An international team of scientists has identified the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine of the mid-ninetheenth century. The scientists said that a strain of Phytophthora infestans called HERB-1 triggered the disaster, and not the US-1 strain that was long thought to have been the culprit.
A team of molecular biologists from USA and Europe reconstructed the pathogen's spread from dried plants. They studied the historical spread of P. infestans, and compared samples with modern strains from Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and estimated that the HERB-1 strain likely emerged during the early 1800s, while US-1 came up only during the twentieth century, after new potato varieties were introduced.
The international team decoded the complete genomes of 11 samples of P. infestans from potato leaves collected over more than 50 years from Europe and North America, preserved by the Botanical State Collection Munich and Kew Gardens in London.
Kentaro Yoshida of The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich said, "These findings will greatly help us to understand the dynamics of emerging pathogens. This type of work paves the way for the discovery of many more treasures of knowledge hidden in herbaria."
More information about this research is available at http://www.mpg.de/7258079/potato_blight?filter_order=L&research_topic=.
The Wheat Initiative, an international consortium of public and private organizations, published a vision document on wheat improvement. To address the challenges in wheat internationally, the Wheat Initiative aims to:
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) and Vibha Agrotech Limited will collaborate to develop wheat and rice with drought and salinity tolerance through genetic modification. ACPFG's gene systems and technologies and the evaluation and rice transformation capabilities of Vibha, complement to expedite the development of GM products.
Dr. Julie Howard, USAID's Chief Scientist in the Bureau for Food Security and Senior Advisor to the Administrator on Agricultural Research, Extension and Education opined that, "We must use all the tools available to us to grow more food on less land and with less water. USAID is excited to launch this partnership and to leverage new expertise, resources and technologies to help make important cereal crops—and, ultimately, the smallholders who grow them – more resilient to climate change.
Details of the news can be seen at http://www.acpfg.com.au/uploads/documents/news/FINAL%20ACPFG_US_AUST_INDIA_PARTNERSHIPfinal.pdf.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates stated during the International Agriculture and Food Security Briefing in Washington D.C. that investing in agriculture is essential to succeed against world poverty, adding that nothing improves an economy as efficiently as agriculture. Several congressmen and staff attended the briefing, along with key influencers in agricultural policy.
The said event also offered a rare chance to hear from Gates himself about his foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and its work in agriculture which include researches on major crops of the world like rice, maize, and wheat. The agriculture program initiated by BMGF has become one of the biggest and fastest growing agricultural initiatives globally, mainly focusing on strategies to alleviate hunger and poverty in developing regions like Africa.
For more information, visit http://www.agweb.com/article/bill_gates_agricultural_productivity_is_key_to_reducing_world_poverty/.
Researchers from the University of Nairobi, ISAAA AfriCenter, and Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) conducted a study to estimate the potential economic benefits of adopting Bt cotton in selected African countries.
Governments in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region are debating about the commercial approval of Bt cotton. To come up with a sound decision, empirical evidence of the possible gains of producers, consumers and technology innovators must be provided. Thus, the researchers used economic surplus framework to demonstrate the welfare gains of the countries adopting the technology and loses of the non-adopting countries.
The study concluded that all countries could have the same gains per hectare except for Egypt which gains four times more than the other countries.
Read the research paper at http://www.agbioforum.org/v16n1/v16n1a02-mulwa.htm.
John Komen and David Wafula wrote a book titled An Evaluation of Trade Barriers to the Adoption of Genetically Modified Crops in the East African Community. The book is based on a literature review of recent studies that analyzed the actual and potential trade implications of GM crop adoption in East African countries.
The authors noted that East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania have implemented precautionary policy decisions on GM crops and have adopted stringent biosafety laws and regulations. Such decisions are likely to inhibit investments on important biotech R&D. Moreover, restrictions in importation of GM crops are affecting food security through price hikes for staple foods and emergency food aid. Thus, they recommended the following:
Representatives of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) network in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as potential members from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe met in Dar es Salaam from May 8-10, 2013 to discuss existing and future activities. The activity was organized by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in collaboration with OFAB Tanzania.
OFAB's mission is to enhance knowledge sharing and awareness on modern agricultural biotechnology. The Forum aims to significantly contribute towards building an enabling knowledge, policy and regulatory environment for informed and timely decision making on research, development and deployment of products of modern agricultural biotech for food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Focus of the meeting was to shape the strategic activities and action plans that would enable the platform to achieve its mandate of creating an enabling environment for modern biotech uptake in Aftica. Experts from the U.S. and Philippines were also invited to share experiences on knowledge sharing initiatives in Asia, and on how to respond to the anti-biotech movement that is expected to increase activities within the next few years.
