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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) expects a new record high in rice production in Asia, Africa and Latin America this year. Concepcion Calpe, FAO rice expert, predicts about 2.3 percent growth in the world paddy production reaching a new record level of 666 million tonnes this year. “For the first time, paddy production in Asia may surpass the 600 million tonne benchmark this year,” Calpe said. Countries predicted to register the major gains were Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Moreover, the Rice Market Monitor supports this claim and foresees the potential of recent appeals and incentives to grow more rice which could lead to larger expansion of plantings thus increasing the production growth. 

However, FAO warned that the world rice prices could remain high in short term since the 2008 crops will only be harvested by the end of the year. Caple mentioned about the possibility of the cyclone disaster in Myanmar to affect their forecast.

To view full article, visit http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000835/index.html Rice Market Monitor is available at http://www.fao.org/es/ESC/common/ecg/71/en/RMM_Apr08.pdf

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The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP/MOP 4), opened last Monday in Bonn, Germany. The main aim is to expand the scope of the protocol to include binding rules on liability and redress.

Ursula Heinen, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Ministry of Consumer Protection, presided as the chairman of the conference. Heinen said that biotechnology is opening up new possibilities for better food. Like all new technologies, however, it also holds risks for biodiversity. She further stressed that the issue of liability is of central importance for public acceptance of agbiotech. 

Executive Secretary to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Ahmed Djoghlaf, believes that rules on liability and redress will be agreed upon when the conference ends on Friday. In 2004, parties to the Cartagena Protocol had set for themselves the objective of reaching an agreement by MOP 4.

For more information visit http://www.iisd.ca/biodiv/bs-copmop4/12may.html and http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/news/641.docu.html

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Realizing the potential of tea in the world market, new ideas are set to change the world tea production according to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Report prepared for the Intergovernmental Group on Tea meeting in Hangzhou, China. The report revealed that the world tea production continues to grow with a growth rate of more than 3 percent reaching an estimated 3.6 million tons every year. Another highlight of the report is FAO’s projections which indicate that world green tea production is expected to grow at a considerably faster rate than black tea, 4.5 % annually compared to 1.9 % for black tea.

One of the goals of the Joint meeting in Hangzhou is to expand tea consumption worldwide through the enforcement of minimum quality standards for tea traded internationally. The meeting will also examine and identify potential geographical indications (GIs) or major consumers of tea. The GIs will be assessed based on an international regulatory framework.

To read the full article, view http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000836/index.html. To browse through the documents of the Hangzhou meeting including the report on tea quality improvement, visit http://www.fao.org/unfao/bodies/ccp/tea/2008/index_en.htm.

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Africa

A cassava biotech capacity project has been launched as a collaborative venture between scientists of the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), through its Agro-biodiversity and Biotechnology Program. “Because of ASARECA's support, we will now build capacity to perform very high and advanced science which we normally borrow from Europe and America," said Dr. Anton Bua, an agricultural economist and team leader for the National Cassava Program.

Research is currently being done to duplicate efforts made by scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) in the United States where they introduced a genetically modified gene in a cassava plant that confers resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). Results are promising. Cassava is the most consumed crop in East and Central Africa and is noted for its ability to thrive in marginal conditions.

See the full story at http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=373&Itemid=2

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Americas

The US Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service (ARS) has released a new peanut variety that may help farmers in their fight against two major peanut problems. The new hybrid, Tifguard, is the first peanut variety to show resistance to both the peanut root knot nematode and tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). These diseases severely limit peanut yield in the US, where annual production reaches well above one million tons.

Not only did Tifguard exhibit higher resistance to TSWV in field trials, it also produced higher yields than standard check cultivars when grown in areas with little or no nematode pressure. Tifguard seeds will be available to farmers by the 2009 planting season.

Visit http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=1261 for more information

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Doubling agricultural food production worldwide requires a 20-fold increase in the use of nitrogen fertilizer, a most essential nutrient in plant productivity. Its use, however, has detrimental environmental impacts. Scientists are therefore looking at ways to reduce nitrogen fertilizer pollution, one of which is by improving the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of crop plants.

In an article in the ISB Report , Ashok Shrawat and Allen Good discuss genetic engineering approaches to improve nitrogen use efficiency of crop plants. The authors note that proper evaluation of the combined genetic and transgenic approaches to improve NUE should be required as a component of any crop improvement program. This will enable scientists to identify and understand the regulation of the genes involved in enhancing NUE.

