeding for resistance. Chinese researchers, led by Aihong Peng of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and National Center for Citrus Variety Improvement and Southwest University in China report the improvement of citrus canker resistance through CRISPR-Cas9.

Wanjincheng orange (Citrus sinensis Osbeck) has at least three copies of the CsLOB1G allele and one copy of the CsLOB1 allele. The promoter of both alleles contains the effector binding element (EBEPthA4). Five pCas9/CsLOB1sgRNA constructs were designed to target and modify the EBEPthA4 of the CsLOB1 promoter.

Sixteen lines that contained EBEPthA4 modifications were identified. From there, four mutation lines (S2-5, S2-6, S2-12 and S5-13), showed enhanced resistance to citrus canker compared to wild types. Furthermore, no canker symptoms were observed in the S2-6 and S5-13 lines.

These results demonstrate that CRISPR-Cas9 editing of the CsLOB1 promoter is an efficient strategy for generation of canker-resistant cultivars.

For more on this study, read the article in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

The U.S. Food and Drug administration approved the use of home genetics test kits to determine a person's risk for genetics-based diseases. The DIY kit developed by 23andMe can test for 10 genetic diseases including Parkinson's and Alzheimers. The company initially offered a DNA testing kit that was designed to describe a person's risk for 240 diseases but FDA discontinued the service in 2013 because of safety and efficacy reasons. The new test kit for 10 genetic diseases will be available in the coming months.

Read more from Nature.

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Tea is the oldest and most popular nonalcoholic caffeine-containing beverage in the world consumed by more than 3 billion people across 160 countries. Despite its immense cultural and economic significance, little is known about the shrub behind tea leaves.

The most popular varieties of tea—including black tea, green tea, Oolong tea, white tea, and chai—all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, known as the tea tree. "There are many diverse flavors, but the mystery is what determines or what is the genetic basis of tea flavors?" says plant geneticist Lizhi Gao of Kunming Institute of Botany in China.

Previous studies suggest that tea gets its flavor from flavonoids, a group of antioxidants. Cathechin, a bitter-tasting flavonoid is associated with tea flavor. Catechin levels and other flavonoids vary among species, as does caffeine. Gao and his colleagues found that C. sinensis leaves not only contain high levels of catechins, caffeine, and flavonoids, but also have multiple copies of the genes that produce caffeine and flavonoids.

All Camellia species have genes for the caffeine- and flavonoid-producing pathways, but each species expresses those genes at different levels, which explains why C. sinensis leaves are suitable for making tea, while other species' leaves aren't. Gao and his colleagues estimate that more than half of the base pairs (67%) in the tea tree genome are part of retrotransposon sequences, or "jumping genes". A tough genome to assemble at 3.02 billion base pairs in length, the tea tree genome is more than four times the size of the coffee plant genome and much larger than most sequenced plant species.

For more details, read the open-access paper in the journal Molecular Plant.

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Document Reminders

Historical accounts show that the pioneers of plant breeding were women. When humans transformed from gathering to cultivating, the women became in charge of keeping the seeds of plants with good traits. This task led to the development of the cultivated varieties of plants today. Thus, Jill Tietjen of Greenwood Village and Laura Privalle of Research Triangle Park documented the important contributions of women who did pioneering work for the advancement of biology and biotechnology.

Read the details from the Women in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Biotechnology chapter of the Women in Engineering and Science series.

Engineering Our Food: A Discussion of Genetically Modified Foods, is a special issue of Harvard College Review of Environment & Society (HCRES) that includes nine papers discussing several aspects of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Prof. Ruth MacDonald introduces the history and scientific consensus behind GMOs to provide readers an overview of how GMOs interact with the food system. Prof. P.S. Baenziger and Prof. David Hennessy explain the process of developing GM foods and the economics behind growing them, respectively. Meanwhile, Prof. Calestous Juma outlines the potential for GMOs to solve nutritional deficiencies in developing nations, Gregory Jaffe outlines current regulatory barriers to federal oversight of GM crops in the US., and Prof. Sam discusses international trade. The Review's conclusion has Prof. Joanna Sax questioning the role of GM crops in the future and Sylvie Bonny highlights the need to combine high-tech agriculture and agroecology instead of considering them as opposed alternatives.

The review is freely available for download at HCRES ISSUU site.

This spring, the first commercial Arctic® apples were planted in  Washington State, a step closer to bringing the first truly nonbrowning apple varieties, Arctic® Granny and Arctic® Golden available to eager consumers. Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. captured the momentous occasion on film to share the experience with everyone.

Watch the video on Artic® Apples Youtube Channel.

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