In This Issue

September 12, 2012

Latest Communication Products

ISAAA Brief 48-2014
This brief shows how modern biotechnology has transformed farming into a profession that harvests agronomic and socio-cultural benefits beyond promise.
Straight from the Scientists: Biotech Experts' Perspectives and Experiences in Informing the Public
This monograph highlights the study on how academics and scientists play their role in biotech communication.
Pocket K no 48: Bt Eggplant
Pocket K on Bt Eggplant features the technology behind the biotech crop and status of Bt eggplant adoption and experimentation including potential benefits in Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines.
Biotechnology in Ornamental Plants
This new Pocket K, Biotechnology in Ornamental Plants, includes the different types of ornamental plants, the different uses of biotechnology in ornamental horticulture, and the major genetically modified ornamentals.
Brief 47: The Status of Commercialized Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh
ISAAA Brief 47 is a comprehensive report on the status of commercialized Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. Brief 47 presents a thorough review and analysis of the deregulation of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh – from the scientific and biosafety assessment and commercial release to the planting of Bt brinjal by farmers in Bangladesh.

News

Global

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) jointly released a statement on the current situation of the international food prices. The statement particularly tackled the root of high food prices and hunger.

According to the report, the increase in international food price may be attributed to climate change, as droughts in some parts of the world have impaired global grain production virtually every other year since 2007, while major floods have also caused severe damage to crops. The priority shift of some crop productions from food stock to non-food purposes and increased financial speculation also affect the food price levels and volatility, the report says.

The Rome-based organizations, however, assure that the current situation on international food prices is under control and there will be no repeat this time of the 2007-2008 incident when the global food prices have reached their all time high.

To access the joint statement, visit https://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/tackling-root-causes-high-food-prices-and-hunger or http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/155472/icode/.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Food Price Index, a measure of the monthly change in international prices of the world food commodities, remains unchanged for the month of August. The FAO Food Price Index has surged by up to 6 percent in July after three months of decline.

The Food Price Index for the said month revealed that the prices of cereals and oils and fats had barely changed but the costs of sugar fell sharply, compensating for rising meat and dairy prices. FAO further remarked that although still high, the Food Price Index for August, 2012 currently stands 25 points below its peak of 238 points in February 2011 and 18 points below its August 2011 level.

See FAO's news release at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/155659/icode/.

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Africa

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has done an extensive survey of farmers in East Africa on how farmers cope with climate variability in order to keep agricultural sustainability. The study aims to understand what kind of changes are possible in the future, and what compels farmers to make these changes, in order to deal with climate change.

The study revealed that many smallholders have started to adopt climate-resilient farming approaches and technologies. Among these are strategies to improve crop production such as planting improved seed varieties, practicing agroforestry and intercropping, and better livestock management. The study found out however that many farming approaches--the kind that would actually transform the way smallholders farm, have yet to be adopted.

For more information, visit http://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/bit-bit-east-african-smallholder-farmers-adapting-climate-change.

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Zimbabwe industry and farmers have urged government to adopt genetically modified organisms (GMOs) production to ensure food security in the wake of ravaging drought in the country. The Confederations of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) and Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) said Zimbabwe should do away with a GMO ban to attain food security.

"We will continue pushing for the embracing of GMO's production using GMO technology for exports to be a starting point.We are to organize a seminar on agro-manufacturing that will focus on increasing grain reserves coverage in a bid to improve agricultural production locally," said CZI in the statement.

The ZFU information officer, Tinashe Kairiza weighed in saying Zimbabwe stands to benefit more by adopting GMO production. "At the moment, we as a union are lobbying for any research that justifies the adoption of GMOs. Other countries have boosted their yields by adopting GMOs. For example, Burkina Faso is now producing genetically modified cotton and that has boosted yields," Kaizira added.

Humanitarian organizations have said at least a quarter of the country's population is in urgent need of food aid between now and the next harvest in April or they will starve. Zimbabweans have virtually survived on food handouts from international relief agencies after the government disrupted the key agriculture sector through his land reforms six years ago.

