In This Issue

August 8, 2008


• The Greening of the Olympic Games 
• Community Watershed Projects to Conquer Drought 
• Agric Investments Can Help Mitigate Climate Change, Decrease Rural Poverty 

• Scientists Identify Key to Pathogen Protein Entry into Cells 
• Haitian Farmers Receive Much-Needed Seeds and Tools 
• EPA Exempts Bt Vip3Aa Protein from Tolerance Requirement 
• NY Scientists Studying Agrobacterium to Further Improve Crops 
• USDA Issues Protection Certificates to 21 New Plant Varieties 
• Biotech Carrot with More Calcium 
• DuPont, Hexima Partner to Develop Fungi Resistant Crops 

Asia and the Pacific
• Thailand Prepares National Biosafety Framework 
• Seed Association for Central Asia 
• Biofuel Development in Vietnam – A Possibility 
• New Vietnamese Website for Farmers 
• PetroVietnam Sets up Biofuel Affiliate Company 

• Climate Change Causes Aphid Population Boom 

• Bt Maize has No Effect on Plant Bug Fitness 
• Tumor Targeting Antibody from Transgenic Rice Cell Culture 
• Effector-based Identification of Late Blight Resistance Gene in Potato 
• Mimicry of Pathogen Attack to Increase Secondary Metabolite Accumulation 

• Conference on the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture 
• International Conference on Plant Virology 
• International Microbial Biotechnology Conference in Jakarta 
• African Biosafety Network Meeting 
• Egypt - 1st National BCH Workshop 

Document Reminders
• Environment Atlas from UNEP 




The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working closely with the Beijing Olympic Committee for the past three years to make the Summer Olympic Games environmentally-friendly. The Chinese government has spent billions of dollars to launch a large-scale green drive ahead of the games including a series of long-term environmental improvements for the city. Among these are the introduction of tougher standards for vehicle emissions, expanded public transport network with three new subway lines, and the introduction of the natural gas buses. In addition, the Olympic venues use 20% energy from clean wind sources, 2,000 square meters of solar power facilities, with the Bird’s Nest stadium having an advanced rainwater recycling system.

The UNEP Director Achim Steiner will visit  the Beijing Olympic Games as well as see these facilities first hand. In the second half of 2008, UNEP will produce a Post-Games Environmental Report to assess the successes and challenges of the environmental measures taken by Beijing for the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

For details, see press release at:

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Drought is already a thing of the past for some semi-arid regions of India. Through watershed technologies introduced by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), water can already be accessed for drinking and irrigating crops in the community watersheds such as in Kothapally village in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh. With the continuous water supply, the people of Kothapally were able to utilize new technologies including the introduction of improved varieties and hybrid crops, integrated pest management, and the restoration of wastelands. This resulted to significantly higher yields and greater income for the poor. Current assessment by an ICRISAT-led consortium shows that community watershed is a growth engine for the development of dryland areas recording an average benefit cost ratio of 2 with an internal ratio of 27%. This technology has also been replicated in India, China, Thailand, East and Central Africa. Dr. SP Wani, ICRISAT's principal scientist on watersheds, said, "Once we found solutions for immediate problems, the farmers became our ambassadors for implementing these interventions."

For details see the press release at the ICRISAT website:

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Investing in agricultural development can help mitigate climate change while decreasing rural poverty and vulnerability in Africa, wrote Chris Funk and colleagues in their paper published by the Proc. National Academy of Sciences (USA). The group composed of researchers from the University of Massachusetts, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and US Geological Survey analyzed the effects of increasing water temperatures in the Indian Ocean to African agriculture. They reported that results from their study indicate that the increases in ocean temperature translated to about 15% decline in continental rainfall.

This decline affects most eastern and southern Africa regions specially those areas dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The researchers contend that the trend might create drought and social disruption in the region, considered to have some of the world's most fragile food economies. Funk and colleagues reported that their results support those of previous studies indicating that semi-arid Africa may experience large-scale water stress and yield reductions and may result to 50% increase in undernourished people in less than 30 years time. They reviewed that only 4% of African public spending goes to agriculture.