For more information, email Daniel Otunge, OFAB Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a Journalist Roundtable at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi on May 1, 2013, Romano Kiome, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture of Kenya, has dismissed last year's ban on the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country--calling it ill-advised and lacking the backing of law. He said that although a "political stand" could hold sway for a time, it is no substitute for a considered professional judgment.
Kiome further added that three years before the ban, Kenya had set up the National Biosafety Authority, tasked with supervising the transfer, handling and use of GMOs. The agency was established by the Biosafety Act, which was passed in the Kenyan parliament and became law by Kibaki's assent in February 2009. It includes the aim of establishing "a transparent, science-based and predictable process" for reviewing the use of GMOs.
See ILRI's news release at http://clippings.ilri.org/2013/05/17/kenya-ban-on-the-import-of-gm-food-illegal-not-backed-by-law-romano-kiome/?utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer52252.
Scientists at Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa) in Brazil are developing a biotech soybean that can produce an anti-viral protein that can be used to fight human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The biotech soybean produces cyanovirin-N, an anti-viral protein that inhibits the virus cycle by binding to certain sugars. The power of the protein has been studied by other scientists in the U.S., however, studies regarding the protein has been impeded by the difficulty of finding an economically viable way to produce the protein in large scale.
Embrapa has partnered with the National Cancer Institute of Brazil and the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop the biotech soybean.
Read the original article in Portuguese at http://fundacion-antama.org/cientificos-brasilenos-investigan-soja-transgenica-para-combatir-el-sida/.
The Governments of Canada, and Saskatchewan, and the University of Saskatchewan announced the creation of the Canadian Wheat Alliance (CWA), a new initiative to coordinate research and development projects to improve wheat varieties by reducing losses due to extreme weather conditions such as drought, heat, cold, and diseases.
The CWA will invest approximately $97 million over the first five years to support wheat improvement research, advance Canada's wheat crops, and ensure its global competitiveness through the combined expertise of the National Research Council of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Government of Saskatchewan and the University of Saskatchewan.
University of Saskatchewan President Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac said "Through this alliance, we will continue to work with our partners to further strengthen the knowledge and tools needed to improve wheat."
For more information, read the news release available at: http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/news/releases/2013/wheat_nrc.html.
A historical analysis of corn research shows that new hybrids are taking up more nitrogen than older plant varieties after the crucial flowering stage, a clue as to how plant scientists will need to adapt plants to increase yields. With this finding, scientists have studied the timing of nutrient uptake in corn and how that process affects yield. They found that modern hybrids took up 27 percent more total nitrogen from the soil after flowering than pre-1990 corn plants.
Post-1990 corn hybrids use nitrogen more efficiently, so less is necessary per unit of yield. But as those plants increase nitrogen utilization, they increase their uptake of other nutrients, which affects how much of those nutrients growers need to use and when they need to apply them. The results of the studies were reported in two journal articles, Crop Science and Agronomy Journal.
A new high-tech glass greenhouse in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, U.S., simulates the growing conditions of any climate in different parts of the world. The research facility owned by Syngenta has 22 rooms which are virtually shadowless, with artificial lighting, and fully air conditioned. A "fertigation system" is also employed in the facility wherein nutrients and irrigation water are controlled row by row in each greenhouse unit. This technology allows optimum control of plants' growing environment and thus provides researchers with information that they can use to develop next generation crops.
Read the original article at http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/17/2897587/syngentas-new-greenhouse-brings.html.
Asia and the Pacific
Indonesia's National Genetically Modified Product Biosafety Commission (KKHPRG) has approved the world's first genetically modified sugarcane which will soon be commercialized. Dr. Bambang Purwantara, a member of the commission said that all the institutions mandated to approve biotech crops have given their approval to the drought resistant sugarcane.
Developed by the PT Perkebunan Nusantara, the Indonesian Sugarcane Plantation Research Center (P3GI), and scientists from the State University of Jember in East Java, the sugarcane is one of the 14 crops being assessed by the commission, and expected to be planted next year.
More information is available from the news article at http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/05/20/development-underway-first-transgenic-sugarcane-plantation.html.
Dr. William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said during the inauguration of ICRISAT's Sixth Meeting of Project Monitoring Committee in Agri-Biotechnology that modern science tools like genomics and molecular breeding are essential to facilitate crop improvement given the extreme challenges in feeding the world. Dar added that ICRISAT is well placed to use these technologies with strong support from the government of its host country, India. The meeting also showed presentations from Project Coordinators and Project Investigators from several ongoing agri-biotechnology projects at ICRISAT.