For the complete article see http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2008/artspdf/may0801.pdf

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United States chemical company DuPont and Genencor, a division of the Danish food ingredient producer Danisco A/S, will cooperate to produce cellulosic ethanol, a renewable biofuel sourced from non-food feedstocks such as sugar cane bagasse, switchgrass and wheat straw. DuPont and Genencor will form DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC, a fifty-fifty joint venture that will “provide low-cost technology solution” for the production of cellulosic ethanol, which according to the companies addresses a $75 billion global market opportunity.

An initial $ 140 million three-year investment will focus first on corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. The company’s first pilot plant is expected to be operational in the US in 2009 and its first commercial-scale demonstration facility functional within the next three years. In addition, the joint venture expects to enable production of commercial volumes of cellulosic ethanol by 2012.

DuPont and Genencor noted that the US Department of Energy has supported their efforts through multiple grants totaling to more $ 60 million since 2000.

The media release is available at http://www.genencor.com/cms/connect/genencor/media_relations/news/frontpage/investor_257_en.htm

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Asia and the Pacific

According to a US Department of Agriculture Global Agriculture Network Report (GAIN), Taiwan has implemented a registration for stacked traits, effective, immediately, in accordance with a notice by the Department of Health. Taiwan does not intend to make a notification to the World Trade Organization (WTO), since the country believes that the notice is just supplementary to existing GM registration requirements on single events.

According to the guidelines, commercial stacked events belonging to Category 1 (stack traits unrelated) and 2 (stack traits related but with different mode of action) are allowed to submit a simplified dossier for DOH’s approval registration review. Events belonging to Category 3 (two or more traits that function in the same biosynthetic pathway), on the other hand, will be required to submit a comprehensive dossier for full review. There are some 20 commercial stacked corn events available in the market, one of which falls into Category 2, and the rest are Category 1.

Download the Report at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200805/146294586.pdf

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A report released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) says that genetically modified crops can provide significant economic benefits to Australia’s regional economy. “Delaying GM uptake means we are forgoing significant economic benefits for regional Australia,” said Philip Glyde, ABARE Executive Director.

“Economic impacts of GM crops in Australia” studied the potential benefits of cultivating GM crops on state and regional economies for two scenarios – adopting GM canola and adopting GM canola along with wheat, maize, soybeans and rice. South Wales is expected to benefit most from adopting GM crops while Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland are estimated to have significant economic benefits. Glyde added that if the adoption of GM canola is delayed for five years, “ the cumulative foregone benefits would be around a total of $97 million for Western Australia and $66 million for South Australia.

The report can bedownloaded at http://www.abare/gov.au. Read the media release at http://www.abareconomics.com/corporate/media/2008_releases/12may_08.html

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Considering the food scarcity in the country and its future impact, the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture will not only increase  yields but also reduce the need for more farmlands, irrigation facilities, and pesticide use.This statement was made by the Federal Environment Minister Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi, to participants of a seminar on "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) - Applications and Implications", organized by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the National Biosafety Centre (NBC) in Islamabad. The Federal Environment Minister added that while these benefits could boost the economy and provide food security, there are perceived fears like health and environmental implications, which need to be looked at. Proper risk assessment procedures should therefore be made.

 Read the full article at http://www.pabic.com.pk/14%20May,%202008%20Call%20to%20use%20genetically.html or http://www.brecorder.com/index.php?id=738432&currPageNo=1&query=&search=&term=&supDate=

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The goal of self-sufficiency and food security can not be achieved without introducing high yielding varieties of agricultural products. It is the national duty of breeders and agricultural scientists to develop hybrids and new varieties developed from biotechnology. Dr. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, Vice Chancellor of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad in Pakistan, shared these thoughts and his concerns over the declining trend of agricultural system in the country.

Dr.Khan added that India has enhanced its cotton production from 10 million bales to 30 million bales within a few years but that Pakistan was now lagging behind with 12 million bales to 10 million bales. He proposed that an agricultural council should be established at a national level like other organizations, i.e. Pakistan Engineering Council, and Pakistan Medical Council so that  agricultural scientists could get due recognition. He said that the HEC and the Ministry of Science and Technology will provide Rs. 466.155 million for development.

Read the full article at http://www.pabic.com.pk/12%20may,%202008%20local.html, or http://www.pakissan.com/english/news/newsDetail.php?newsid=17157

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Bayer CropScience has announced the launch of Arize Dhani, a bacterial leaf blight (BLB) disease-resistant hybrid rice variety in India. Bayer claims that, in addition to providing broad protection against BLB, the new rice hybrid can increase yield by 20 to 30 percent compared to ordinary varieties. The company now markets seven rice varieties in India.