The research paper is freely available at

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Oomycetes are fungal-like organisms that cause billions of dollars of losses to agriculture, forestry and natural ecosystems every year. The oomycete Phytophthora causes the potato late blight, soybean root rot, sudden oak death and chestnut ink disease. Phytium, another oomycete genus, is a common problem in fields and greenhouses, where it kills newly emerged seedlings. Scientists from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) in the U.S. have recently identified the region of a large family of virulence proteins in oocmycetes that enables the proteins to enter the cells of their hosts.

The protein region contains the amino acid sequence motifs RXLR and dEER and has the ability to carry the virulence proteins across the membrane surrounding plant cells without any additional machinery from the pathogen. Once inside the cell, the virulence proteins suppress the process of programmed cell death, which is important in plant immunity. In addition, the scientists found out that oomycete virulence proteins and the malarial parasite Plasmodium employ the same entry mechanism. The findings could lead to the development of novel strategies to prevent oomycete infection of plants.

Read the complete article at The paper published by the journal Plant Cell is available to subscribers at

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started distributing US $4 million worth of seeds and tools to thousands of farmers in Haiti. FAO says that it will provide some 600 tons of bean, maize and sorghum seeds as well as hoes and machetes to 70,000 families to help them cope with the rising cost of food, fuel and fertilizer. Haiti, already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was particularly hard hit by the global rise in food prices, which led to deadly riots in April. FAO says that more than half of the population in the country lives on less than US$1 per day.

If more funds become available, FAO plans to extend the distribution for the next two planting seasons, in October/November 2008 and February/March 2009, which would aid another 400,000 families.

For more information, read

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the exemption of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Vip3Aa proteins from the tolerance requirement for transgenic protein residues. Under the regulation, there will be no more need to establish a maximum permissible level of the BT protein when used as a plant incorporated protectant in corn and cotton. Based on rigorous scientific tests, EPA concluded that the Bt proteins are unlikely to endanger human and animal health or the environment.

The regulation is effective August 6, 2008. Objections and requests for hearings must be received on or before October 6, 2008. For more information, read

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Vitaly Citovsky and colleagues at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA are investigating the basic biological principles behind the action of Agrobacterium, an important vehicle in genetic engineering. Information about how bacteria transfer genetic material into the plant genome can lead to crop plants with improved resistance to pests and diseases.

Using Agrobacterium, some proteins essential for the transformation process were discovered. Citovsky said that the proteins may facilitate genetic manipulation of crops that are currently difficult to transform. This knowledge is also critical for production of agronomically important plants resistant to Agrobacterium. The US Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service is funding this research project through the National Research Initiative's Developmental Processes of Crop Plants program.

Additional information at

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Twenty one new varieties of seed-reproduced and tuber-propagated plants such as bean, bluegrass, corn, soybean, and wheat, have been issued certificates of protection by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Plant Variety Protection Act. During the duration of protection, the owners will have exclusive right to reproduce, sell, import and export their products in the U.S. The certificates are being issued under the Plant Variety Protection Act. The certificates require that the varieties be new, distinct, uniform and stable.

For more information go to

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The latest genetically engineered crop is a carrot that provides more calcium. Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the modified carrot, a gene was changed to allow calcium to move more freely across the carrot’s cell membranes.

Calcium absorption through urine tests showed that participants absorbed 41 percent more calcium from the genetically modified carrot than from the natural variety. This amounts to a calcium content of between 27 and 29 milligrams per 100 grams (four ounces) of modified carrots. However, carrots alone cannot provide the recommended amount of calcium per day of 1,000 milligrams.

See for additional information.