To read the full article, go to http://www.truthabouttrade.org/2012/09/07/farmers-call-for-gmo-production-to-ensure-food-security/

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Americas

Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are studying the use of "banker" plants to help farmers combat whiteflies and other pests. "Banker" plants are storehouses for predatory insects that can migrate to cash crops and feed on the the pests that attack those crops.

Cindy L. McKenzie, entomologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), studied how papaya, corn, and ornamental peppers can be used as "banker" plants for a number of parasitoids and predators. In a study conducted in Florida, McKenzie's team chose papaya as banker plant and non-stinging wasp Encarsia sophia as predator that will feed on the silverleaf whitefly (Bermisia tabaci), the targeted pest.

Using banker plants is a balancing act, though, as researchers must carefully select not only the predators themselves, but also alternative prey that will keep the predators fed, but won't damage the cash crops. They also need banker plants and predators that will not host or spread diseases to the cash crops.

More information about this research can be read from the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep12/plants0912.htm.

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Drought stress affects crops by reducing yield and increasing sensitivity to disease and pest attack. Drought has affected much of the United States Midwest and it is expected to extremely affect countries like India and Bangladesh. In studies conducted by Dr. Dirk Hays of Texas A&M University, he found out that leaf wax variability in different genetic wheat lines can influence heat and drought tolerance in crops.

"We've found if leaf wax is quantified and mapped, it can result in up to a 25 percent increase in yield. The higher wax content keeps the plant cooler and reduces the amount of water the plant uses to keep itself cool," Hays observed.

Studies on leaf wax and chemical composition is at its infant stage. Genetic plant breeding to put together traits for optimal leaf structures, regulate wax and root/leaf structure using genetic markers can expedite the development of varieties with tolerance to drought.

More on this news can be viewed at http://today.agrilife.org/2012/09/07/texas-am-researcher-leaf-wax-may-be-key-to-drought-and-heat-tolerance-in-wheat/.

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Corn farmers in Western Great Plains will have a new tool for addressing drought in the 2013 planting season, with the introduction of drought tolerant corn Monsanto's Genuity® DroughtGard™ Hybrids developed by Monsanto. The drought tolerant corn was developed through selection of germplasm combined with drought tolerant biotechnology trait and agronomic recommendations. Aside from the ability to survive in drought, the corn plant also exhibits improved hydro-efficiency to ensures conservation of soil moisture and reduces yield loss from drought conditions.

Some 250 farmers participated in the large scale testing program for the product to get the first-hand experience of DroughtGard hybrids. "Early results from our Ground Breakers trials this year are encouraging," said Mark Edge from Monsanto. "Harvest is just getting started in many areas throughout the Western Great Plains, and Ground Breakers farmers in Central Texas and Eastern Kansas are seeing an up to 6 bushel advantage over competitor hybrids. We believe DroughtGard Hybrids will become an important tool for farmers to help mitigate yield loss caused by drought stress."

Read the media release at http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/genuity-droughtgard-hybrids-2013.

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Asia and the Pacific

Thomas Lumpkin, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) said during the 2012 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Technical Workshop in China that climate change may affect positively some of the farming regions of the world.

While production in some regions, such as India and Mexico, is predicted to be negatively affected by climate change, Lumpkin said that in other regions such as northern China, production may benefit from warmer winters. Similarly, in southwestern China, warmer temperatures have extended growing seasons. Scientists had warned, however, that these benefits may be offset by other impacts resulting from climate change, such as an increase in crop disease.

See the original article at http://www.scidev.net/en/agriculture-and-environment/food-security/news/climate-change-a-mixed-blessing-for-wheat-say-experts.html.

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Researchers and farmers from Australia, Central West Africa and global cotton industry leaders will be conducting trainings to boost cotton production in the C-4 countries Chad, Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso. The training in Burkina Faso this week will be the second step of a broader learning exchange process which started early this year.

Dr. Ousmane Ndoye, the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) Program Manager from Senegal said, "The program will help African farmers understand how to develop higher yielding and better quality crops from their soils, discuss the implications of climate change on cotton production and understand how to use less water and control pests using integrated pest management best practices."

