Amidst concerns of global food shortage,  the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) and the  University of Washington (UW) are teaming up for a project that may pave the way for the development of hardier rice varieties that would produce more nutritious grains. Through its World Community Grid, IBM will tap unused computing power from more than one million personal computers to run a three-dimensional modeling software developed by UW scientists to study rice proteins. Knowledge of the proteins’ 3D structure will be essential in pinpointing which ones could provide protection against pests and diseases and help rice produce more grains. The project’s end product will be a comprehensive map of the 30,000 to 60,000 rice proteins and their functions.

"This project could ultimately help farmers around the world plant better crops and stave off hunger for some," said Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation. The grid has an estimated processing power of 167 teraflops, equivalent to one of the top three supercomputers in the world. With access to the Grid, researchers could generate results in less than two years, instead of the 200 years that would be required to complete the mammoth task.

Read more at To donate unused computer time, download the software from

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Food Outlook, a publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says that high food prices have hit many poor countries that are now spending a substantial portion of their income on food. FAO calls this “a worrying development,” and that by the end of 2008, food costs in these countries will have increased four times as 2000 figures. Ironically, FAO’s latest forecast for world cereal in 2008 is a record output, up to 3.8 percent from 2007. Tight markets are expected to lead to continued price volatility during the season.

“Food is no longer the cheap commodity that it once was. Rising food prices are bound to worsen the already unacceptable level of food deprivation suffered by 854 million people,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem . “We are facing the risk that the number of hungry will increase by many more millions of people.”

View FAO's press release at

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Synthetic Genomics Inc. and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology (ACGT) announced that they have completed the first draft assembly and annotation of the oil palm genome. They have also made progress in sequencing and analyzing the jatropha genome. Synthetic Genomics is a California-based company dedicated to developing and commercializing genomic-driven solutions to address global energy and environmental challenges, while ACGT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Asiatic Development Berhad, an oil palm plantation company in Malaysia. Once the sequencing and analysis of the oil palm genome is completed, this will become the reference genome.

Both companies are also conducting an in-depth genomic, physiological and biochemical analysis of jatropha, a robust oil seed crop whose oil is suitable for conversion into cleaner, renewable fuels. Jatropha is an attractive biofuels source as it readily grows on marginal lands and is not used for food.

Visit for details of the press release.

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Participants at the fourth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, held in Bonn, Germany agreed on legal binding rules for liability and redress for potential damage caused by the movements of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a timetable and a framework for negotiating the rules and procedures were arrived at. These rules will be discussed in the next meeting of the parties to the protocol in October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.

Read the full article at

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The President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Léo Mérorès calls for action within the international community to turn a threatening situation in food into an agricultural renaissance as he concluded the special meeting on the global food crisis, held at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York. He pointed out that agriculture has to be put back in the center of the development agenda in order to solve the food crisis. He emphasized the necessity to meet the needs of man through longer-term increased agricultural production.

Moreover, Ambassador Mérorès highlighted the need to make efforts concerning the environment by minimizing greenhouse emissions, deforestation and global warming. He also saw the potential of agro-science and technology in reducing production cost and increasing productivity and output for every hectare of arable land. Furthermore, he challenged the international community to find ways to promote investments in agriculture.

To read complete story, see . The press release of the UN Economic and Social Council is available at

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Countries should avoid planting biofuel crops that stand a high risk of becoming invasive species, according to a report released by the Kenya-based Global Invasive Species Program (GISP). GISP has identified the crops currently being used or considered for biofuel production and ranked them according to the risk they pose of becoming invasive species. Plant species being cultivated that are already known to be invasive include service berry, neem, bread fruit, false flax, coconut, giant reed, African oil palm, poplars, switchgrass, mesquite and Johnson grass. 

Introduction of alien species that could become invasive may result in diminished livelihoods and reduced development. According to GISP, considering the reliance on biodiversity of millions of people, monitoring and contingency planning should be mandatory for the support of projects to grow biofuels en masse.

Read the report at

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Banana is a staple crop in Uganda. The Uganda National Agricultural Research Organization has implemented conventional and biotechnology programs to improve bananas and address the crop's most important pest and disease problems. A major thrust is the development of genetically modified (GM) bananas. A paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) examines the potential social welfare impacts of adopting GM banana in the country.

Results of MISTICs estimation (maximum incremental social tolerable irreversible costs) indicate that in delaying the approval of a GM banana, Uganda foregoes potential annual benefits ranging approximately from US$179 million to US$365 million. Although GM bananas promise vast benefits, realization of those benefits, however, depends on consumers' perceptions and attitudes and the willingness to pay for the GM technology.