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DuPont announced that it has entered an agreement with Australia-based Company Hexima Limited to develop and commercialize fungal disease resistance technology in corn, soybeans and other crops. A press release says that the companies will combine certain intellectual property and anti-fungal protein assets to accelerate the development of  biotech crops. Hexima will lead the initial research stage and crop validation, and DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred will conduct late development stage.  In addition, Pioneer will lead the commercialization in corn and soybeans, whereas Hexima will manage all other crops.

Read the press release at

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Asia and the Pacific

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) report, Thailand is in the process of developing a National Biosafety Framework. The Thai Cabinet approved a draft National Biosafety Act in principle in January 2008. The draft law was then forwarded to the Office of the Council of State for legal review in April 2008. The review is expected to conclude in early 2009.

Thailand revoked the ban on biotech field trials in December 2007. However, the report says that government and private stakeholders still consider the new requirements too restrictive.

Download the report at

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A Regional Seed Association, covering the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) region of Central Asia, has just been formed to provide improved seeds and plant genetic resources suited to farmers’ local needs. In addition, the association promotes technology transfer, serves as a forum for regular consultations on seeds and plant genetic resources, and contributes to seed trade regulation.

The ECO member countries are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The Association, to be based in Ankara, Turkey, is an effort of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

View for the full report.

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The government approval in November 2007 of the biofuel development project sets the country to produce around 250,000 tonnes of ethanol and vegetable oil to meet the demand for 1% biofuel mix in 2015. Speaking at the seminar on biofuel development, Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development Director Nguyen Kim Son reiterated the country’s challenge to produce renewable energies in the face of high crude oil prices and the exhaustion of its sources, and the short supply of traditional energy such as electricity, water, coal and nuclear energies.

Vietnam boasts huge potential for bio-fuel development as it has many material plants such as sugarcane, cassava, jatropha, castor-oil trees seaweed, and by-products such as rubber seed, fish fat, used oil and lubricants. However, many participants voiced concern about Vietnam’s food security problems, dwindling agricultural lands and importation of other food crops such as corn. It is thus imperative that a strategy be worked out to develop biofuel with low costs and without negative impacts on the food supply and the environment. A large subsidy from the government is also needed to boost biofuel development in the country.

For details of the seminar see press release at: Contact Hien Le of the Vietnam Biotechnology Information Center for biotechnology updates in Vietnam at:

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A website on “Vietnam Rice Knowledge Bank” has been established to cater to the needs of  Vietnamese rice farmers. The website accessible at boasts of major themes such as rice production, rice biology, farming techniques, irrigation, nutrition management, epidemics control, harvest and post-harvest technology, seedling nursery technology and rice products.

The new website was developed with technical help from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). This is part of IRRI's agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to transfer farming technology, provide expertise and train farmers. Funds for the website were obtained from the Japanese Government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The website was prepared in simple language and format, enabling farmers to learn about rice farming directly from the site. “The new website is expected to provide broader and deeper knowledge for farmers,” said the Ministry of Agriculture Research and Development Minister Dao Xuan Hoc.

For more information,visit: Contact Hien Le of the Vietnam Biotechnology Information Center for more updates on biotechnology in Vietnam at

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Four subsidiaries of the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) have decided to establish a company to produce and distribute biofuels. Located in Binh Son district of central Quang Ngai province, the PetroVietnam Biofuel Joint Stock Company has a charter capital of 45 billion VND (roughly 2.7 million USD). The company will produce ethanol from cassava, which is mixed  with gasoline to help the country reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate environmental pollution. The PetroVietnam General Services Joint Stock Corporation (Petrosetco) will contribute the largest part of the capital at 51 percent, while the PetroVietnam Oil Corporation will hold 29 percent; the Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical Co. Ltd., 15 percent; and the PetroVietnam Finance Joint Stock Corporation (PVFC), 5 percent.

For more information, access: Contact Hien Le of the Vietnam Biotechnology Information Center for more updates on biotechnology in Vietnam at

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Aphid populations are exploding because of warmer winters, according to scientists from Rothamsted Research. The scientists have been monitoring the flying form of all aphid species in the United Kingdom for 42 years. This year, the first aphid was caught almost four weeks ahead of the 42-year average. The peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae), one of UK’s most damaging aphids, has been found to be flying two weeks earlier for every 1°C rise in the average temperature.