For more information, see http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Media/Australian-science-helps-boost-Africas-cotton-crops.aspx.

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Root pathogens have been wreaking havoc in Western Australia because each year, grain growers in this part of Australia incur $84 million losses because of the consequent reduced yield and crop quality. To solve this problem, Department of Agriculture and Food research officer Shahajahan Miyan studied root diseases in 246 paddocks from across the wheat belt of Western Australia.

Results showed that there is variation in degrees of suppression of soil diseases such as rhizoctonia, take all, crown root and root lesion nematodes. They also found that in a control set up identified to be suppressed two years ago, the suppressed condition still occur in bioassays during two seasons. This may indicate that there are organisms present in the suppressive soils, and once identified they can be used to enhance and possibly improve soil characteristics.

For details, see the article at  http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_95171.html?s=516977085.

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Europe

The European Court of Justice declared that the additional national authorization procedures for the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in the member states of the European Union is unlawful, thus co-existence measures are not mandatory to grow GM plants.

The ruling particularly concerns a GM crop which was approved for planting in Europe but the rights of farmers to choose this crop were denied in practice by some bureaucratic barriers created by the Italian authorities.The Court of Justice explained that the cultivation of GM crops such as the MON 810 maize varieties cannot be made subject to a national authorization procedure when the use and marketing of those varieties are allowed, after all.

For more information, visit http://www.europabio.org/agricultural/press/european-court-justice-confirms-farmers-right-cultivate-gm-crops. To access the online document of the Ruling of the European Court of Justice on cultivating GM crops, visit http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=126437&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1195160.

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Biotech crop acceptance in the European Union is still characterized by indifference, as manifested in the slow approval process, says the EU Agricultural Biotech Annual Report published by USDA FAS GAINS. Seven EU countries including France, Germany and Hungary have banned commercial planting of biotech crops but Portugal and Spain have shown increased adoption. An example is the planting of MON810, an old biotech insect resistant corn that has been grown in many countries already and replaced by much more convenient and profitable stacked herbicide and insect tolerant traits in many countries, but is not acceptable to a number of EU countries.

In addition, a number of trade barriers have been developed in the EU preventing GE products imports including: (1) delays in the approvals of new events has resulted in asynchronous approvals; (2) reformulation of EU food industry and supermarket chains to exclude potential GE ingredients since the EU regulation on traceability and labeling was implemented in 2003-2004; (3) inclusion of socio-economic criteria in addition to scientific criteria to review GE products in the EU; and (4) EU-wide approvals for planting GE crops are circumvented by national bans in seven MS (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, and Hungary).

For more details, see the full report at http://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Agricultural%20Biotechnology%20Annual_Paris_EU-27_8-3-2012.pdf.

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The European Commission have years of delays in approval decisions on GM products, which when combined has a sum of 37 years, according to the position paper released by the European Association for Bioindustries' (EuropaBio). The EU legislation requires the Commission to follow certain timelines for decision making, but the timelines for approval of GM products regularly exceed the required timelines. This delay results to a continuously increasing backlog of GM products, while a number of developing counties are already adopting GM products and exporting their commodities to the EU.

Read the position paper at http://www.europabio.org/sites/default/files/position/37_years_of_delays_in_the_eu_approval_of_gm_products_europabio.pdf.

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Research

A research team from Tianjin University, China developed an effective and simple technology for maize genetic transformation. Using shoot meristems of two different maize inbred lines including maternal tian tawu and 7922. Phytoene synthase (psy) gene was transferred into maize by Agrobacterium-mediated transformation.

Factors influencing transformation efficiency were optimized in this research. The results indicated that the optimal transformation condition is infection time with vacuum at 20 min and co-cultivation time for 3 days. RT-PCR and HPLC analysis results showed that psy gene was integrated into the maize genome. The total carotenoid content in transgenic maize increased 25% compared to the wild type. This method eliminates the tedious process of tissue culture and proves to be a simple transformation method.

See the paper published by China Biotechnology at http://159.226.100.150:8082/biotech/CN/volumn/home.shtml. For more information visit http://www.chinabic.org.