View ICRISAT's news release at http://www.icrisat.org/newsroom/latest-news/happenings/happenings1571.htm?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#1.
A paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry implies that regulation on compositional equivalence may no longer be justified, based on a review of 20 years of literature on the subject. Paper co-authors Rod A. Herman of Dow AgroSciences and retired US FDA officer William D. Price found that in 148 GM crops approved in the US and 189 submissions in Japan, there is substantial equivalence of the GM crops to their conventional counterparts. This covers the full range of trait modifications in GM soybean, canola and cotton, tomato, potato and raspberry in more than 80 peer reviewed publications.
Hence, the paper highlights the evidence that genetic modification is less disruptive of crop composition compared with traditional breeding. The authors further concluded that, "The merits of continuing to generally require compositional analysis of GM crops to inform safety seems dubious given the results of 20 years of research, and if agreement can be reached that these studies are no longer warranted, use of this technology will become accessible to a wider array of scientists."
Dr. Dang Kim Son, Director of Vietnam's Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) proposed in a recent seminar his "Iphone or Irice – Options for Vietnam's sustainable development". He emphasized that the new trend for the country's industrialization is to invest in agriculture and rural development as well as empower farmers from the beginning of the process.
"The government should pay more attention to science and technology as well as industrial development to serve agriculture. Market research, product quality management, food safety and control over input materials should be taken into account to support farmers," Dr. Son added. Lessons from South Korea and Taiwan which have invested on agricultural and rural investment, combining industry with agriculture, urban with rural development are worth emulating.
For more details on Dr. Son's speech, see the article at http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/business/74238/business-in-brief-16-5.html
Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation, commissioned a survey of 1,856 respondents (460 aged 14-18 and 1,396 adults) aiming to get the UK's attitudes to science, biomedical research, and science education. Some of the main findings in the survey are as follows:
University of Tsukuba scientist Xiang Yu and colleagues conducted environmental biosafety assessments of three transgenic lines of woody plant blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) that has choline oxidase (codA) gene which confers different levels of salt tolerance. The assessment include investigations on the beneficial or harmful effects of the transgenic lines on other nearby plants and a survey on the soil microorganisms in the rhizosphere, which have shown practicability in other transgenic plants.
Results of the assessments showed that there were no significant difference between the transgenic plants and non-transgenic plants in terms of impact to surrounding vegetation and the soil microbe community. These results were used to obtain approval for planting of blue gum in Type I field trial in Tsukuba.
Read the research article at http://www.wdc-jp.biz/pdf_store/jspcmb/pdf/pb30_1/30_73.pdf.
A total of 156 agricultural fields across six U.S. states were studied to investigate the effect of weed managements systems of glyphosate resistant (GR) crops in weed community structure and composition. The fields were categorized into three weed management systems: a) a single continuous GR crop; b) a rotation of two GR crops; and c) a GR crop rotated with non-GR crop. The weed species population density, species richness and diversity were analyzed using mixed models to test the effect of year, geographic location, and weed management system.
The researchers identified a total of 329 weed species in all study sites during the whole duration of the study. Weed communities were found to be most strongly correlated with geographic location. Weed management system affected similarity among weed communities through an interaction with site location but this was not observed in all years of the experiment. The weed management systems of crop rotation and GR trait rotation generally reduced weed population density and species diversity, bu the effect of crop rotation were different based on geographic location.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that there is a need for locally adapted weed management systems to help GM crop trait to manage high weed diversity while decreasing crop-weed competition and maximizing yield.
The research article is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/avsc.12039/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false.
Beyond Crop Biotech
A research conducted at Michigan State University (MSU) shows that malaria transmission from mosquitoes to humans can be interrupted by the bacteria Woolbachia. The bacteria acts like a vaccine for the insects, protecting them from malaria parasites.
Zhiyong Xi, MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, said "Our work is the first to demonstrate Wolbachia can be stably established in a key malaria vector, the mosquito species Anopheles stephensi, which opens the door to use Wolbachia for malaria control." Xi's team has successfully demonstrated how Woolbachia is carried by the malaria mosquito vector and how the insects spread the bacteria throughout the mosquito population. The researchers also showed that the bacteria can prevent mosquitoes from transmitting malaria parasites to humans.
For more details, read the news release available at http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2013/using-bacteria-to-stop-malaria/.