Richard Harrington and his colleagues at Rothamsted Insect Survey said that one of the most noticeable consequences of climate change in the UK is the frequency of mild winters. As a result, aphids seeking new sources of food are appearing significantly earlier in the year and in significantly higher numbers. This is bad news for farmers, since crops are particularly more vulnerable to damage in spring and early summer.

For more information, visit

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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. Scientists from the Aachen University and University of Göttingen in Germany investigated the effect of the Bt-corn line Mon88017 on plant bugs, specifically the rice leaf bug (Trigonotylus caelestialium), as non-target organisms. The Cry3Bb1-expressing Bt-corn variety is resistant to the western corn rootworm, one of the most devastating crop pests in Europe.

Results of ELISA tests indicated that rice leaf bugs in Bt-corn plots ingested Cry3Bb1 at all stages of their life. Nymphs contained on average 8 ng (nanograms) Cry3Bb1. Adult insects, on the other hand, showed varying amounts of Cry3Bb1, ranging from a few to over 60 ng. Despite this exposure there were no indications of a negative impact of the Bt-corn and the potential stressor Cry3Bb1 on the rice leaf bug. The field densities of the rice leaf bug were always similar in MON88017, the near-isogenic line and conventional maize varieties.

The paper published by Transgenic Research is available at Non subscribers can read the abstract at

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The use of monoclonal antibodies is a promising treatment approach for a number of cancer types.  This approach involves the development of specific antibodies directed against antigens present in the surface of tumor cells. Plants are potentially the most economical system available for the large-scale production of monoclonal antibodies. Plant cells are inexpensive to grow and maintain. In addition, plants can carry out many of the posttranslational modifications that occur in human cells.

A group of scientists from Chonbuk University in Korea developed a method for large-scale production of anti-TAG 72 humanized antibody fragments using a transgenic rice cell suspension culture system. Tumor associated glycoprotein 72 (TAG 72) is expressed in the majority of human adenocarcinomas occurring within the colon, ovary, pancreas, breast, and lung. High antibody expression, equivalent to 30 mg/l or about 2% of the total secreted protein, was achieved using the system. The recombinant antibody was found to bind specifically to human colon adenocarcinoma cells with TAG 72, and this binding occurred at the same extent as was seen with animal-derived antibody.

 Read the paper published by Plant Molecular Biology at or

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Scientists from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the John Innes Centre in the UK and Ohio State University in the USA, have developed a new approach to identify genes that can make potato resistant to Phytophthora infestans. Since the pathogen first ravaged the potato, an event epitomized by the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, it has been a permanent threat, and has repeatedly led to disastrous crop damage and high production costs.

When Phytophthora infects potato, a set of pathogen avirulence genes produce effector proteins that modulate host innate immunity and enable parasitic infection. The scientists demonstrated that by monitoring these effector proteins, the discovery and isolation of pita disease-resistance genes can be accelerated at an unprecedented rate.

In the study, the scientists tested a set of 54 effectors found in a large set of wild potato species. An effector protein, known as IPiO, was found to be directly correlated with blight resistance in three wild species. A positive response against IPiO always occurred in plants that had the resistance gene (Rpi-blb1, Rpi-pta1).

For more information, read The open access article published in PLoS ONE is available at

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Plant secondary metabolites are the source of many pharmaceuticals, flavorings and aromas. These compounds are produced in response to pathogen attack and environmental stress. Secondary metabolites, however, are normally produced by plants in small amounts. A group of scientists from University of Calcutta in India developed transgenic Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera) and wild morning glory (Convolvulus sepium) accumulating increased secondary metabolites such as calystegines and certain flavonoids. The medicinal plants were engineered to express a gene encoding cryptogein, a fungal elicitor protein. Chemical inducers of the pathogen defense response, such as jasmonic acid, salicylate and killed fungi, were also used to increase metabolite and biomass production in transformed cell cultures. Natural transformation with genes coding for microbial elicitors could be a novel approach in developing pathogen resistant plants.