Bacterial blight, caused by Xanthomonas oryzae, is one of the most common diseases affecting rice worldwide. Xanthomonas strains in tropical areas are more virulent than that of in temperate regions. In India, BLB affects 6-7 million hectares annually causing an estimated yield reduction of up to 60 percent. The country is the second largest rice producer after China, growing more than 128 million tons of the staple.

The press release is available at http://www.bayercropscience.com/bayer/cropscience/cscms.nsf/id/20080514_EN?open&ccm=400

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Sweet sorghum, a plant that can grow in extreme environmental conditions, could be the miracle crop that provides cheap food, animal feed and fuel, according to scientists from the India-based International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). “We consider sweet sorghum an ideal ‘smart crop’ because it produces food as well as fuel,” says ICRISAT Director General William Dar. “With proper management, smallholder farmers can improve their incomes by 20% compared to alternative crops in dry areas in India.”

Sorghum, the world’s fifth largest grain crop, is grown on more than 42 million hectares in 99 countries. ICRISAT estimates that 50 percent of the grain sorghum area could be grown with sweet sorghum. In India, sweet sorghum costs $1.74 to produce a gallon of ethanol compared to $2.12 for corn and $2.19 for sugarcane.

ICRISAT has helped build and operate the world’s first commercial bioethanol plant, using locally produced sweet sorghum as the main feedstock, in Andhra Paresh. ICRISAT and India’s National Research Centre for Sorghum (NRCS) have also developed sweet sorghum varieties to ensure a reliable and steady supply of sweet juice. They are currently developing sorghum varieties that are photoperiod and temperature insensitive. Public-private-farmer partnership projects with ICRISAT are also underway in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique and Kenya, as countries search for alternative fuels.

Read the full article at http://www.icrisat.org/Media/2008/media6.htm

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Europe

United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has given Leeds University the green light to grow transgenic potatoes in an open field. The potatoes, containing the Oc-lΔD8 gene from rice as well as the antibiotic selectable marker gene nptII, have been genetically modified to resist infection by potato cyst nematodes. The trial will take place in the University’s experimental field in Tadcaster.

The application has been evaluated by the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (ACRE). ACRE is satisfied that the field trial will not pose significant risk to human health and safety or to the environment. Reflecting ACRE’s advice, precautionary conditions have been attached to the statutory consent for the trial. The GM potatoes will not be used for food or animal feed and the soil they are grown in will be sterilized after use.

Read http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2008/080509c.htm for more information. The ACRE evaluation is available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/advice/pdf/acre_advice89.pdf

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The Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI), a worldwide effort of public sector scientists involved in research and development of biotechnology for the public good, have sent an open letter to the members of the European Commission to aid them in their orientation discussion on biotechnology. PRRI expressed deep concern about the effects of the political situation in Europe affecting genetically modified (GM) foods and crops.

The initiative noted that despite clear EU rules and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conclusions of GMOs not having adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment, EFSA opinions continue to be ignored. As a result of this situation, detrimental impacts have been felt both inside and outside the EU, particularly in the developing countries. The practice of violating the internal rules of the EU has damaged the credibility of the EU regulatory system and the goal of achieving sustainable agricultural production in Europe, said PRRI. In addition, developing countries have been deprived of producing cash crops for export to Europe.

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

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A group of German food and feed industry associations have expressed their concern about the negative implications of the European Union biotech policy particularly on agricultural supply problems in Germany. In a discussion paper, the group noted in particular the prohibition in the importation of food/feed products containing traces of unapproved biotech events in the EU. Germany will be unable to maintain competitiveness and secure supply of agricultural commodities especially in the light of new biotech events such as the second generation RR soybeans, being introduced in the U.S. and other major soybean producing countries.

Among other concerns, the association noted that the EU has established a zero-tolerance for imports of ag-products. This zero-tolerance rule is applied even if the EU approval process for this GMO has already noted that the European Food Safety Authority  (EFSA) has completed its risk assessment with a supportive evaluation report. The association called for GM agricultural commodities approval procedures to be significantly expedited while maintaining current safety standards.

For the English translation of the German discussion paper see https://outlook.irri.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001JIHKwf_ggm3oUC4nkaIXYEx8B3geuqWvDPU9Ninl4MrfBwCdR2l4
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N62ntLYFF54QR8AnCeCEem11AUkCR

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Plant Bioscience Limited, a UK based independent intellectual property (IP) management and technology transfer corporation, announced that it has entered a license agreement with a biotech company in respect to the flavodoxin technology for enhancing crop performance. The technology was developed by scientists from the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina.