The report is available at

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The gargantuan size of the wheat genome, including its complex composition, has been a considerable challenge for scientists sleuthing the structure and function of cereal-crop genes. To aid in the discovery of the wheat’s mostly unfamiliar genes, scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed GrainGenes, a website that provides some of the newest research information in wheat, barley, oats and rye.

“With GrainGenes,” says Olin D. Anderson, Head of ARS Genomics and Gene Discovery Research Unit, “researchers can avoid accidentally repeating experiments that others in the United States or abroad have already conducted.” Aside from information on structure and function of wheat genes, GrainGenes also offers maps of chromosome regions where genes controlling traits of interest are located, and details about the pedigree and performance of 32,000 kinds of commercial wheat, rye, and triticale. Since users can share their data, the site hastens the free exchange of information. Bibliographic references to pertinent scientific papers and reports, as well as names and addresses of more than 2,000 scientists worldwide who are conducting small-grains research are also available in the website.

Visit GrainGenes at For more information, read

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Herbicides registered for use in sweet corn kill unwanted plants while leaving the crops unharmed, thanks to protective enzymes in corn that rapidly degrade the chemicals. This is not the case, however, for several sweet corn hybrids that harbor a genetic defect that impedes the action of the protective enzymes. The defect causes herbicides to remain in the hybrids, resulting to plants with stunted growth or poor yield.

Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Illinois have identified the cause of herbicide sensitivity in hybrid corns. They found out that a defect in the cytochrome P450 gene, or a very closely linked gene, results in damage to plants from five distinct herbicide classes. The cytochrome P450 gene also regulates the metabolism of the herbicides nicosulfuron and bentazon. Evaluations of sweet corn hybrids and inbred lines revealed that the faulty gene is widespread in both processing and fresh-market types of sweet corn grown throughout North America. With the defect identified, it is now possible to eliminate herbicide-sensitivity from the germplasm by selective breeding.

For more information read

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A red alert is set in Indiana to be wary of emerald ash borer, the cause of 25 million ash trees killed in the United States. The pest was believed to have arrived in the country in the early 1990s via wooden shipping crates from Asia. Since its discovery in Detroit in 2002, many states have doubled their efforts in eradicating the pest. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels declared the week May 18-24 Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Awareness Week, in an effort to reinforce the dangers of firewood movement by unsuspecting citizens. Dr. Jodie Ellis, a Purdue University entomologist, believes that firewood movement is by far the biggest problem in slowing the spread of EAB in Indiana.

Purdue University partners with the Indiana state parks and properties, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service in attempts to spread the quarantine message to all citizens. In addition, a federal quarantine has been put in effect for movement of regulated ash products from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.

Further quarantine information and maps are available online at For additional information, see press release at:

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Asia and the Pacific

Pakistan’s National Biosafety Committee (NBC)granted approval to Monsanto to import 13 biotech cotton seed varieties from India. About 200 gm each of the Bt cotton variety will be tested in different cotton growing areas during the current cotton season. The limited field trials will follow the concept of "Refugia and Buffer Zone" for growing genetically modified (GM) crops under Pakistan's biosafety rules and National Biosafety Guidelines. NBC will control and monitor the whole process from the importation of the seeds to field testing.

Earlier, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MinFAL) and Monsanto signed a letter of intent (LOL) to expand cotton production in Pakistan by introducing Monsanto-derived insect protection technology.

Email Ijaz Ahmad Rao at for more information about this news.

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India's apex biotech regulatory body, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), has approved the commercial release of an indigenous cotton variety called Bikaneri Narma (BN) Bt expressing Bt Cry 1Ac protein in the North, Central and South Cotton Growing Zones in India. This Bt cotton variety is the first public sector genetically modified (GM) crop in India developed by the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), with the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharward, Karnataka. While reviewing its earlier decision directing the CICR to conduct large scale trials (LST) of Bt BN variety in North Zone, the committee decided to approve the commercial cultivation of Bt BN variety because the farmers can save the seeds for planting the following season if it was allowed for LST. The Crop Biotech Update published GEAC's earlier decision to approve the LST of publicly-bred Bt BN variety at

Interestingly, farmers in India have planted 131 different Bt cotton hybrids over 6.2 million hectares in 2007 with the first Bt cotton hybrids approved in 2002. In 2008, the GEAC also released an additional 31 new Bt cotton hybrids for North Zone, 45 new Bt cotton hybrids for Central Zone and 18 new Bt cotton hybrids for South Zone which are derivatives of four different events, to be cultivated along with other approved Bt cotton hybrids.

For more information download Contact for news on biotech developments in India.