The complete paper is available at

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The Association of Applied Plant Biologists will be conducting a conference “Effects of Climate Change on Plants: Implications for Agriculture” on 12-13 November 2008 at the Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, United Kingdom. The aim of this conference is to provide a forum to discuss how global environmental change is likely to affect the many facets of crop production and protection. 

For further details visit

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The Association of Applied Biologists is organizing an International Conference on Plant Virology to be held at the Harrogate International Center, United Kingdom on 1-3 April 2009. The program for this conference will be open to any topics or areas within basic or applied plant virology. It will consist of presentations by invited speakers as well as offered papers by conference delegates. It hopes to serve as a forum to discuss the future of plant virology around the world.

For more information, visit

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The Atma Jaya Indonesia Catholic University in collaboration with the American Society for Microbiology will hold an “International Microbial Biotechnology Conference and Workshop on Metagenome” on 11-13 November 2008 in Jakarta. The conference topics will cover microbial diversity for energy and biomass production; opportunity and challenges in Microbe-Macrobe (Mic-Mac) interactions; novel approaches employing microbes to mitigate global climate changes, enzymes derived from microbes for biomedical and agro-biotechnology; and trends in biotechnology to control and prevent microbial pathogens. The workshop aims to introduce advances in molecular biology techniques to assess microbial biodiversity, such as DGGE, SSCP, T-RFLP, ARDRA, RNA-based microbial community analysis, FISH, and DNA Microarrays. Participants will include university students and lecturers, professionals from government research institutions, private sectors and non-government organizations.

 The participants are invited to submit a short paper for poster presentation by email to before 20 September 2008. The author of the accepted paper will be notified by 30 September 2008.

For further information and registration, visit or email

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The African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) Regional Stakeholders’ Meeting will be held August 28-29, 2008 at the Palm Beach Hotel, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This is a follow-up on the activities under Phase I of ABNE and following the countries consultation on regulatory needs and gaps. Among the expected outcomes of this meeting are to: validate the inputs on needs and gaps obtained during the countries consultative processes; discuss and agree on the operationalization of ABNE; and share information on biosafety from countries that have functional biosafety frameworks.

For additional information, email Professor Diran Makinde, Director Director, West Africa Biosciences Network (WABNet) NEPAD Biosciences Initiative, at

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The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency in collaboration with UNEP-GEF will organize the first national workshop on Biosafety Clearing House entitled "Introduction to the CPB & BCH:  Obligations & Operations" coordinated by Dr. Ossama Abdel-Kawy, Egypt BCH project coordinator. The workshop will be held on 25 August 2008, at Sofitel, El Maadi, Cairo with participation from Prof. Moustafa Fouda, Head of Nature Conservation Sector &  Egypt CBD National Focal Point and Prof. Ossama El-Tayeb, Egypt CPB National Focal Point.

The workshop will focus on the CPB and the BCH as an information exchange mechanism established by the CPB to assist Parties to implement its provisions and to facilitate sharing of information on, and experience with, LMOs. Representatives from national concerned authorities, universities and NGOs are invited to the workshop and expected to discuss for one day the position of Egypt BCH and its integration within Egypt governmental institutions and non governmental organizations.

For more information, write to Dr. Ossama Abdel-Kawy at This announcement can be viewed at:

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Document Reminders

Obtain a free CD on “Africa – Atlas of Our Changing Environment”, available in both English and French. The publication developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights stories of environmental change at 104 locations across Africa. It contains satellite images, ground photographs and maps along with information graphs and charts. A copy may be obtained from UNEP's Arshia Chander at  It can also be downloaded from recently released atlases in the series include: One Planet, Many People: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, and Africa’s Lakes: Atlas of Our Changing Environment..

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