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Scientists from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute conducted a study to assess the performance of first and second filial (F1 and F2) generations of crossing MRC7017Bt, a biotech cotton hybrid with stacked Bt traits (Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab) and JKCH1947Bt, a biotech cotton with single Bt trait (Cry1Ac).

The research team reported that least damage of the terminal bud, fruiting bodies green boll, open boll and incidence of spotted and pink bollworms was found on MRC 7017Bt F1, JKCH 1947Bt F1 and MRC7017Bt F2 as against MRC7017 non-Bt, JKCH1947 non-Bt and JKCH1947Bt F2. Highest yield of 27q/ha was exhibited by MRC7017Bt F1, followed by JKCH1947Bt, MRC7017Bt F2, JKCH1947Bt F2, JKCH non-Bt and MRC non-Bt 7017. Based on the results, MRC7017Bt F1 was the most superior in all the hybrids tested, while JKCH 1947BtF1 was comparable with MRC7071BtF2 in terms of yield, exceeding the yields of the non-Bt counterparts.

Download a copy of the research article at http://www.icac.org/meetings/wcrc/wcrc5/Proceeding_PDF/165.pdf.pdf.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Scientists from  the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA have sequenced the complete genomes of five Plasmodium vivax strains from patients in Cambodia and Madagascar. The sequencing work has identified 80,000 SNPs that can form the basis for association studies and population surveys to study the diversity of P. vivax in a single region.

The researchers also resequenced the Sal I strain which came from a patient in El Salvador in 1972, and was first sequenced in 2008. Resequencing the Sal I strain helped the researchers confirm the viability of their next generation whole-genome sequencing approach. P. vivax, the most frequently transmitted and widely distributed malarial parasite in the world, is estimated to cause 250 million cases of malaria every year, and the results of the sequencing work provide new data that will help in future mapping of malarial parasite traits such as drug resistance.

More details are available at http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/five-malaria-genomes-sequenced/81247282/.

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Scientists of the Human Genome Project have compiled a comprehensive "parts list" of the human genome. This catalogue called Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) has redefined the word "gene" and enabled pinpointing genetic traits and disease hidden in what was considered as "junk DNA." According to Sarah Djebali, the lead researcher of the project, ENCODE will serve as a basis for several biological and medical applications.

ENCODE was started in 2003 involving almost 500 experts and laboratories all over the globe and finally culminated this year. One of the key findings of ENCODE was that up to three-quarters of the human genome are possible to be copied from DNA to RNA, and not just 2 percent, which was previously believed.

Read the original article at http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/5961/decade-long-dna-project-prompts-%E2%80%98gene%E2%80%99-redefinition. For more details about ENCODE, visit http://www.nature.com/encode/#/threads.

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Announcements

What: The 12th International Wheat Genetics Symposium (IWGS)

When: September 8-14, 2013

Where: Yokohama, Japan

IWGS is a regularly scheduled conference for wheat genetics and breeding science. IWGS has been conducted every five years since 1958 with around 400 participants across the world. International researchers exchange information with their latest research for wheat genetics, genomics, gene function, evolution, genetic resources and breeding for sustainable wheat production.

For further information, visit http://www2.convention.co.jp/iwgs12/index.html.

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What: Science and Policy Dialogue About the Future of Wheat in Africa

When: October 8-12, 2012

Where: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The conference will tackle Africa's food security and the changing demand for wheat over next decades and the region's perspectives on national food security and the way forward, among others.

For more information, visit http://conferences.cimmyt.org/en/wheat-for-food-security-in-africa.

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Document Reminders

World Food Prize Laureate and renowed rice breeder Dr. Gurdev Khush authored a commentary on Genetically Modified Crops: the Fastest Adopted Crop Technology in the History of Modern Agriculture. Dr. Khush expounded on biotech crops and how it can contribute to food security. He also cited data from Dr. Clive James' Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM crops: 2011 as an essential reference for those who are concerned on food security.

The commentary can be downloaded at http://www.agricultureandfoodsecurity.com/content/pdf/2048-7010-1-14.pdf.

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