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The National Bioresource Development Board (NBDB) of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in collaboration with the National Geographic Channel envisaged to set up the DBT Natural Resources Awareness Clubs called “DNA Clubs” in selected schools in each state across India. These clubs aim to create better awareness in issues concerning biodiversity and bioresources among school students. These clubs would concentrate on hands-on training for children, quiz competitions, film shows, lectures by eminent experts, field visits to national institutes engaged in biotechnology research, and organized nature walks. Given the vastness of  the country and large number of schools in targeted cities, the Regional Resource Agencies (RRAs) have been established at different locations in the country to facilitate this activity. A major objective of this program is to bring fun, interactive classroom films and  viewing exercises for the children in order to spread and diffuse knowledge about bioresources.

For more information visit . Contact for biotech developments in India. 

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Genetic transformation has become a very effective tool in improving crops by incorporating genes for better agronomic characteristics, resistance to pests and diseases, and increased nutritional and food quality. This technology can also be advantageously used in improving fruit trees since a specific advantageous trait may be added to a given cultivar or rootstock genome while avoiding burdens of sexual recombination and involvement of deleterious characteristics. Genetic transformation of citrus genotypes has been difficult due to low-efficiencies and presence of non-transformable varieties.  

A successful genetic transformation process involves the stable integration of foreign DNA into the host genome and the subsequent regeneration of whole plants from the transformed cells. A research team from Udayana University and Gajah Mada University in Indonesia attempted to genetically transform citrus through Agrobacterium tumefaciens.  Internodal stem segments from citrus seedlings were cultured and inoculated with Agrobacterium tumefaciens harboring binary Ti plasmid vector that contained the genes for detectable marker ß-glucuronidase (GUS) and the selectable marker NptII. Results showed that shoots can be regenerated in media with 100 μg/ml kanamycin, and about 10 % of them contain the gusA gene. Some of the GUS+shoots were confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis.

For more information on the research,  email: or contact Dewi Suryani of IndoBIC at

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The cassava processing industry in Indonesia is a very profitable business. Aside from the major starch product,  the by-products can be used to manufacture other useful products. PT Budi Acid Jaya Tbk (BUDI) is one of the companies focusing on the production of cassava or tapioca starch in Indonesia. To take advantage of tapioca's by-product called 'onggok', the company uses it to produce higher value-added product such as citric acid.

With the country’s focus on biofuels, the company has planned to build a cassava-based bioethanol manufacturing plant with a capacity of 75,000 kilo liters. The plant costing US$43 million will be located in Lampung, Indonesia. Deputy President Director of BUDI, Sudarmo Tasmin, said that the development plan was a response to the promising prospect of renewable energy business and the soaring oil price which now exceeds more than US$ 100 per barel. The establishment of the plant is being conducted in collaboration with a Japanese company, to which 50% of the produced bioethanol will be sold.

For details see or for more information about the company; and Dewi Suryani at for information on biotechnology in Indonesia 

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The Asia-Pacific region spent $9.6 billion on agricultural research and development (R&D) with China, Japan, and India accounting for about 70% of the total expenditures. Smaller countries like Malaysia and Vietnam invested substantially on R&D but Pakistan, Indonesia, and Laos “proved sluggish”. This was forwarded by a research brief prepared by Nienke Beintema and Gert-Jan Stads of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The IFPRI brief noted that national governments still fund the bulk of Asian agricultural R&D but that new sources of funding such as competitive funding mechanisms are emerging. The private sector has also taken a greater role in research. Sustainable financial and political support for agricultural R&D is crucial if the challenges of economic and social development in the region are to be met, the authors conclude.

Download a copy of the Brief at

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Notifications on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified (GM) plants for non-commercial use in Spain have been posted online. For the month of May, these include:

  • MON 88017 maize, Monsanto’s glyphosate tolerant and rootworm resistant line;
  • Derivatives of Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant maize NK603 (NK603xMON 810, NK603xMON 89034) and several maize lines tolerant to the herbicides glyphosate and glufosinate as well as resistant to some coleopteran and lepidopteran pests by Pioneer Hi-Bred (DAS-Ø15Ø7-1, DAS-59122-7, etc);
  • Transgenic orange lines overexpressing a limonene synthase gene, for insect resistance, and developed by Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias;
  • Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant sugarbeet H7-1 for use in field trials

See the notifications at, a website managed by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission on behalf of the Directorate General for the Environment.

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Switzerland plans to prolong the moratorium on growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for three more years, or until the outcome of a National Research Program (NRP59) on the benefits and risks of GM plants is obtained. The program, established after the adoption of the current moratorium in 2005, is expected to yield results by mid 2012. The ban on the market placement of GM animals and cultivation of transgenic plants will expire, unless further action is taken, in November 2010.

According to the article published by GMO Compass, since the Swiss government has been doubtful on the use of biotech crops from the start, only on the basis of the results of NRP59 would it be possible to institute new regulations for the growing of GM crops in the country. The government sees no reason to lift the ban at all, “since it has caused no problems in agriculture, in research or in international relations”.