Flavodoxin is a protein from cyanobacteria that provides plants with tolerance to iron starvation and abiotic stress. The protein prevents disruption of the plant photosynthetic machinery under stress conditions by acting as an alternative electron carrier. Flavodoxin has been shown to work well in numerous plant species.

Under the agreement, the undisclosed biotech company will be given exclusive commercial rights to use the technology to ten crop species, including maize, soybean, oilseed rape, cotton and rice.

Read more at http://www.pbltechnology.com/documents/Newsletters/PBL%20News%20No%2013.pdf

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Research

β-Amylase is one of the key enzymes required for complete starch hydrolysis. It is of industrial importance, particularly in the production of malt sugar and preparation of fermented foods and alcoholic beverages. The activity of β-amylase increases with the temperature up to the optimum of 60°C. Above this temperature however, enzyme denaturation becomes dominant and the conversion rate decreases. Therefore, β-amylase that retains maximum activity even at increased temperatures will be invaluable in industrial scale applications.

A group of researchers from Taiwan has developed transgenic potato lines expressing thermostable b-amylase. The scientists targeted the expression of four chimeric gene, isolated from thermophilic bacteria, in the cytoplasm, amylopast (starch-storing organelle) and vacuole. Twenty three transgenic potato lines accumulated high levels of β-amylase. In field trials however, discernible adverse effects on tuber development and formation were observed in these lines, which may be caused by alternation of metabolite composition. The researchers are currently looking for ways to minimize the effects of transgene insertion in tuber qualities.

Read the paper published by the journal Plant Science at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plantsci.2008.04.001.

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Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in developing countries and the second most prevalent cancer in women. Almost all cervical cancers result from human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Although vaccines against the virus, based on virus-like particles rather on attenuated HPV, have recently been made available, their high cost prohibits their widespread use especially in developing countries.

In search of ways that will make HPV vaccine production cheaper, scientists from Spain and France developed transgenic tobacco lines expressing the HPV protein L1. L1 is a major structural protein in the viral capsid (protein shell) that aggregates to form non-infectious virus-like particles (VLP). Since it can induce both humoral and cellular responses, VLPs are prime candidates in the production of HPV vaccines.

The viral gene coding for L1 was specifically expressed in the chloroplasts. Chloroplast transformation offers several advantages such as transgene containment, absence of gene silencing and high recombinant protein yield. High L1 expression, equivalent to 24 percent of the total soluble protein, was achieved in mature GM plants. Immunization experiments have shown that the recombinant protein and the resulting VLPs are highly immunogenic.

The article published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal is available at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2008.00338.x

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Brassinosteroids (BRs), a group of plant hormone first identified in 1973 in oilseed rape, is known to play  key roles in  numerous plant developmental processes such as fruit ripening, cell elongation and pollen tube formation. These phytohormones have also been suggested to increase the resistance of plants to a variety of stresses, including chilling and drought stress. Spraying plants with BRs have been shown to improve the plants’ response to water stress. However, it is not known whether changes in the endogenous BR levels mediate plants’ response to water deficit.

Scientists from the University of Tasmania in Australia, using peas with mutation in the BR genes, found out that the level of biologically active BRs is not significantly altered during water stress. This suggests that plants’ response to drought is not mediated by changes in the levels of BRs. The researchers also observed that absence of the BR genes does not affect the production of the plant stress hormone ABA as well as growth parameters, including water potential, leaf size and height.

The full paper published by Physiologia Plantarum is available to subscribers at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/action/showPdf?submitPDF=Full+Text+PDF+%28150+KB%29&doi=10.1111%2Fj.1399-3054.2008.01057.x

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Document Reminders

Over 80 published papers and reviews that show the benefits of using agricultural biotechnology products are now available online in a Benefits Database shared by the Crop Life International through the Biosafety Information Resource Center of the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). BCH is a an information exchange mechanism established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to assist Parties with implementing the treaty’s provisions to facilitate sharing of biotechnology information and experiences.

The database can be searched by crop type, biotech trait, country or region, or by a particular impact. All papers included have either been published in peer-reviewed journals or have been prepared by organizations that have summarized peer-reviewed studies.

Access the Biotech Benefits Database at http://www.croplife.org/ or http://croplife.intraspin.com/BioTech/indesx.asp

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