The complete article is available at

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Knowledge on how development relates to plants’ response to the environment will be necessary for predicting changes in species distribution and crop improvement, especially in the face of climate change. However, not much is known about the interplay of these important factors. A paper published by Science shed new light on the subtleties of plant stress response. Scientists from Duke University and University of Michigan characterized the transcriptional response to high salinity and iron deficiency of different cell layers and developmental stages of the Arabidopsis root. They found out that a large proportion of the genes are regulated in a cell-specific manner, which suggests that cell type-specific processes are common targets for stress regulation. The transcriptional state of a cell is largely a reaction to environmental conditions that are regulated by a smaller core set of genes that stably determines cell identity.

 Read the complete paper at A perspective article summarizing the results of the experiment and its implications is available at

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Vijesh Krishna and Matin Qaim have concluded that the Bt eggplant technology can reduce insecticide applications and pest-related yield losses, thus increasing the productivity of eggplant production in India. The results of their study published in the journal Agricultural Economics used data from Bt eggplant multilocation field trials, as well as survey data from 360 eggplant farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal. The three Indian states together account for almost half of the total eggplant production in the country.

The researchers stated that the aggregate economic surplus gains of Bt eggplant hybrids could be around Rs. 4.9 billion (US$108 million) per year. About half of the overall gains will be captured by consumers through a projected decrease in eggplant prices. In addition, they have calculated that eggplant farmers will benefit from the Bt eggplant technology on expected health cost savings which are worth around Rs. 135–184 million (US$3–4 million) per year.

The paper is available to journal subscribers at

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Scientists from the US based company Metabolix Inc. have developed transgenic switchgrass accumulating high levels of the polymer polyhydroxybuterate (PHB). PHB, usually produced by microorganisms during stress conditions, has attracted attention because it has properties similar to the thermoplastic polymer polypropylene. Unlike polypropylene, PHB is biodegradable. Biodegradable plastics can significantly reduce petroleum consumption and may prove to be beneficial for the environment. The high cost of PHB production compared to plastics produced from petrochemicals, however, limits its widespread commercial use.

PHB production was monitored in more than 400 switchgrass transformants grown under in vitro and glasshouse conditions. The GM switchgrass accumulated as much as 3.72% dry weight of the polymer in leaf tissues and 1.23% dry weight of PHB in whole tillers. The study presents the first successful expression of a functional multigenic pathway in switchgrass.

The abstract of the article published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal is available at

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The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) network of  Biotechnology Information Centers(BICs) has again added another feather to its cap by the addition of a biotech information group from Japan. In collaboration with the president of the Hokkaido Bio-industry Association (HOBIA), Professor Dr. Fusao Tomita, the Nippon Biotechnology Information Center (NPBIC) was established late April 2008. 

 Japan is currently reviewing its technology enabling policies and procedures to take full advantage of the benefits of biotechnology while providing for its safe use in accordance with its national development goals and international obligations. Information on the global adoption rates, socio-economic and environmental impacts of biotech crops, and experiences of other countries produced and documented by ISAAA could be of immense value if translated into Japanese and made available for distribution within Japan. On the other hand, the outside world can also benefit from knowing about the biotech activities and developments in Japan.

The knowledge sharing collaboration involves the monthly translation of the Crop Biotech Update (CBU) into Japanese, the contribution of Japanese crop-biotechnology related articles to the CBU, and the submission of a mailing list to ISAAA.  The first Japanese translated CBU can be viewed at the ISAAA/ KC website at .

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The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) 2008 will be held in Cork, Ireland on August 24-27. The theme is "Agricultural Biotechnology for a competitive and sustainable future" and the conference will provide a venue for in depth discussion of how agri-biotechnology can influence the sustainability of global agriculture while maintaining competitiveness. The primary sponsor of the event is the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. For more information and to register  visit

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The first All Africa Congress on Biotechnology will be held in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22-28, 2008. The theme of the Congress will be Harnessing the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology for Food Security and Socio-Economic Development in Africa’. During the event, participants will have an opportunity to listen to experiences of other countries about modern agricultural biotechnology and its applications in their economic transformation processes. Among the topics that will be discussed include: biotechnology concepts, applications in plants and animals, intellectual property rights and biosafety risk assessment. The deadline for submission of papers is on June 30, 2008. For more information and to register:

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Document Reminders

The Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), a program of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), with funding support of FAO has released a publication entitled “Micropropagation for Quality Seed Production in Sugarcane in Asia and the Pacific”. The report gives a step-by-step protocol for the production of disease-free planting material in sugarcane using meristem tip culture method. Field multiplication of in vitro raised plantlets aimed at reducing the farmer-level cost of seedlings is also detailed. Success stories of sugarcane micropropagation for seed production in India, Australia and the Philippines are recounted. The publication is available online at

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